Man Ready to Elbow Politics out of Area Decision-Making; Tony McDonough Meets STEVE BROOMHEAD, Chief Executive of the Northwest Development Agency

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Byline: Tony McDonough

NORTHWEST Development Agency chief executive, Steve Broomhead, is adamant that major decisions about the economic future of the North West must be made at regional level.

The Government is considering proposals to give city region status to places like Liverpool and Manchester. That would allow them to take control of economic development budgets worth billions of pounds.

However, Broomhead fears such a move could mean decisions on the funding of major projects would be influenced by political considerations.

The 50-year-old, who has been at the helm of the NWDA for three years, said regional development agencies were best placed to make "difficult decisions" about where resources and money should be targeted.

"If you were to give the resources we currently have to, say, five smaller bodies, then I think decisions about which projects went ahead and which ones didn't would become political," he said.

"Strong cities mean we have a strong region, but I think it is important we are there to make sure the right decisions are taken.

"We do have a good relationship with all the local authorities but what I want to see when I meet people is clear priorities, not just aspirations and wish lists. I don't use jackboots but I am prepared to use my sharp elbows in order to get things done."

Such a comment is typical of Broomhead's straight talking and no-nonsense approach. You could say he's the man John Prescott aspires to be, only with twice the nous and none of the pomposity. His inspiration comes from the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.

"My mantra is 'a little less conversation, a little more action'. Plans and strategies can bog you down," he said.

"I work a 70-hour week and I don't have time for a work-life balance. I like to talk to people and hear their views, but they have to be clear on what they want to say. I don't like management speak and I don't like meetings that go on for more than half an hour."

Broomhead's tenure at the Warrington-based NWDA has seen hundreds of millions of pounds pumped into regeneration projects in Merseyside.

These include pounds 19m for the National Biomanufacturing Centre, pounds 4m for Liverpool Science Park, pounds 8.7m for the Mersey Waterfront, pounds 2m towards European Capital of Culture and pounds 15m for the Kings Dock arena and conference centre project. However, its brief is much wider. It oversees economic development in an area that stretches from Cumbria down to Cheshire.

"What the NWDA is all about is providing economic leadership," he said. "To try to point everyone in the same direction.

"I have been doing this job now for three years and when I arrived I don't think there was a great deal of focus and clarity. I inherited a promise culture where everyone thought they were going to get something out of it.

"If we concentrate on something in Merseyside then we might get letters from other parts of the region saying 'what about us?'. But we have to have clear priorities, and we are not just a cash machine.

"In the last three years we have become an organisation that is transparent and has clear priorities, and I am now proud of the achievements we have under our belt. …