Blairites handed jobs on quangos

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is packing new quangos with Labour supporters in a "jobs for the boys" strategy, similar to the Tory practice which the party criticised when in opposition. More than one-third of the 103 members of the new Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) have direct links to Labour.

In a letter seen by The Independent, Sir Jeremy Beecham, Labour chairman of the Local Government Association, has complained of "problems of political balance" to the minister for the regions, Richard Caborn.

In 1995, Tony Blair told Labour's annual conference: "It's time to sweep away the quango state." In the same year, he pledged to stop "everything being run by unaccountable Tory placemen".

Gillian Shephard, Tory spokeswoman on the regions, said last night: "This is Labour's gerrymandering of the whole system to ensure only their voice is heard. It is a denial of democracy and the peach of hypocrisy on Labour's part."

The eight RDAs across England have 103 members, of which 35 are Labour councillors, union officials and people who work for Labour-supporting organisations. Two others are Labour lords. This 37 contrasts with the seven Conservatives and eight Liberal Democrats appointed. A further 13 are connected to the Government by other ministerial appointments, many of which are paid roles.

RDAs were established by John Prescott's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions last December. Each of the agencies has a chairman paid pounds 44,000 a year for two days work a week and a board of up to 13 members paid pounds 7,000 for two days a month.

The RDAs aim to help regional development by raising people's skills and regenerating the social and physical environment. The agencies are funded by pounds 1bn of public money. A possible further pounds 1bn raised from business is being allocated to attract inward investment, notably from the European Union.

Among the RDA chairmen is Lord Thomas of Macclesfield, ennobled by Labour last year. He runs the North-west's RDA and is paid pounds 425 for each of his two days a week. Lord Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods and a substantial party donor, receives pounds 290 per meeting as an RDA board member. Kevin Curran, who sits on the North-east's RDA, is northern regional secretary of the GMB general workers' union. Other union officials are Christine Wood, regional secretary of TUC Midlands region, and James Hunt, chairman of the Midlands TUC and regional secretary of the TGWU. Richard Leese, of Manchester city council, is one of the 10 Labour leaders on RDAs.

The ministry said last night that independent assessors took part in shortlisting and interviews. All appointments had been made in accordance with guidelines from the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

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