Heseltine challenges cities to take on Whitehall

The north needs to forcibly stand up to Whitehall’s ‘the answer is no’ culture, Lord Heseltine has said.

Lord Heseltine

The former deputy prime minster, a leading advocate for Yorkshire devolution, has said there is a cultural mindset in the civil service that will prevent any real hand over of powers unless cities and regions stand firm.

Lord Heseltine, said to be pushing the case for greater yorkshire devolution, told a London audience that when it comes to Whitehall, too many city leaders accept what they are told.

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He said: “If you are asking what is the attitude in Whitehall to giving more power to recognise the answer is ‘no and then we will think of a reason’ mentality.

“When people push for devolution what they are saying is Government departments should be dismembered so you have to persuade the Secretary of State and officials that their careers and livelihood will be as good as they are now.”

Across the north council groups are now bidding for those extra powers.

That change would only come, Lord Heseltine said, when the regions get bolder.

He added: “I go around trying to create aggro for people to fight the Whitehall machine, and then people say to me, ‘oh well done ‘but the next day these same local authority people go to Whitehall and repeat what I said and some civil servant says ‘oh, you know Heseltine, he’s always been a bit wild, just ask us for cash in March’

“That’s the real world.

“Where are the Mr Bigs who will fight the machine? Boris does it in London, Ken did it before him.

“For High Speed 2 the Northern leaders stamped their feet when Ed Balls wanted to get rid of it, and that worked, but show me another example of them wanting to stretch their muscles.

“If it was in Amercia and the leader of Boston was told Washington is upset with you he would say good, that’s what I’m about. Show me that here, that’s what we need.”

Lord Heseltine has taken part in efforts to broker a deal over a major devolution of Government powers and money to the region, The Yorkshire Post revealed this week.

Parallel discussions over devolution have also been taking place between South Yorkshire and the Government ahead of Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement.