What is Yorkshire Forward? 'Joined up thinking ' is Government spin doctors' favourite soundbite behind the creation, less than a year ago, of eight new Regional Development Agencies. These are the latest in a string of public sector bodies attempting to regenerate local economies through grant-aided development and jobs. And this time the politicians might just have got it right if the early track record of Yorkshire Forward, the catchy name for one of the largest RDAs with also one of the largest challenges, proves to be typical.
First year claims of the RDA for Yorkshire Humberside include: starting 14 new regeneration schemes worth some £110M to the local economy; spending £42M of its own, public, money to lever in £108M of private sector cash - going mainly into new business or retail parks; and creating 3,500 new jobs.
What makes this most relevant to the civils industry is that it translates into an annual cash injection to the local construction market of over £170M from the agency and property developers.
Yorkshire Forward is, though, largely a hidden construction client. Direct contact with consultants and contractors exists through coalfield reclamation programmes and infrastructure provision for development sites that would otherwise be uneconomic. But most of its contribution lies in pump priming, joint venturing and partnering with private sector developers, so spurring them into spending action.
The new agency was created through the amalgamation of three long established regional bodies: English Partnerships, Yorkshire & Humberside Development Agency and the Rural Development Commission. It also has control of the Government's £140M/y local aid package, the single regeneration budget.
The company claims, though, to be more than a larger more bureaucratic public sector albatross and takes its 'joined up' label seriously.
'We are business led and are not fettered by statutory needs or restraints,' says chief executive Martin Havenhand. 'We open doors and make things happen that otherwise wouldn't.'
He argues that the previous plethora of individual agencies concentrated quite legitimately on doing their own thing. 'There was no overall focus to support the region as whole,' he says. 'They were reactive, we are proactive.'
Yorkshire Forward's high sounding aims refer to boosting economic and sustainable development and creating a self reliant region with 'ladders of opportunity' for all. Yet to achieve this the man holding the purse strings for the annual £57M civils related budget, director of environment and development Paul Barber, prefers just one word: 'flexibility'.
'The old system of city grants demanded that a scheme fit exactly into the required rigid regime,' he reveals. 'We tailor our assistance to suit the project or property developer's specific needs.'