The biggest devolution drive to the English regions in generations will be launched next year after the Chancellor gave his seal of approval to Lord Heseltine’s radical plan for growth.
George Osborne told MPs that the Tory peer’s 89-point blueprint “has captured the imagination of all political parties” and that key elements of the programme will be given the green light next year.
The central proposal in Lord Heseltine’s report – published last month – was the creation of a £49 billion “mega-fund” of Whitehall money, taken away from departments and handed to local areas to spend on housing, infrastructure and skills training.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said yesterday: “We’ve endorsed the principle of having a substantial pot (of devolved funding), which would come into effect in the next Parliament.
“We now want to look in detail at what that means.
“These are very complex issues. If you take an area like skills, there are lots of strategic objectives you’re trying to accomplish.
“But the principle of Heseltine is decentralisation, and we absolutely want to support that.”
No decisions have yet been taken on precisely how much Whitehall money will be made available to local areas.
But Mr Cable insisted the Government would do more than pay lip service to Lord Heseltine’s radical strategy.
“It’s got to be big to make an impact and be radical – that’s his point,” Mr Cable said. “He wants a bold commitment to decentralisation of funding, and we share that vision.”
Whatever funding is made available will be handed to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) – bodies comprised of local business leaders and council chiefs who work together to improve the local economy.
Sheffield City Region LEP Chairman James Newman said: “We welcome the Chancellor’s decision to expand the economic leadership role and funding on offer to LEPs.
“We completely agree with the over-arching principle of localism – devolving powers and funding to local politicians and business leaders, who work together to prioritise decisions that will have the most significant impact on economic growth.”
A White Paper setting out more detailed proposals will be published in the new year, ahead of firm measures in the 2015 spending review announcement due in the Spring.