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GBSLEP hopes there’s a pot of gold at the end of Hezza’s rainbow

GBSLEP hopes there’s a pot of gold at the end of Hezza’s rainbow

🕔18.Mar 2013

 

As the last green-hatted remnants of Birmingham’s St Patrick’s Day parade staggered home through the city centre on Sunday, a group of more soberly dressed citizens laid out plans they hope will lead to the city’s very own pot of gold.

The culmination of just ten intense weeks of research and consultation, the joint plan drawn up by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) and Tory grandee Lord Heseltine calls on the government to give the city region control over a ‘single pot’ of Whitehall money that is already allocated to the area. The principle is that decisions about where exactly to spend this money – on transport, skills, development – are better made locally than in the corridors of the Treasury.

Heseltine articulated this vision in his ‘No Stone Unturned’ report last autumn, and the ‘Greater Birmingham Project’ makes the case for the GBSLEP to be its test bed. Its report, ‘The Path to Local Growth’ argues that the repatriation of government funds to the region will allow the LEP to leverage more private sector investment (by borrowing against it), as well as bypassing the Chinese walls between government spending departments that look at single issues separately, rather than the needs of a region as a whole.

The GBSLEP plan calls for the formation of a supervisory board of the seven local authority leaders to control the single pot and decide how it’s spent. This new supervisory board sits above the existing LEP board, and – notably – includes no private sector representatives. A new CEO for the LEP would also ‘most likely’ be from a local authority background. This new approach to governance seems at odds with the founding principles of the LEPs, which the government promised would be private sector-led.

Those avoiding the Guinness on Sunday to launch the report to the media included Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, his Solihull counterpart Ken Meeson, Heseltine himself as well as the ever-chirpy Andy Street, chairman of the LEP. Also there were Lichfield and Meriden Tory MPs Michael Fabricant and Caroline Spelman (the former launching a passionate paen of praise for Mr Street’s commitment to the cause), but curiously absent were any MPs at all from Birmingham itself.

None of the cheerleaders would be drawn on exactly how much actual cash they wanted chancellor George Osborne to put in the GBSLEP Pot of Gold, with Bore and Heseltine insisting the first target in their sights was acceptance of the single pot principle itself.

Said Hezza enigmatically: “The bigger the pot, the bigger the prize.”

Street was also at pains to stress the specific project plans contained in the report would “go ahead anyway, but the single pot would accelerate the project significantly.”

Reports overnight hinted that Osborne was ready to accept ‘almost all’ of the Heseltine proposals contained in the original report, and this morning, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: “Over the last few decades, central government has systematically deprived local government of control and power. Only half of the money spent locally is raised locally, robbing our cities and regions of both the power and incentives to drive local growth.

He said the Regional Growth Fund, which was forecast to deliver and safeguard 500,000 jobs and £13 billion of private investment, and the City Deal agreements demonstrated the Government’s commitment to regional growth. “Lord Heseltine’s review is the icing on the cake. His local vision is the best way to foster local growth and stimulate the economy. A single local growth fund that Local Enterprise Partnerships apply to, joined up working between local authorities so they make strategic decisions on projects that boost growth such as infrastructure spanning their areas, and specialist support from civil servants. It’s a big change from the hand-out attitude of the past that stifled innovation and turned the regions into powerless centres that relied on Whitehall for jobs and spending.”

The big ideas identified in the Greater Birmingham report include:

• ‘UK Central’, a development based on the M42 Economic Gateway, where investment is accelerated through a new development corporation.

• The expansion of Birmingham Airport as a major component of the UK’s aviation infrastructure

• Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone and Sector Acceleration Zones;

• The GBSLEP directing skills funding locally, with the possible launch of a new University Technical College

• Joint procurement across the seven GBSLEP local authorities – with a promise that local businesses will benefit

• The acceleration of digital connectivity with the single pot replacing the fragmented investment approach for broadband rollout

 

 

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