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New EEDA boss spells out plans

PUBLISHED: 16:00 02 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:31 01 August 2010

The offshore windfarm at Scroby Sands, near Great Yarmouth

The offshore windfarm at Scroby Sands, near Great Yarmouth

Paul Hill, business editor

The construction boom in offshore wind farms over the next two decades should make East Anglia an "exporter" of green energy to the rest of the UK, according to the new chairman of the East of England Development Agency.

The construction boom in offshore windfarms over the next two decades should make East Anglia an "exporter" of green energy to the rest of the UK, according to the new chairman of the East of England Development Agency.

Professor Will Pope took up the post of agency chairman yesterday with a pledge to help push the region's credentials as a centre for green energy, science and hi-tech engineering.

But with a general election within weeks and two of the major parties - the Tories and Liberal Democrats - warning of cuts to regional bodies, the long-term future of the agency is in question.

Stressing that Eeda is a non-political body, Professor Pope said: "Obviously, we believe that there is a role for an economic development agency that is focused on creating economic wealth.

"We feel that between central and local government, we fill a niche that has real value in delivering cross-cutting projects.

"What we know is that we have supported projects that have delivered a real return on that investment - projects that have been independently assessed.

"Independent evaluations show that we've delivered a return of £4.75 for the economy for every £1 we've invested. If you take a longer-term view, that £4.75 return becomes an £8 return in the long term.

"Many of those investments wouldn't have happened if we hadn't been there to oil the wheels to get them going so that others could take them forward."

He added: "The people to listen to are organisations like the CBI, Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Business and the engineering body, the EEF.

"They're all arguing that regional development agencies (RDAs) are valuable for their members, and their members are businesses in the community. The EEF, for example, wrote to every Conservative MP recently clearly stating the value their members found from having regional development agencies. So, if you like, doesn't listen to us, listen to businesses."

But with all three major parties warning of major public spending cuts, Prof Pope admitted that Eeda would need to "change and flex our organisation for whatever environment we're faced with after the general election to continue to deliver value for money".

Forty-two per cent of Eeda's £111m spending programme for 2010-11 is already committed to direct support for business, whether grant schemes or advice services, he said. Half of the Eeda's spending programme for the next 12 months is earmarked for supporting science, innovation and developing high-level skills, improve-ments to the region's infrastructure and promoting sustainability.

Prof Pope is non-executive chairman of the health, safety and environmental businesses IEG Technologies UK in Cranfield, AAR Environmental in Watford and chief executive of Microbila Solutions in Oxford. He has been a board member of Eeda since 2006, and replaces Richard Ellis as chairman.

Prof Pope said: "Where I think we can improve and add even more value than in the past is to really maximise the leverage of our existing industrial and commercial base into new industries and new jobs. With so many of the skills that are required, a huge amount of the wealth to be created will come from the skills that we already have. It's vitally important for our small and medium-sized businesses to diversify into new low-carbon opportunities.

"We have the potential to make the East of England green energy self-sufficient, in fact, to export green energy, but on the back of traditional skills that are already here."

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