With 89 recommendations, comprehensive is certainly one word you might use to describe Lord Heseltine’s Review launched today in Birmingham. Others may view it as an attack on Government. But Heseltine claims to be a “glass half full” man who sees his Review as an opportunity to rise to the challenge.
Heseltine points to the UK’s world class businesses and internationally renowned universities but urges “these are standards to achieve not grounds for complacency”. Jerry Blackett from the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce was clear in his introduction that “no one thinks the status quo is an option for the UK economy”.
Heseltine’s view is there is a better way. That way centres on reinvigorating local leadership across England – something Centre for Cities has long been calling for.
What’s included in the Review?
It’s difficult to summarise all of the Review’s recommendations in a short blog. Heseltine himself is reluctant to prioritise out of the 89 recommendations for fear of people losing sight of the others. His view is that every single one is a “contributor to growth”. If he did have one priority though, it would be to build a “universal understanding that the responsibility for growth lies with every individual”.
There are several key themes running through the report, along with some stand out recommendations:
• PM-led National Growth Council – An overarching long term strategy should be underpinned by a strong governance structure. The Growth Council should drive the implementation of the Growth Strategy across all departments.
• A Single Funding Pot – A single funding pot for local areas to include significant parts of budgets held by central government that would be ‘more effectively managed by local leaders’ (including skills, housing, infrastructure and employment support). This goes with the grain of developments around City Deals and Community Budgets but would give city leaders much more discretion over how funds are spent locally.
• Putting local partners at the heart of economic policy – Local Enterprise Partnerships should be given resources (with the allocation of £250,000 new public funding) to develop local economic plans. LEPs should then bid for funding from the single pot. Where LEPs lack capacity they should be given support.
• Functional economic areas – Emphasis is also placed on LEPs ensuring their boundaries match functional economic areas – the most effective level for urban economic decision making and implementation. Heseltine also believes a more simple structure for local government should be created: all two-tier authorities outside London are encouraged to move towards unitary status.
• Public-private partnerships – Central to the Review is partnership between the public and private sectors. Recommendations around broadening the role of the private sector include the Chambers of Commerce receiving enhanced legal status to provide access to business support and local authorities building stronger relationships with private sector partners.
So where next?
There is a lot of support for Heseltine’s recommendations. As always there is also some scepticism, some surrounding the ability of Chambers of Commerce to provide effective business support and mechanisms for fair allocation from a single funding pot. A real shift of power to LEPs will bring with it more experimentation too. With experimentation comes the need for proper evaluation of what works.
What really matters now is the reaction from Government, and what we see in terms of action and implementation.
Heseltine acknowledges that many of his recommendations are not new. There are lots of references back to past initiatives and reviews. In some ways this is reflective of the lack of implementation and consistency. For Heseltine “inertia forms a substantial part of the blockage” when it comes to policy implementation. For those who think there’s merit in his plans, Heseltine urges people to “stand up and be counted” in order to drive change.
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