COUNCIL leaders in Hampshire are preparing to take on the local role of the South East England Development Agency (Seeda) which is to be abolished.

The new coalition Government announced in the Budget it was scrapping the nine regional agencies set up by Labour to boost jobs and redevelopment.

It instead wants “locally-elected leaders, working with business, to lead local economic development” through “local enterprise partnerships”.

The Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (Push), a grouping of eleven councils, last night met to disscuss how it would step up to the challenge.

Push chairman and Fareham council leader Sean Woodward said it would “fit very well with Push members”.

He said south Hampshire had worked with Seeda and benefited from funding, but called the artificially imposed development region a “nonsense”, and criticised Seeda for being “too much focused on the public sector”.

The Daily Echo revealed this week how most of its grants in recent years had gone to organisations rooted in the public sector rather then private businesses and European ports and cities.

Seeda has also been much criticised for wasting money. Its former boss James Braithwaite infamously spent £1,000 of taxpayers’ money a week on taxis and a personal driver.

A TaxPayers’ Alliance analysis of the region’s economic performance showed no improvement – and even a slowing of progress – since it was created.

But Seeda claimed that since its inception in 1999, every £1 it has invested has resulted in an overall gain for the economy of more than £5.

Southampton City Council’s Cabinet member for economic development Councillor Royston Smith said: “We always felt the region was too large. We don’t share much in common with places like Dover or Milton Keynes.

“Economic development is best delivered at a much more local level and sub- regional partnerships are the way forward.”

At an all-member meeting an overwhelming majority of councils in the south east voted this month in favour of a motion to scrap Seeda. They called for Seeda’s economic development funding and assets to be handed to councils.

Chief executive officer of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce Captain Jimmy Chestnutt said: “The South East England Chambers of Commerce has written to the Government urging that any new organisations set up to replace the RDAs should actively engage with the existing real representatives of business and not seek to create new ones.”

A consultation paper will be published in the summer to pave the way for a law to abolish regional development agencies.

Seeda chief executive Pam Alexander said: “As an economic development agency our only interest is in the growth and competitiveness of the south east economy and we are committed to working with government and stakeholders to implement the required structural changes in a way that minimises disruption to business and support for growth.”

Seeda, which employs 240 staff, was among a string of quangos ordered to make savings to help reduce the national deficit. It was already facing the loss of more than a quarter of its budget, which was £126m in 2009/10. It paid out £114m in grants in 2008/9.