I was thrilled to learn (also on Twitter as I'm certainly not in stormy Brighton) that Centre for Cities' über-cerebral Alexandra Jones has had two successful events down there over the last few days. One on Fair Growth (whatever that is, Alex? Surely equitability is almost secondary at this parlous moment in time?) on Monday, and the other on City Deals yesterday. Someone has to keep the flag flying and we're grateful to Alex, for her diligence and commitment. She continually stretches the debate. We look forward to the full reports of the events.
I was musing... there wasn't much of a fuss over the fact that the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) had been reported by the Public Account Committee a couple of weeks back to have only spent £60m. Perhaps nobody understands what's going on; I certainly struggle.
Sir Bob Kerslake sure had had a rough time in a hearing in May. And it would seem that, essentially, the two departments concerned (Communities and Local Government and Business Innovation and Skills) had merely "parked" the money in various intermediary bodies to avoid an under-spend. Hence only a small amount - the £60m - can be shown to have got to real things when the committee reported on 12 September 2012.
Now I have some sympathy with the civil servants concerned, those in CLG in particular. It can't be easy to spend £465m in a year trying to reconcile central decisions - the Heseltine panel, and all that that entails - and more localist needs. But they have not managed to explain themselves well. I think they are doing better in the second round, but they could have got much more credit for using "programme" funds, eg money to local authorities and so forth, under an umbrella of localism. Could have been... er... coherent even.
UKR has a spoof dictionary on urban regeneration terms on our website. This is what we said about RGF: "The latest product from the BIS 'RAGPAG' or Random Growth Policy Acronym Generator. Usefully, provided the name is impressive enough, there is no requirement for a policy thus generated to 'do what it says on the tin' or indeed to have any practical real world value at all." Ha! Well we speak as we find. And that is a few months old now.
I would suggest the coalition government should try to come out honestly and collegiately in all this: everyone knew it would be tough to get RGF spent quickly on good meaningful projects. CLG and BIS need to show how they are making this essential grant work with local people with local knowledge rather than be accused of simply parking the money.
We need a grown-up approach now. Perhaps Lord Heseltine and Sir Ian Wrigglesworth will come out in defence of the position at the Conservative party conference?
Can ministers deliver growth? Stumps me, Damian.