USINESS groups from across Yorkshire have warmly welcomed Lord Heseltine’s radical programme to boost growth outside of London, urging Ministers to now put the plan into action.
Leaders of two of Yorkshire’s four Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – the business-led bodies set up to replace regional development agencies – have insisted they are up to the challenge thrown down by the Tory peer that LEPs take control of large amounts of public money spent locally.
In the report published by Lord Heseltine on Wednesday, a much-enhanced role is envisaged for LEPs in which they bid for shares of the £49bn spent on services in the regions.
If enacted, the measure would amount to the biggest shake-up of public spending in generations.
Leeds City Region LEP chairman Neil McLean said: “Lord Heseltine’s report includes some bold, transformative proposals that would be a step change in enabling places like the Leeds City Region to take charge of their own economic destiny.
“The devolution of real powers and significant, flexible budgets to LEPs would cement the progress we have made with our City Deal, with future investment driven by local decisions.
“We would also be confident in facing Lord Heseltine’s radical proposal of a competition between LEPs for this funding.
“I urge the Government to respond positively to the thrust of his recommendations to give LEPs extra flexibility and firepower to deliver on our ambitions.”
The chairman of the Sheffield City Region LEP, James Newman, said: “The LEP supports Lord Heseltine’s recommendations to expand the economic leadership role and funding on offer to LEPs.
“This report clearly endorses the principle that private-public partnership is the best way to deliver economic growth, and its recommendations reflect the vast economic potential of an appropriately funded LEP.
“We completely agree with the report’s overarching principle of localism – devolving powers and funding to local politicians and business leaders, who work together for the benefit of the City Region, is critical in rebalancing the UK’s economy.”
There was a word of warning, however, from the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, which said the Government must not allow LEPs to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Regional director Andy Tuscher said: “This review is a welcome recognition that all parts of Government need to get behind companies looking to grow.
“However, the Government needs to consider its proposals carefully to ensure they offer value for money, and review how they would work in practice.
“This is particularly true of Lord Heseltine’s thinking on LEPs. Giving them the tools to make a real impact on issues such as planning and transport, and the power to cut through the obstacles to growth at the local level, makes sense.
“But Government needs to make sure that they are up to the task before giving them control of large slugs of public money.”