Getting rid of the RDAs and bringing in LEPs has perhaps been a little Maoist and chaotic, but overall we’re giving back to councils and local authorities the powers and incentives they need to see a resurgence in civic pride.
A little chaotic is the understatement of the year. Vince also reckons that scrapping the RDAs ends years of terrible over-centralisation by London. Essentially, they have replaced mechanisms that actually worked and delivered genuine value for money with untested vague conglomerations that don't have consistent plans and don't even cover the entire country - East Anglia and Lancashire are currently excluded. In the West Midlands, the whole Black Country isn't covered by a Local Enterprise Partnership, an area in desperate need of help.
There's still no sign of a replacement mechanism to draw down the ERDF funding - which has to be match funded and works regionally (coincidentally with the old RDAs). Cable is suggesting that perhaps some of the Regional Growth Fund may be used to match European money, but this is hardly a bottomless pit and is limited to £500 million a year nationally for three years. There's about the same amount of ERDF funding available.
We actually need that money now, but there won't be a proposal on the table until next year's budget, so I doubt we'll see any new European money being used to relieve the cuts and encourage growth until 2012 or 2013 at the earliest.
And as for decentralising - the assets of the RDAs will be returned to the centre for disposal to defray costs, the Regional Growth Fund will be ultimately administered by a ministerial team in Whitehall and the LEPs won't have the same level of powers that the RDAs had - much of those are being retained centrally too. Across government, lip service is being paid to the local agenda, as all governments prove far more reluctant to release the reins of power than they were in opposition. There is a practical aspect to this for Cable and Pickles, in that as the local/national electoral wheel turns, more Labour administrations will pop up in real positions of power - Birmingham is expected to turn back to Labour control in 2012 or 2014 at the latest and London is already dominated by Labour councils. Why would they want to hand golden opportunities out to their political opponents? Whenever a minister promises local control, councils can expect to be bypassed and undermined - if anything even vaguely close to localism ever comes to pass.
If Vince thinks that the old policy was centralised, this is looking positively Stalinist, not Maoist. But then, at least Stalin had a plan. Scrapping the RDAs at this point in the economic cycle will be one of the things that this government regrets - it has been an appalling decision that will waste money, break up imperfect, but effective delivery organisations and will hinder the recovery in the regions that need every last bit of help that they can get. We must not let people forget that this was done out of childish spite and blind ideology by Pickles, entirely unmediated by Cable, who has now retreated into self-delusion about the effects and likely outturn for this policy.