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Heseltine calls for revival of Birmingham’s ‘buccaneer’ spirit

Heseltine calls for revival of Birmingham’s ‘buccaneer’ spirit

🕔03.Jan 2013

HezzaThere was absolutely no room for cynics at the launch of the Greater Birmingham Project.

Even sceptics might have found themselves feeling a little queasy.

Leaders of the city’s business, academic and political communities were suitably enthused at an almost evangelical performance by Michael Heseltine, whose message was that after countless false dawns the long march towards localism has finally begun.

And could there be a more suitable place than Birmingham, with its great civic connections to Joseph Chamberlain, to smash the chains of centralism and give the Local Enterprise Partnership the budget and powers to launch an economic revival?

The Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP is embarking on a three-month review which aims to demonstrate to Ministers how proposals in Lord Heseltine’s ‘No Stone Unturned’ report on restoring growth to the regions could work in practice.

Lord Heseltine will play an active role in overseeing the LEP’s work, which everyone hopes will result in a substantial amount of a four-year £60 million Single Pot growth fund heading Birmingham’s way. The money, incidentally, is made up of £49 million from the Government and £11 million from Europe and is designed to underwrite capital projects.

There was a sense during the launch at KPMG’s Snow Hill headquarters that Lord Heseltine’s hour had finally come. After all, as he reminded his audience, he has been banging away about localism and restoring powers to Britain’s great cities since the 1970s.

He painted a picture of where it had all gone wrong. Cities like Birmingham had been made great by entrepreneurs, the “buccaneers”, but over the past 150 years powers had gradually been sucked away by central government leaving regions unable to plot their own destiny.

However, in a carefully nuanced section of his speech, Lord Heseltine pointed out that the localism agenda will not be to everyone’s liking. There are those in Whitehall who are “not exactly jumping up and down” in excitement about the transfer of budgets and jobs to the regions, he admitted.

He added: “We do know there will be a Single Pot. It will happen. What we don’t know yet is the scale.” In other words, will this move towards localism be any more than a gesture?

Lord Heseltine said he thought the Government was serious about the latest initiative.

LEPs across the country would have to show Ministers how they could use money to stimulate growth. There would be no hard and fast rules about the type of projects to be funded, no ring fenced monies. It would be up to the LEPs to demonstrate how the Single Pot could work.

He continued: “I have no guarantees that the Government will do anything on a scale, or that they will see it through, or that it will last for more than four years. The only way to make it happen is to make a success of what I believe is the first serious attempt to make localism work and return power to the people who made this country in the first place.”

It is now up to the Greater Birmingham Project to draw together a submission document. That means, inevitably, a harmonious working relationship between the LEP’s councils and business partners. To quote Lord Heseltine: “You will have to get cracking.”

Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP chairman Andy Street was not lost for superlatives. “There is a spirit of optimism and opportunity in this room. It is a seminal moment for Birmingham,” he declared.

We should all know by Easter whether Mr Street, and Lord Heseltine, have succeeded where so many others have failed.

 

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