Further to the devastating findings of our report on Regional Development Agencies, a lot of our supporters have been writing to their MP, council or RDA to demand that the RDAs be scrapped. One supporter in the North East wrote to Dari Taylor, MP for Stockton South, about the issue.
Instead of responding with her own view on why £15 billion has been squandered on a clutch of agencies that have had little or no appreciable impact on development, Ms Taylor wrote to ONE North East, the local RDA, to get their answer.
Unsurprisingly, the Chief Executive of the RDA, Alan Clarke (not that Alan Clarke) is utterly convinced that the RDA is key to the survival of jobs in the region - not least, of course, his own £187,694 a year.
In his letter, Mr Clarke says he wants to "respond to [the TPA's] claims and outline our achievements". It may not come as a surprise that he then goes on to do an awful lot of the latter without once trying to engage with, debate or even question or findings. It's a lot more convenient to sidestep hard evidence about your failures than it is to argue with it, apparently.
His argument defending ONE North East seems to be based on the following:
i) "In the nine years since it was established to lead economic growth in the region, ONE North East has consistently met or exceeded its performance targets."
Mr Clarke seems to have mixed up actual success on the ground with ticking Government boxes. Our report never sought to suggest that the RDAs aren't smug about themselves - far from it - rather it points out that you can tick all the boxes in the world but they won't actually help people if your approach is fundamentally flawed. The RDAs are unaccountable, unelected and almost unsackable, and the result is exactly this attitude - they don't have to demonstrate any improvement in reality to the people paying the bills just as long as other unaccountable bureaucrats agree they're working hard.
ii) "Our investment is tightly targeted at business, people and place..."
What does that actually mean?
iii) "The latest statistics for the last financial year show that the regional development agency helped create more than 17,000 new jobs in the North East and assisted over 23,000 firms to improve their performance."
He neglects to mention, of course, that these are ONE North East's own figures, produced by them to justify their own existence. They are shall we say unlikely to write to the Government with the truth, which is "Yeah, really sorry but we're not quite sure what we have achieved actually..." The RDAs are extremely reluctant to publish the definition of what they mean by "creating jobs" or "attracting businesses". More often than not, according to businesses themselves, they are claiming the credit for writing irrelevant letters to businesses that are creating jobs anyway. The lack of any appreciable improvement, as we discovered, over time compared to the regions' performance before the RDAs existed is a testament to this paper-thin justification.
iv) "Importantly...there is strong support for One North East across the business, public and voluntary sectors."
Really? Where is this strong support? When I debated the issue on BBC Radio Newcastle in August one of the guests was a businesswoman who had received direct aid from ONE North East and even she said she was worried about what they were up to, how they spent taxpayers' money and the fact that they operate behind closed doors. A lot of councillors are furious that so much money and power intended for local development is allocated to unaccountable quangocrats. Even the Government have just slashed RDA funding. Support seems pretty thin on the ground to me.
All in all, as Terry-Thomas would have said, "What an absolute shower." Do keep writing to RDAs, MPs, Ministers and newspapers about the RDA rip-off and let us know what response you get. This vacuous reply shows we've really got them on the spot, and these bureaucratic behemoths should be humanely put down as soon as possible.