Norfolk business bosses concern over revival of regional government office

The government has been accused of re-inventing the wheel after it revealed plans to create a new government office in the Eastern region, just six months after axing the previous one.

Last year communities secretary Eric Pickles announced the abolition of the Government Office for the East of England, along with the axing of the East of England Development Agency.

He said they were not voices for regions in Whitehall but 'agents of Whitehall to intervene and interfere in localities'.

But it has now emerged that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) is planning six new regional government offices - one of which could be in the offices of Go East in Cambridge, which will become available when it closes at the end of next month.

It is understood that Whitehall has acknowledged that the decision to scrap local offices means the government is in danger of losing touch with what is happening in the regions - an issue which has been a source of tension between the DBIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

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But, with the creation of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership LEP), ostensibly a replacement for EEDA, which will promote job creation schemes and investment, questions have been asked as to how that will mesh with new regional offices.

The government is hoping that by creating the public and private sector enterprise partnerships in 'more meaningful economic areas' it will help the areas determine their economic priorities locally and will drive economic growth and the creation of local jobs.

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Peter Barry, managing director of Great Yarmouth-based Pasta Foods and a board member of the Norfolk and Norwich Chamber of Commerce, who is co-chairing the LEP, said of the new regional office plans: 'The big question is what will their responsibilities be and how will that play into the new LEP?

'From the business point of view, unless they are going to be removing more red tape then what added value are they going to bring?

'The suspicion is that they will be another form of control. If they come with a stack of money to support the LEP then fine, but I'm not sure that businesses will welcome what sounds like another layer of bureaucracy.'

But Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said: 'What the coalition government did was, quite simply, to tear up everything the former Labour government had done, without any sort of sensible analysis of what worked and what needed to be saved.

'In no time at all the reality of how the country works has kicked in and it has started to dawn on them and they are having to re-invent the wheel.

'Lord knows what that has cost in terms of loss of expertise and loss of staff. 'There's already talk about funding of the LEPs and it won't be long before they start looking underfunded, they start amalgamating them. What's that, but regional development agencies, which they are getting rid of?

'The government office has always been useful. Goodness knows, the city council has had its run-ins with them over the years, but it was useful to be able to go to them to raise issues and get a sensible response.'

A DBIS spokesman said the proposal was at a very early stage and could not confirm where they would be based or whether existing government office staff would transfer across.

She said: 'It is important that BIS has a policy presence outside of Whitehall so we can communicate effectively with local enterprise partnerships, businesses and other organisations.

'The network is still in the early stages of development, but it is expected there will be six small teams in different parts of the country, although locations have not yet been confirmed.

'The teams will support BIS's overall objectives particularly those relating to growth, jobs and rebalancing the economy.'

A spokesman for the East of England Development Agency said he was unable to comment.

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