TORY plans to scrap a development organisation tasked with helping the south-east recover from recession would lead to job losses in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, business Secretary Lord Mandelson has claimed.

He told the Daily Echo that the South East England Development Agency (Seeda) was crucial for economic growth, and warned that Conservative proposals to axe the body would “lead directly to higher joblessness” in the region.

More than 24,000 people in south Hampshire and the Isle of Wight claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance in January, according to the latest figures, up more than six per cent from the previous month.

But the Government has insisted unemployment is lower than expected during the downturn – and lower than in previous recessions – in part because of the support given to local businesses by regional development agencies.

Lord Mandelson, pictured, said: “Regional development agencies are the chief instrument we have to deliver crucial business support, inward investment and promotion of new industries and jobs.

“They have played a crucial role in driving growth in regional economies and supporting businesses through the recession.”

Seeda, defending its record, said it had created or safeguarded more than 60,000 jobs in the south-east over the past decade.

A spokesman said: “In Hampshire, we have administered six transitional loan funds during the recession worth £790,000, helping to safeguard or create 270 jobs.

“We funded £160,000 for the Solent Waterfront Strategy to ensure that the important marine sector in this area continues to thrive and attract new businesses and a skilled workforce. Seeda has also recently announced it is investing £7.4m in GKN (on the Isle of Wight) to develop the next generation components for fuel efficient aircraft engines.”

This month, it emerged that Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke wrote to Tory MPs saying he would “replace” RDAs with local enterprise partnerships.

Lord Mandelson described the Tories’ proposal for voluntary arrangements between local authorities and businesses as “nothing more than glorified talking shops, which would have no money and no muscle, and no ability to make a difference”.

He added: “Breaking up the RDAs would mean less investment and higher unemployment in the regions. The Tories’ policy would lead directly to higher joblessness.”

Shadow Communities Secretary Caroline Spelman said: “The people who are undermining regeneration are Labour ministers, who have just raided £300m from RDA budgets.

“It’s clear from their actions that not even the Government thinks the RDAs currently offer value for money. But Labour just don’t get localism – devolving down power and funding doesn’t cut support, it makes it more responsive and accountable.”