Lord Heseltine’s economic growth plan, No stone unturned in pursuit of growth has just been published.
In it he calls for a major rebalancing of responsibilities for economic development between central and local government, and between government and the private sector.
Heseltine was in large part the architect of City Challenge and the establishment of Urban Development Corporations, as well as the more recent Regional Growth Fund, and it is perhaps no surprise that these models lie at the heart of his proposals for kickstarting economic growth in the UK.
His independent report argues fiercely for the devolving of government budgets and an extension of the principle of competitive bidding from local partnerships as the foundation for unleashing local growth and entrepreneurialism.
Single funding pots should be established with spending decisions made by local partnerships bidding competitively into such funds. For example, if central government spending in just the following six areas were combined — skills, local infrastructure, employment support, housing, business support services, and innovation and commercialisation — this would result in over £49bn being available for local bidding.
Will Heseltine’s report be influential in setting new policy approaches for the remainder of the present term of government and beyond?
Well, that’s anybody’s guess, but certainly based on his past record Heseltine does have the clout to transform how things are done. Place-based regeneration funds such as City Challenge shaped regeneration policy and practice for three decades; the establishment of Urban Development Corporations was arguably of even greater impact.
Those who were directly involved in schemes such as City Challenge, or who recall the powers handed over to UDCs, may well take a different view of the recommendations (89 of them) in Heseltine’s report.
What is sure, however, is that we are about to see a major rethink in how, where and by whom economic development priorities are decided and funds allocated. And it is likely that Local Enterprise Partnerships will be central.
Indeed, Andy Street, chair of the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP has already written to the Prime Minister setting out a case for Lord Heseltine to work more closely with GBSLEP in implementing growth plans. It is understood that Heseltine has welcomed the suggestion. Watch this space.