I’m delighted to be here today at the NWDA AGM speaking to you in my new role as Minister for the North West. It’s a role I relish because the north west is my home region. I grew up here, and my family all live here. When I speak to people about the North West, I speak as much as someone who lives here and is affected by what happens here as anyone else. Some of you will have heard me speak last week in Haydock, but I think it is worth me repeating how I see my new role. First, I will be the North West’s ambassador in Whitehall. I want to speak up for and champion all the good things the North West has to offer – you will have seen and heard about some of these this morning. Second, I will represent central Government here in the North West. Make sure you know what is going on in Whitehall and how it affects you. Work with you to make sure you get the chance to have your say when central Government is making decisions. More importantly, I will take those messages back to Whitehall and make sure that they are heard as far as I can. Third, and perhaps most important I will work with you to make sure that we are doing our best, always, for the people of our region. Working together, sharing priorities and information, and making the most of our resources to improve the quality of life and life chances of everyone in the North West. And that is why we are all here today, because we are all committed to improving the quality of life for all of the people in the region. And we have seen considerable investment to help us do that. Over the last five years, public spending per head in the North West has increased by 40 per cent on transport, 30 per cent on health and 16 per cent on education. Last weeks Comprehensive Spending Review builds on that foundation. This is not only important for our people and families, it’s also crucial for our economic performance.
The regions are the fundamental drivers of the UK economy. The North West represents almost 10 per cent of the UK’s output. And you know that the Government is committed to improving the economic performance of all regions while reducing the gap in economic growth between the regions. However, we also know that there are marked differences in economic performance between different parts of our region. This is why we have announced £2billion worth of funding to support continued efforts in turning round the most deprived areas. A new enterprise and renewal fund to focus on improving the economic prospects of deprived areas. We will know the detailed allocations of this fund in December after the publication of the Indices of Deprivation 2007 in November. So we must continue to strive to improve our economy and, crucially, make sure that new opportunities are available and accessible to the most disadvantaged people in our communities. That is why I want to use today’s event to celebrate the achievements of the NWDA and its partners but also to set out some challenges to you all. Firstly, want to congratulate all of you on some impressive output figures for 2006/07, including:•
Creating or safeguarding 20,205 new jobs in the region
Creating or attracting 3,306 new businesses to the region
Attracting £373 million of investment to regenerate deprived areas, 69% of that from the private sector
The NWDA is also working hard with partners to bring about the transformational actions in the Regional Economic Strategy and good progress is being made. However, the region cannot afford to stand still. Our economy is growing but it still lags behind others. We would need , for example, 76,000 more businesses just to come up to the English average. There is still a significant productivity gap and we need higher levels of entrepreneurship.
And we have long standing and persistent problems with deprivation, for example, parts of Manchester and Salford, Merseyside and Pennine Lancashire. The Sub National Review is about improving economic performance and tackling deprivation by •
joining-up policies more effectively around jobs, housing, transport and environment
and aligning them better at all levels – national, regional, sub-regional and local
The Sub National Review is not prescriptive but wants regions to develop arrangements that work for them. One thing it emphatically is not about is business as usual. It is about transformation. It signals a shift in the balance of roles and responsibilities between Development Agencies, Local Authorities and key partners. And so it presents both an opportunity and a challenge to the NWDA and all of those partners. Now, we are in a strong position to respond positively and creatively to the SNR. This region has much on which to build:•
the Sub-regional partnerships already established and their associated sub-regional action plans.
the Regional Assembly now based on the sub-regions with a simplified decision making structure.
active city regions in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Central Lancashire.
The Regional Funding Allocations showed that the region has the ability to take difficult decisions about priorities. The Government has proposed an expanded Regional Funding Allocations exercise during this next Comprehensive Spending Review period, so once again the region will need to demonstrate its ability to prioritise. But some key challenges lie ahead for all partners at the regional, sub regional and local levels.
