‘The Time Has Come for Action’

Lord Heseltine has just launched The Greater Birmingham Project: The Path to Local Growth. This is a quick review of the document.

The Path to Local Growth

Lord Heseltine and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP are really seizing the day. The launch today is intended to feed into George Osborne’s budget setting agenda for later in the week; not that it will come as a surprise to Osborne given Lord Heseltine’s close links but also give the involvement of local MEP/MPs and in the background Civil servants from BIS and CLG.

The plan is radical in one sense only but it is a very important sense; ie the establishment of a single pot. It is seeking a pilot pot of resources drawn from across Whitehall to pool under local control doing away with the individual rules and regulations for each fund leading to simplification, breaking down of silos and more effective delivery on the ground. It rehearses well the arguments for such an approach comparing the real difficulties, time and costs associated with getting New Street Station refurbishment of the ground compared to the quick decision making under GBSLEP to establish the Enterprise Zone and support key investments. such as the Paradise Circus scheme. The arguments put forward about how this will be more effective include:

  • This will enable some schemes that simply would not happen without single pot; perhaps because they don’t meet the specific rules of  existing pots or perhaps because central government hasn’t yet established a funding stream.
  • Some schemes would be delivered more quickly saving money and generating extra benefit
  • Some schemes would be delivered better with more impact as the single pot will allow for connections more easily – for instance links betwen capital investment schemes and training schemes

These benefits are well understood in other countries where there are more decentralised structures and GBSLEP is to be praised for seizing this opportunity. But this is not about self interest; it is about a better way to spend public money, levering in as well more private sector resources to help kick start the UK economy.

The .LEP is committed to using these resources to invest in 6 key enablers of growth

  1. A new joined up system of business support
  2. Building sector strengths and opportunities
  3. Stimulating  Research and Innovation
  4. Improving skills
  5. Improving physical and digital connectivity
  6. Optimising the economic value of the areas assets

It proposes new governance arrangments through the creation of a Supervisory Board; it asks for a team of civil servants to join in this drive by creating a local growth team specific to the LEP.

It  rehearses some of the projects that have been talked about already including potentially the most economically advantageous the M42 Economic Gateway/ Birmingham Airport project.

M42 Economic Gateway

One new emphasis that is apparent is the potential to use public procurement not to just drive savings but importantly as well to drive innovation in the local economy. This idea being pushed by Europe and by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board needs support to get it off the ground  and it is great that the LEP have swung behind it given its proven potential elsewhere. In reality there is much more thought needed in some of projects lined up, but what is to be applauded is this seeing of the light in this joined up approach.

Lets hope George Osborne, who I am sure is keenly looking for new ideas, will grasp the nettle and commit wholeheartedly to this approach. ‘The time has come for action.’

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