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Never knowingly undone

Never knowingly undone

🕔27.Jun 2013

It’s difficult not to acquire a sense that whatever situation Andy Street finds himself in, he will always see the bright side. No doubt he’s a demanding boss for his fellow employee-owners at John Lewis, but he must also be an incredibly motivating leader. Eternal optimists can distort reality, set unattainable objectives and create futile strategies, but in a city region historically seen as a bunch of whingers in the vicinity of Downing Street, Andy Street is an indubitable asset.

Even for Street, stepping up to the podium a few minutes after the Chancellor revealed a piddling £2Bn would be available across the country for the Single Local Growth Fund must have been tough. As I’d predicted, the chairman of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) remained characteristically upbeat. His message seemed to be ‘yes, we are disappointed but it’s a start and we’re already beginning to deliver the principles of No Stone Unturned and the Greater Birmingham Project on the ground.’ His positive outlook even rubbed off on Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore by the time he stepped up to round off the LEP’s annual conference. Albert is not normally given to sunny dispositions or refusing to make political capital.

Whatever positive spin Street, Bore and others apply to the Spending Review and Single Pot, it is a far cry from Lord Heseltine’s vision of handing over circa £50Bn (over four years) from Whitehall to local and free delivery. Less of a pot, more of a thimble.

Centre for Cities, the respected urban think tank, had argued for £5Bn and suggested £3Bn was at the very bottom of the range. So £2Bn is a disappointment and, as the Centre’s chief executive argues, “it’s hardly a ringing endorsement for devolution to local areas.” Alex Jones added: “the worry is that Whitehall could require places to jump through a lot of hoops in order to access relatively small amounts; hardly a localised process.”

As David Bailey argues in the Birmingham Post, the most important response to Hezza’s report was always going to be from within Whitehall. Yesterday’s announcement effectively confirms that the resistance of Treasury and BIS officials won the day.

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