I know that the partnership between NWDA and the Regional Assembly has strengthened over recent years. Both organisations will have the opportunity over the next few years to demonstrate that they can work together to prepare the ground for a single regional strategy. This will include delivering the Governments objectives on housing as set out in the recent Housing Green Paper, with the objective of everyone having access to a decent home at a price they can afford, in a place where they want to live and work. This will be a real challenge for the North West with the contrasts between the sub regions and within local areas. The process of bringing forward the single Regional Strategy will be the responsibility of the NWDA. But in real consultation with all parts of the region. The strategy must establish a single vision for the region with clear targets, a clear investment plan, and a common evidence base. Successful delivery of this strategy will depend on robust monitoring and evaluation arrangements, established, again, with the close involvement of local authorities and sub-regional partnerships. This will inform us about what is working and what is not working, and as I said earlier, be the basis of robust decisions about what we are going to stop doing. I am sure that this is an area that as a region we can improve upon. There will be enhanced accountability through myself as Regional Minister and a Regional Select Committee, the final details are now being agreed. So I will have a personal interest in ensuring that the North West establishes robust evaluation arrangements. In taking responsibility for the development of the single Regional Strategy the NWDA will have to work with the full range of partners. I know that colleagues representing the Voluntary and Community Sector and Environmental Partners, have been concerned that the SNR presumes a diminished role for them.
This is emphatically not the case. They have an critical role to play. Government expects the NWDA to work with them as well as business and local authorities. The challenge for these partners is to be proactive in helping to shape the vision and strategy for the region and not just wait to be consulted. We will expect to see the NWDA develop principles and mechanisms again in partnership for the greater delegation of programmes to partnerships. I know that the NWDA are well placed to do this, building on the experience of working with sub regional partnerships and other partners. And I stress again that we expect to see the sub-regions centrally involved in developing and delivering the strategy through consultation and partnership. The sub regional partnerships also have a vital role in delivering the regional strategy, articulating a clear vision for their areas, backed by evidence, also taking tough decisions about strategic priorities, rather than simply bidding for limited NWDA resources. The SNR deliberately set out an enhanced role for local authorities on economic development and neighbourhood renewal. We recognise that local authorities are best placed to decide what needs to be done to tackle the issues which prevent localities from fulfilling their potential. The challenge for local authorities is to use their existing powers and funding to respond more effectively to those areas of persistent deprivation. Those local authorities that are successfully turning areas of deprivation around are those that have brought together their planning, transport, environment and economic development resources to deliver solutions. And who have put people at the heart of their corporate strategies. Who see reducing child poverty, increasing childcare, high quality early years and school provision as inextricably linked to their ambitions for economic development and community regeneration. Who understand that people need to develop the skills required for the jobs that become available. And that some people â€“ especially parents but others too â€“ need help to overcome multiple barriers to accessing jobs. I know that local area agreements have helped some local authorities to deliver in these communities and it is important that progress continues to be made.
The Government will be looking for local authorities to maximise resources by working more collaboratively across boundaries and with sub-regional and regional partners. Economic development does not respect administrative boundaries and we need to be smarter in delivering opportunities for both business development, and giving local people opportunity to access new jobs. It is important that every local authority contributes through their sub regions to the development of the single regional strategy. And takes the opportunity to shape how this is all delivered through the forthcoming consultation and I would encourage you all to participate in this. In developing local opportunities for economic development it will be important that local authorities continue to work with NWDA to deliver the business support simplification agenda. We need to remember that this initiative has been undertaken by Government because business has told us that this is what it wants, and we need to deliver on this so that business better understands and can access the right support. Itâ€™s true that as we look forward over the next two to three years we face a great deal of change. However, it is also a tremendous opportunity I have seen some excellent examples of people striving to make a real difference to local families and communities throughout our region. And this is the prize. Challenging inequality, tackling poverty, realising the potential of all our people â€“ children, young people and adults, punching above, not below, our economic weight. Itâ€™s a privilege for all of us to have this chance to make a real difference to the people in our region and through that, to our prospects as a nation. We can only succeed by truly working together and I very much look forward to being, with all of you, part of Team North West.