The Government confirmed in yesterday’s Budget its previous announcement that it is to abolish the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA).
The Government will publish a white paper later this summer where it will set out its plans in greater detail, when SWRDA, together with England’s other RDAs, will be scrapped.
They will be replaced with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), but how exactly this will work in Cornwall has yet to be made clear.
SWRDA was responsible for a huge region that stretched as far east as Swindon, and there have long been calls in Cornwall for the Duchy to have more control over its economic strategy, and in particular Convergence spending, which SWRDA administered.
With the imminent arrival of an LEP it might now get its wish, but Andy Steele, CEO of law firm Stephens Scown, which has offices in Truro and St Austell, has urged caution.
He said: “Cornwall may well want to go it alone, but I remain to be convinced this is in its best interests. Will its voice be strong enough to be heard above other regions, many with larger, better resourced LEPs, and will it ever be able to attract the investment it needs?
“Wouldn’t it make sense to explore instead an LEP with Devon, Plymouth, Torbay and maybe even parts of West Dorset to create a bigger area with more clout? I think we need the debate.”
And he fears that with the abolition of SWRDA, vital expertise and experience could be lost at a critical time.
He said: “Whatever your views of the RDA there is a pool of expertise there that knows how to play the Whitehall and Brussels game, not least running complex European programmes, and as a region we need to retain that knowledge to help formulate these new structures and make them work.
“But our overriding priority right now must be to secure match funding for our European programmes which are worth hundreds of millions of pounds across the south west, especially in Cornwall, and run out in 2013.
“Take away that match – much of which currently comes from the RDA – and we risk handing millions of pounds back to Brussels. That would be unforgivable.”