LABOUR would bring back the Government post of ‘Minister for Yorkshire’ as part of its pledge to revive economic growth in the English regions.
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Michael Dugher, the MP for Barnsley East, said yesterday that reintroducing Regional Ministers would “put the voice of the English regions at the heart of Government decision-making”.
Regional Ministers were introduced by the last Labour Government to bang the drum for local areas in Whitehall – but were scrapped by the coalition when it came to power in 2010.
Mr Dugher said the new wave of Regional Ministers would monitor economic development in their local areas, liaise with town halls and business leaders, and sit together on a specially-formed committee in the Cabinet Office to promote regional growth.
“Labour is today pledging to introduce Regional Ministers, to put the voice of the English regions at the heart of Government decision-making,” Mr Dugher said.
“They will help to shape Government policy around regional interests with a view to correcting the regional inequalities that have arisen in recent years.
“As before, these would be senior Ministers in existing Departments taking additional responsibilities. But Regional Ministers would not be a replica of the previous arrangements. They would be a complementary arm in our determination to devolve more power to city-regions – and to supporting them from the centre.”
Those devolution plans were set out in more detail by Ed Miliband yesterday in a separate speech in Birmingham. The Labour leader pledged to double the amount of money available to local areas under Lord Heseltine’s plan for regional growth, from £2bn-a-year to £4bn.
Town halls and local enterprise partnerships would be given further control over transport and infrastructure investment, as well as new housing schemes and back-to-work programmes.
Mr Miliband and his shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, wrote to every local council and local enterprise partnership yesterday asking them to begin preparations for the extra devolved powers and funding Labour will offer.
They want town halls to join forces across regions to prepare economic growth plans within nine months of the next election, in return for the new powers and funding from Whitehall. “This is a challenging timetable, which is why we want to begin the work now,” the joint letter states.
Across large parts of Yorkshire, however, councils are already working together with businesses on ‘growth plans’.
“We have already seen the benefits that devolution can bring to Sheffield,” said Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore. “Now that we have some control of skills funding, we are able to better match the training offer for young people with the needs of local business.
“We need the Government to roll this out on a much wider scale and give cities the powers they need so we can meet the needs of our local areas.”
Comment: Page 14; Ed Miliband writes: Page 15.