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Archives for June 2010

Quashing the quangos: EMDA is early casualty

John Hess | 15:06 UK time, Wednesday, 30 June 2010

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So is the scrapping of EMDA, the East Midlands Development Agency a set-back for bringing jobs and new businesses to our region?

The regional development agencies were the brainchild of Tony Blair's Labour government. The aim was to revive the local economy with decisions taken closer to home, rather than in Whitehall departments.

Nottingham-based EMDA has a staff of 277. It claims to have created or safeguarded more than 13,000 jobs and helped out 30,000 local business.

With its annual budget of £161 million, EMDA said every £1 it spent resulted in £9 of economic growth in the region's economy.

But the Conservatives and Lib Dems were never convinced. Take one of our new Conservative MPs, Nigel Mills from Amber Valley in Derbyshire. He's an accountant by profession and has a sharp eye when it comes to value for money.

"They've been far more expensive in terms of administration.The chief executive gets a salary higher more than the Prime Minister," he told me.

"Ineffective? I don't think they've achieved what we were hoping they would achieve in economic development. And quango? They're appointed by the government and not by the people.There's no accountability to the local people. That's why EMDA must go."

The coalition government wants elected local councillors and business leaders to take over the job. So stand by for "Local Economic Partnerships". The message now is local and not regional.

In a statement, EMDA says it will continue to "create a strong, sustainable and balanced economy in the East Midlands" until these new local bodies are set up.

"In this transition period, we will continue to make the best use of our resources and to work to ensure that business has a voice in any new arrangements that are developed."

One of our top political leaders in the East Midlands is already licking his lips at the propect of change. David Parsons is the Tory leader of Leicestershire County Council and chairs the body that represents the big local councils in the region.

He's pressing ahead with plans for EMDA's replacement.

"Local authority leaders in the East Midlands met formally on Friday to consider the future of joint working and the basis for establishing Local Enterprise Partnerships. We are clear in our support for the Government's proposals to abolish RDAs.

"Our proposals for sub-regional Local Enterprise Partnerships will be practical and will be based on natural economic areas," he added.

So will these new organisations work and be more effective than EMDA? Some business leaders are already warning that in a global economy these local partnerships will be too small and parochial.... especially in the highly competitive world of attracting big international companies to relocate.

Job losses predicted for East Midland councils

John Hess | 17:50 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010

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The political battlelines for months to come are now pretty clear. After George Osborne's emergency budget, the 25% cut in spending for most government departments will have a very significant impact on jobs and services...especially for local government in the East Midlands.

The public workers union Unison has calculated the budget proposals will cost up to 14,500 jobs among some of the biggest local authorities in the East Midlands alone.

It estimates 5,000 job losses at both Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council.

It predicts a total of 2,800 job losses from both Leicester city and Leicestershire county councils.

In Derbyshire, the combined county and city councils total is 4,200 lost jobs.

Ravi Subramanian, Unison's head of campaigning in the East Midlands, has warned that budget spending cuts will see some of the biggest job losses locally since the pit closure programme 20 years ago.

"These spending cuts are savage.They'll also hit the businesses that supply the local councils. Up to 1,500 private sector jobs are also at risk," he told me.

In Parliament, the Nottingham East Labour MP Chris Leslie has warned of a "tidal wave of spending cuts" later this year.

"In Nottingham, we know that £2.7m is being taken out of the education spending. We know that £1.2m is being taken from programmes that help people back to work. The services that people rely on most will be severely hit."

But a senior East Midlands conservative leader says the measures are tough but fair.

Councillor David Parsons is the leader of Leicestershire County Council, an authority that has lobbied for more government funding to boost its spending on schools and the police.

"Labour got us into this financial mess. It's taken some hard decisions by George Osborne and the coalition to get our spending back under control, otherwise even more jobs will disappear."

If this Con-Lib Dem coalition ever had a honeymoon, it's now truly over.

New worries as Labour's housing targets are scrapped

John Hess | 17:34 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010

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Home building

It's one of the hottest political issues both nationally and locally: the need for new houses and where to build them. But with the Con-Lib Dem Coalition government scrapping Labour's housing targets, what now?

At Mickleover, on the rural edge of urban Derby, residents have campaigned to save the view from their homes across the fields and rolling hills of Derbyshire. Until the new government's change of policy, the land had been earmarked for almost 3,500 new homes.

One resident Pam McCahey told me:

"We've got this problem with Mickleover being taken over by the developers from quite a small village into a big suburb. There are two gigantic Wimpey estates thought to be the biggest in Europe. It's just too much."

The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates the government's housing targets in the East Midlands - up to 2026 - was heading towards half a million new homes. The annual target is 21,500.

"The level of housing being proposed was excessive. You can't really predict growth over 20 years. It's like trying to forecast the weather in a month's time," says Lisa Hopkinson, of the CPRE.

Now future housing targets will be decided by local councils and their elected politicians.

