Since my new superhero Eric Pickles, announced the long overdue abolition of the Regional Development Agencies, our local business media has been full of stories about the feuding and disagreements between West Midlands local authorities on how to effectively plan economic growth for our region.
Advantage West Midlands, the soon to be disbanded agency, was in many ways similar to the old Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia; artificial nations made up of disparate Peoples, who viewed each other with suspicion if not loathing while outwardly at least, giving an impression of unity. So a recent conference organised through an umbrella group called Business Voice WM, attempted to provide some ideas on how the new LEP’s will work and what structure they should take. Needless to say, with so many different participants including politicians and some 65 other groups plenty of talking was done, but seemingly very little in the way of concrete agreement on the way forward. With some councils intent on forming their own LEP’s, one wonders if this is just a way of re-forming AWM and hoping no-one in Whitehall notices?
Looking at their website, BVWM as it likes to be called – another bloody acronym I here you say! – contains a membership comprising everyone from the Asian Business Forum, FSB, CBI, NFU, National Federation of Retail Newsagents, West Midlands Developers Alliance??, the CBI and some 17 Chambers of Commerce. If they wanted to make it truly representative, they could have also invited The Knights of St Columba, The Legion of Mary, The Women’s Institute, The North Walsall Chrysanthemum Society and, granted honoury membership to the Dagenham Girl Pipers.
In the “good” old days BP (before Pickles) AWM would have spent another two million quid on generating massive publicity on what they were not doing , while glossing over the very real issues of fractured relationships between local authorities and various business groups. Yes, there will be some re-shaping of alliances in order to create the new structures required, with many politicians and business people suddenly finding themselves out of their comfort zones, without the crutch of the vast talking shops they have been used to.
The new government has made it clear: localism is in, and if businesses and local authorities are serious about taking the lead in economic re-generation, they need to recognise that they cannot sit on the sidelines any longer blaming everybody else . Enough CO2 has already been pumped into the atmosphere since AWM and the other RDA’s were formed, they all have to go, as there aren’t enough trees that can be planted fast enough or mature quickly enough to absorb it all up again.