Call to appoint ministers for each region

Business leaders yesterday called on the Government to appoint a full- time minister for each region of the country in a bid to kick-start economic development and improve competitiveness.

In a report to ministers the British Chambers of Commerce also recommended the whole system of regional support be streamlined so that regional development agencies took over most of the responsibilities of agencies such as English Partnerships, the Rural Development Commission and regional government offices.

Another of its recommendations is that business leaders be given a much more central role in the planning and implementation of regional economic development. It calls, for instance, for the creation of a single unified business support organisation to integrate the functions currently carried out separately by individual chambers, Business Links and Training and Enterprise Councils.

The aim of appointing dedicated ministers for different regions would be to ensure effective representation of each of those areas at national and international level, aid co-operation between the regions and act as a conduit for the flow of regional and national policies.

The report is the BCC's contribution to the Government's consultation exercise on regional development agencies instituted by the deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.

Sir Desmond Pitcher, the chairman of United Utilities, who led the taskforce that prepared the report, said: "Government must not fight shy of a radical approach to regional development. Tough decisions will have to be taken and Whitehall must be prepared to devolve responsibility for economic development strategies to regional level."

Dr Ian Peters, deputy director-general of the BCC, said meanwhile that business had to be given the lead role in local and regional development if economic prosperity was to come from business competitiveness.

"Government must encourage genuine economic partnerships to take responsibility for strategy while giving regional development agencies the power to deliver," he said.