November 30, 2009 2:00 am

RDA veteran defends value to business

Scrapping regional development agencies would reduce business influence on government policies, the longest-serving RDA director has warned.

Jim Brathwaite, the entrepreneur who has just stood down as chairman of the South East England Development Agency after seven years, said Conservative proposals for axing the agencies would be a "setback for business" at a time when companies needed all the help they could get.

"Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," he urged the Tories. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Brathwaite said the RDAs had been "analysed to death", but were the only bodies that could both implement economic development policies and communicate the opinions of business directly to ministers.

He thought the Conservatives were likely to soften their plans for the RDAs as the election drew closer. "The business fraternity is making its voice heard. One thing you can say about RDAs is they have contributed greatly to [economic development] - and business understands that."

RDAs had become more sophisticated in recent years. "When I started I had about £90m to spend, and it was already predetermined," he said. "Now [Seeda] has got about a quarter of a billion pounds to spend over a couple of years and we can help determine what happens."

He agreed with comments made earlier this year in the FT by Sir Peter Rogers, chief executive of the London Development Agency, that RDAs should become influencers rather than primary funders of projects.

He pointed to a Seeda project co-ordinating energy efficient retrofitting of homes across the region, bringing together energy companies, private sector businesses and government agencies. "We are talking billions of investment. No other agency could pull it together."

Some RDAs have been criticised over their handling of cash. The LDA was lambasted last year for funding projects that failed to deliver results and has recently admitted a £159m hole in its budget for buying Olympic land. Mr Brathwaite has faced controversy over a £50,000 bill for taxis and executive cars.

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