Thursday, 17 June 2010

Regional quango staff offered a permanent away day

The government has moved to “choke off” millions of pounds in funding for the regional assembly which Labour falsely claimed to have scrapped.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles vowed to pull the plug on Whitehall support for the unelected, near-anonymous “talking shop” which had been simply re-branded as the South West Strategic Leaders’ Board.

When the WMN tried to contact the Strategic Leaders’ Board at its Taunton HQ yesterday, we were told no-one could comment because they were “all on an away day”.

A government source said: “Pretty soon they will be on one long extended holiday.”

Within days of becoming Prime Minister in 2007, Gordon Brown made great play of a pledge to scrap the South West Regional Assembly. MPs in the region celebrated, saying: “good riddance and good bye” to the assembly.

But in March this year a junior Labour minister admitted: “No regional assemblies have been abolished.”

Instead, it had been replaced by the vague-sounding South West Strategic Leaders’ Board, last year receiving more than £2 million in funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government. It meant saving just £230,016 on the assembly’s budget.The Leaders’ Board is the “executive arm” of a body called South West Councils,

Members include Torbay mayor Nick Bye, Plymouth city council leader Vivien Pengelly and Julia Day from the Council of the Isles of Scilly. Alec Robertson, Ken Maddock and John Hart, leaders of the Cornwall, Somerset and Devon county councils respectively, also sit on the board.

Councils will now be free to “organise themselves and work together as they choose”, also paving the way for the demolition of the South West Regional Development Agency.

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