On the northern edge of Coalville in Leicestershire, farmland here has been designated for some of the additional 10,000 homes planned for the town. The Conservative leader of North West Leicestershire Council, Councillor Richard Blunt, wants to halve that target.

"We understand what the people want. We understand where they want the houses and how many they want. Top-down targets from central government always seem wrong. And it is wrong."

The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has already written to local councils telling them to ignore Labour's targets. But is the coalition government's housing policy already on shakey foundations?

Lisa Hopkinson from the CPRE believes that:

" You need to have some sort of strategic co-ordination. You can't just leave it to districts to fight among themselves. You have got to bring all those wider issues like transport, jobs and the environment, and co-ordinate it properly."

The National Housing Federation is now warning that housing waiting lists will rise. It says there are already between 300,000 to 400,000 people in the East Midlands wanting a new home.

At Westminster, the pressure's now on to officially demolish Labour housing targets - through legislation. It won't be a moment too soon for the new Tory MP for South Derbyshire, Heather Wheeler. She was the leader of the district council for South Derbyshire.

"We are getting rid of those top down housing targets. It's very important. We've got communities dying on their feet. Those villagers need new growth and sympathetic housing, and we've got other areas that have had huge growth and large estates. They need a settling down period," she said.

The East Midlands is one of Britain's fastest growing regions. The population's up. The demand for new homes isn't going away. And if they are not being built in your back yard, just where will they go now?

Why MPs face the parliamentary X-factor

John Hess | 13:21 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

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Westminster c/o PA Images

For the first time ever, backbench MPs - rather than the government - can decide who they want to run the powerful parliamentary committees that scrunitise the big departments of state. And some familiar political names from the East Midlands are in the running in this very exclusive election.

Charnwood's Steven Dorrell, a former health secretary in John Major's government, wants to become chairman of the health select committee. Under the new rules of this parliament, this is no shoe-in.

Stephen Dorrell faces a challenge for this influential role from two other Conservatives; Sir Paul Beresford and Wellingborough's Peter Bone. It will be up to all MPs to decide in a secret ballot.

Leicester East's Keith Vaz hopes retain his chairmanship of the home affairs committee. But he too faces an election challenge; this is from the former Labour cabinet minister Alun Michael.

So the candidates have been out and around in the canteens and bars of parliament to win support. They've also been attempting to catch the eye of the Speaker of the Commons to take part in debates; infact, anything to raise their profile.

From the floor of the House of Commons, here's a flavour of how to butter up support from political rivals from Keith Vaz, in an exchange with the new Foreign Secretary William Hague.

"I am most grateful to the Foreign Secretary; I am actually going to be very nice to him. I congratulate him on his appointment and remind him that I gave him his first job in the Commons, as secretary of the all-party footwear and leather industries group!"

Speaker John Bercow

There are other East Midland contenders hoping to win over the votes of MPs. Newark's Patrick Mercer faces an election battle to secure the chairmanship of the defence committee. There are three other candidates.

Nottingham North's Graham Allen is being tipped as the front runner to become chairman of the political and constituitional reform committee.

MPs have until five o'clock today to vote. We'll know the outcome when the Speaker John Bercow announces the winners tomorrow.

Political co-operation in A453 hold-up, says MP

John Hess | 16:38 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

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A453 traffic

Labour MPs in Greater Nottingham are discovering they aren't getting their own way when it comes to being heard.

They fired off a Commons motion deploring the coalition government's decision to shelve the dualling of the A453 from the M1 into Nottingham.

It's an 11 mile stretch of motoring tedium for any driver, who's been stuck in hours of hold-ups and congestion on this busy road.

The Labour MPs - led by Nottingham South newcomer Lilian Greenwood - talked about the impact on Nottingham's economic recovery, and the " potentially damaging ramifications" for the Nottingham tram scheme.

Their Commons motion looks for backing from other Nottinghamshire MPs, including many of the new Conservative intake. But it's no-go, especially for Broxtowe's new Tory MP Anna Soubry.

"This is one local issue we should all be agreeing about. Labour could have adopted a cross-party approach on the A453. It would have been more effective, better politics and in keeping with the spirit of this new parliament," she told me.

"Instead their motion is just too partisan and by including a reference to future funding of the Nottingham tram scheme, there's no way I or other new Conservative MPs could back it. It's such a missed opportunity. After all, we all recognise that the A453 needs to be improved "

So Anna Soubry's contacting the government's Transport Minister Terersa Villiers direct to seek an early meeting to discuss the A453. Once the date's fixed, Anna Soubry tells me she will want Labour MPs from Greater Nottingham to be invited.

Labour's Chris Leslie from Nottingham East has already given the initiative his thumbs-up.

"This is the type of issue where all MPs - regardless of their party politics - should be getting together.
The new politics of this parliament could, afterall, put improvements to the A453 back in the government's fast lane.

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