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Birmingham set to pioneer Heseltine growth plans

Birmingham set to pioneer Heseltine growth plans

🕔29.Nov 2012

Birmingham is likely to be chosen as the pilot city to investigate ways of implementing the economic growth agenda outlined in a wide-ranging report by Tory grandee Michael Heseltine.

In what’s being seen as a considerable coup, Lord Heseltine is expected to spend several weeks in Birmingham with a team of experts investigating how his ideas about giving more powers and budgets to local councils and enterprise partnerships would work in practice.

The former Trade and Industry Secretary intends to publish a report in March 2013 setting out ways in which Birmingham could be “freed from the shackles of Whitehall”, according to a spokesman for the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP).

At the centre of Lord Heseltine’s deliberations will be ideas setting out how Birmingham and GBSLEP local authorities could benefit from £49 billion of economic development funding that he believes should be removed from central Government control and handed to cities and regions.

Work is also likely to be undertaken to identify how planning regulations could be relaxed in an attempt to make it easier to attract inward investment and job creation to Birmingham.

The GBSLEP spokesman said Lord Heseltine would be “very much dealing in specifics” and the report is expected to bring forward firm recommendations to the Prime Minister.

Lord Heseltine’s involvement is set out in a letter to the Prime Minister from LEP chairman Andy Street. In it Mr Street says there is a determination in Birmingham to “move the agenda forward”.

He adds: “We intend to look at the opportunities that could arise here in our area were the government to pursue a more localist agenda, to consider what we might add to any expenditure from our own resources or by partnership with outside interests.

“Although our city region has political differences between the parties, Birmingham has a long tradition of putting the city and its neighbours first. We note that in the report, and in the reception to it, support for a more localist agenda comes from all sides of the political spectrum.”

Lord Heseltine will be joined in Birmingham by Meriden MP Caroline Spelman, a former cabinet member, and West Midlands Euro-MP Phil Bennion, along with a team of experts.

The Heseltine Report – No Stone Unturned – made 89 recommendations about ways to restore growth and wealth creation to Britain.

He recommended devolving power from Whitehall and re-invigorating the big cities that had fuelled the growth and wealth that the country had enjoyed in past decades.

Lord Heseltine, head of the Department of Trade and Industry in the 1980s, said the government should allocate growth funds through Local Enterprise Partnerships that were established in place of Regional Development Agencies.

Significantly, Lord Heseltine launched his report earlier in the year at Birmingham Town Hall.

He told the audience: “My recommendations do not single out a few headline proposals for areas we need to improve on. What we need is a new partnership between the private and public sectors, between local communities and central government.

“Only in this way will we get the best use of our limited public funds and leverage in private investment. I have not left the Government with easy decisions. Some may paint my report as a set of criticisms – that is the wrong approach. To invite criticism is a sign of strength. What I have proposed is an opportunity on a grand scale.

“I have looked across the board at how we create wealth, and spoken from my own experience in business and government. What I have outlined today points the way towards prosperity. We will not just need the determination of government, but of every business, every local leader and every individual to deliver this vision.”

Sir Albert Bore, the leader of Birmingham City Council, said he would continue to work closely with the LEP to make the case to government for more powers and resources to drive growth in the city region.

He added: “Following our meeting with the Prime Minister in September and subsequent discussions with Lord Heseltine and Cities Minister Greg Clark, it is clear that the Government welcomes our ambition and our determination to play a leading role in taking this agenda forward.

“Lord Heseltine’s report gave strong support for our call for a more localist approach. So we were determined to respond positively and to take forward his proposals immediately rather than waiting to be asked. That offer has been positively received.

“By working together across the city region and forging a close partnership with business leaders we are ensuring that Birmingham plays its rightful role in bringing powers and resources back to our cities and city regions.”


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