Regional Development Agencies: our position

The debate around RDAs should be about the effectiveness of the programmes they run and at which spatial scale these programmes work best.

Briefing published on 7 January 2010 by Kieran Larkin

The future of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) is currently one of the big questions in urban policy. The Centre for Cities has been contributing to this debate through a series of comment pieces.

In the first of these RDA comment pieces we set out the facts from the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) evaluation and called for a zero-based efficiency review and spatial assessment of the RDA programmes. In the second piece we highlighted the inconsistencies in the three main political parties’ positions. In this final comment piece we set out what we think should happen to the regional tier of government.

The political debate has been too concerned with whether to scrap or keep RDAs. There would appear to be three post-election scenarios:

  • All RDAs are scrapped.
  • RDAs are kept in some regions but not in others.
  • RDAs continue everywhere – with all likely to be smaller, not least because of the spending squeeze.

The Centre for Cities is not overly concerned with the precise architecture of the regional tier, but is concerned that the regional tier delivers the right mix of programmes and that the powers of City Regions are strengthened.

We think the debate should be about the effectiveness of the programmes the RDAs run and at which spatial scale these programmes work best. For many programmes we think that City Regions would be a better level for intervention. Finally, it is wrong to think that this is just a debate about RDAs. While this note focuses on their powers and budgets – because of the prevailing policy interest – a much wider range of powers remain with central government and other public bodies that also need to be reallocated to a lower spatial level.

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Senior Consultant, City Economics at Arup