Clear Goals, Strong Leaders

By Williams, Hugh Moran | New Statesman (1996), June 26, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Clear Goals, Strong Leaders


Williams, Hugh Moran, New Statesman (1996)


Inter-regional competition for investment and jobs is hotting up. The RDAs will need to be lean, mean and purposeful

The chill winds of regional competition have started to blow through the land. For those who don't know where their region is, this might cause significant problems in developing strategies to cope with the challenges of the next millennium.

Within a year England will have Regional Development Agencies, Scotland will be well on its way to having its own parliament, Wales its own assembly, and London its own mayor. This devolution recipe provides a mixture of political and economic power to the regions that will change the way we are governed and how we think of ourselves. For the first time regions 'will compete for a greater share of investment opportunity.

Here in the North-east much of the groundwork for the creation of the RDA has taken place during the last ten years in the Northern Development Company. When this was formed in 1986, it was a unique partnership between business, local authorities and trade unions which set itself the task of transforming the region. By targeting inward investors, particularly in Asia and America, that wanted a European manufacturing operation to give access to the single market, a large number of jobs have been created to replace those lost in coal, shipbuilding and steel. The NDC has attracted 520 inward investment projects worth more than [pounds]8.8 billion, and created or safeguarded more than 75,000 jobs. Its success has been the envy of Europe, but its work has been relatively limited to inward investment and improving the supply chain. Competition from other regions, particularly Scotland and Wales, has become severe. That and the Barnett formula, which allocates proportionately more public money to Scotland and Wales, has increased the pressure for the Northeast to have more control over its economic destiny.

The business community regards the creation of RDAs as an unparalleled opportunity to create new partnerships with other key players in the regional economy to improve our competitiveness both at a national and European level. In the North-east our strengths are a distinctive regional identity, an impressive track record of inward investment, a flexible and adaptable workforce, good communications, and low energy and communication costs. The downside is our geographical location on the periphery of Europe, a shortage of world-class companies, high levels of unemployment, low levels of educational attainment, a lack of an entrepreneurial culture and a poor health record. It is these problems the new RDA will have to address.

We will have to compete more intensively for inward investment, particularly if sterling remains at unsustainable levels, and we will need to ensure the region is not disadvantaged in the reform of European structural funds. Government must emphasise that GDP per head - not unemployment levels - should be the measure for European regional support. We need to upskill our workforce, make it more responsive to the needs of the new millennium and, above all, to invest more in the education of the next generation.

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