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£1bn growth deal ‘small amount of money’ says shadow minister, but Labour council leaders say they’re delighted

£1bn growth deal ‘small amount of money’ says shadow minister, but Labour council leaders say they’re delighted

🕔30.Jan 2015

An attempt by Labour’s shadow local government minister to portray a £1 billion top-up to local enterprise partnership growth deals as a small amount of money backfired after it emerged that the party’s senior council leaders praised the hand-out as “excellent” and “fantastic news”.

Roberta Blackman-Woods told the House of Commons that the additional money amounted to no more than “trickling out bits and pieces” and would do little to regenerate the most deprived cities.

Cities Minister Greg Clark responded by reading extracts from press releases issued by council leaders in response to the £1 billion top-up.

Sir Albert Bore, the Labour leader of Birmingham city council, said: “This is fantastic news for Birmingham and the wider region”.

Darren Cooper, the Labour leader of Sandwell council, said the additional investment would “boost the quality of life in the Black Country”.

The Labour Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, said: “Today’s announcement is excellent news for businesses and communities in our city and county.”

Clark and Blackman Woods clashed following a statement to the Commons by the Cities Minister which described the growth deals as “a great success”.

The six West Midlands LEPs will be handed an additional £91 million on top of £774.8 million already approved last year to fund local regeneration schemes.

Ms Blackman Woods said abolition of the former regional development agencies without putting in place a proper alternative had caused “chaos” and she reiterated Labour’s pledge to plough £30 billion into city and county regions over the lifetime of the next parliament.

She said:

The small amounts of money that have been announced today seem to have more to do with another round of overblown press releases than with substance. We know Tory Ministers are big fans of trickle-down economics, but this stuttering decentralisation under this Government gives the term a whole new dimension, and it has not gone unnoticed that the Minister is not announcing new devolution of money for this year, but from 2016, and spread thinly over the next parliament. That is not a long-term economic plan; it is more delay and continued centralisation.

As Ministers fan out across the marginal seats that the Government are courting with today’s announcements, people in many other cities, towns and rural areas will ask why they are being ignored by this Government when it comes to devolution.

A Labour Government will make our devolution offer open to all parts of England—not just to cities, but to towns and villages that come together in combined authorities, with city and county regions across the whole country.

A Labour Government will pass an English Devolution Act to reverse a century of centralisation and secure devolution for the people of England’s city and county regions. We will transfer £30 billion of funding over five years, passing power and resource down for transport, skills, employment support, housing and business support.

That is three times more money than the current Government have said they will devolve. We will also give city and county regions more power over their public transport networks so that they can set the right bus routes and have fairer fares, as well as integrate their transport services to help working people and businesses succeed.

Mr Clark insisted there was no nostalgia for RDAs:

Under the last Government £20 billion was spent on the RDAs and the regional disparities worsened during that time. What we have seen since 2010 is a different approach—a locally-led approach recognising that places such as Liverpool and Manchester are proud cities with an identity of their own and should not be subsumed under an artificial Whitehall creation called the north-west run from Whitehall. They need to have their voice, and they are proudly expressing it.

Since 2010 most new jobs have been created outside London and the south-east. Under the last Government, during the boom the number of private sector jobs in the city of Birmingham actually contracted. We do not want to go back to RDAs.

Every part of England is covered by a local enterprise partnership and will benefit from this, and we want to go further forward in the future. The difficulty we have with this agenda is that the enthusiasm of all parties throughout the country is not reflected on the Labour front bench.

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