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A new lease of life for City Regions

A new lease of life for City Regions

🕔31.Oct 2012
English: Birmingham Town Hall from Chamberlain...

City Regions have been given a  new lease of life by Michael Heseltine’s report on growth, raising the possibility that the West Midlands could be given powers and budgets to oversee economic development and transportation.

Lord Heseltine recommends elected mayors for conurbations, as well as proposing substantial funding for Local Enterprise Partnerships which would be free from Whitehall ‘diktat’ and allowed to decide spending priorities for themselves.

The Government response to the Heseltine Report will be crucial in deciding whether City Regions finally move from the drawing board and become administrative realities.

The West Midlands’ experience with embryonic regional government has been fraught with petty rows and disputes. A move to bring all seven metropolitan authorities together under a shadow city region framework collapsed after the Black Country councils and Coventry decided that a mutual suspicion of Birmingham’s motives meant that they preferred to go it alone.

As a result, the region now has three business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships – one representing Birmingham and Solihull, one for the Black Country and one for Coventry and Warwickshire. All compete for limited funding.

A single West Midlands LEP, covering an area with a population of seven million people, would deliver economies of scale and be by far the largest and most influential organisation of its kind.

Lord Heseltine doesn’t make it clear how a conurbation mayor would fit in with the LEPs, but the broad thrust of his report has already been given additional legs by the leader of Birmingham City Council, Sir Albert Bore.

In his response to the report, Sir Albert, a long-time supporter of elected mayors, appears to hold out an olive branch to the rest of the West Midlands.

He said: “I am clear that Birmingham must work closely with all our neighbours in the city region to grasp the opportunities of a more localist approach.”

There may be significance in the fact that Sir Albert will tomorrow meet privately with Lord Heseltine and Cities Minister Greg Clark following today’s launch of the growth report at Birmingham Town Hall. Mr Clark and Sir Albert are said to enjoy a positive working relationship.

Sir Albert added: “I very much welcome Lord Heseltine’s report, his passionate commitment to localism and his recognition of the importance of Birmingham. Amongst the many proposals in the report, by far the most important is the creation of a single funding pot for economic development, infrastructure investment and skills which would be devolved to local areas.

“This echoes our own call for a more localist approach and the proposals we recently put to the Prime Minister. Giving the cities control of that range and scale of resources would enable us to drive growth and job creation more effectively than ever before.

“Lord Heseltine is right to call for a bolder approach to localism and for the restoration of the powers of our great cities. The current centralised approach will never unlock the investment and the enterprise we need to get growth moving across the country.

“This is an extremely wide ranging and comprehensive report and naturally we will not support all of its proposals in detail. But by being characteristically bold Lord Heseltine has made a valuable contribution to a debate we have been leading with the other cities. It is vital that the Government and the other political parties now give it the positive response it deserves.

“We have developed a positive working relationship with government on these matters and the city deal we signed earlier in the year represents a good first step on this road”.

 

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