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Ten questions for GBSLEP, Heseltine and George Osborne

Ten questions for GBSLEP, Heseltine and George Osborne

🕔18.Mar 2013

My colleague Kevin Johnson argues elsewhere on this blog that the GBSLEP ‘Path to Local Growth’ report is too thin on evidence in its arguments, but that with the original Heseltine paper it proposes the most radical overhaul of local and national government structures in decades.

At the risk of repetition, I’d like also to pose ten questions that occurred to me as I was digesting the reports and the Government’s responses today.

  1. Governance: The GBSLEP plan says it will create a supervisory board of the nine local authority leaders in the LEP area, and create the role of LEP CEO – who will be a council veteran. Will the component areas have voting rights distributed according to the relative sizes of the local authorities – or could we see tiny Burton pulling the rug on major projects in Birmingham?
  2. Will business partners feel sidelined by this new governance structure, which seems to row back on the original government promise that LEPs would be driven by business?
  3. Will the resurrection of the prospect / spectre (delete as applicable) of a directly elected mayor prove a major distraction to the process, leading to ideological divisions between the partners?
  4. Under whatever new governance structures that come about – mayors, combined authorities etc – who will actually scrutinise these locally made decisions over billions of pounds of public money? Regional assemblies, anyone?
  5. How realistic is it that centuries of a centralising mindset at the heart of the British Civil Service can be overturned in just a few months?
  6. Will this reform of local and central government lead to a physical redistribution of Whitehall personnel to the regions, implementing at long last the Lyons reforms?
  7. What’s the appetite in the Labour Party for this full-strength version of localism? The party has talked the talk often enough, but when in power demonstrates centralising tendencies with the best of them.
  8. If LEP areas have to compete for a share of single government pot, what happens to the losers? Is the electorate ready to accept survival of the fittest as an economic policy?
  9. Where is the Black Country in all of this? Heseltine and the Government all sing the mantra of ‘functional economic areas’, but the Black Country remains firmly apart from Birmingham and Solihull LEP. Is Black Country-Brum reunification ruled out once the single pot principle is established?
  10. Finally – the killer – will any of this actually work? The Government is betting the farm on the hope that this regionally-led strategy will be digging the whole of the UK out of recession by 2015. If the green shoots are too thin on the ground by early 2015, is there a Plan B (or should that be Plan C?).
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