Lord Heseltine urges PM to let metro mayors lead on post-lockdown recovery

Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine says metro mayors should be given a greater say over what measures are needed to rejuvenate their local economies after the coronavirus lockdown ends.

The Tory grandee today urges the Prime Minister not to wait until the end of lockdown restrictions before starting a national debate on a plan for renewal and growth.

Writing in tonight's London Evening Standard, the peer says he understands the Government's reluctance to "stimulate the growing hunger for dates and policies that signal at least a glimmer of hope that an end might be in sight".

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But he adds: “The reluctance has a serious downside. The longer it prevails the more the demand will grow to get the money spent, and the less time there will be to think, and plan the best ways, to maximise the outcome of that huge public borrowing.”

Lord Heseltine served in the governments of John Major and Margaret Thatcher. Pic: PA

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Lord Heseltine says detailed answers are needed on how the public money needed to restore the economy should be spent, calling for Ministers to "first look to local leadership" to decide what is best around the country.

And the peer, who supported the regeneration of Liverpool when it faced economic collapse in the 1980s, said the Government should invite elected metro mayors to "draw up proposals that would most quickly and most effectively rekindle their economies".

He wrote: "These plans will not conform to some national concept as the local challenges are all different, as are their strengths to cope with them.

"We need to address situations as local people know them to be not as Whitehall imagines them to be.

"This initiative will require a senior Minister to be put in charge. Michael Gove would be well placed but, to succeed, it will need the enthusiastic support of the Prime Minister.

"Without this endorsement central government departments will do what they always do and approve projects that conform to their functional responsibilities and specific experiences."

This weekend, Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham appeared on national television to call for a "standards-led" release from lockdown rather than what he described as an "arbitrary sectoral approach".

And earlier this month Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis called on the Government to provide support for businesses who currently fall between the gaps of their rescue packages in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

West Yorkshire is set to elect its first metro mayor next year after finally agreeing a devolution deal with government last month.

In his Evening Standard article Lord Heseltine, a prominent figure in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, stresses the importance of “local leadership as the most effective in tackling local problems”.

He argues: “Whitehall will never think so creatively. Local people can and in so doing multiply the cash that is on offer.”

“The government should now invite the Mayors to draw up proposals that would most quickly and most effectively rekindle their economies. These plans will not conform to some national concept as the local challenges are all different, as are their strengths to cope with them.

“We need to address situations as local people know them to be not as Whitehall imagines them to be.”

He concludes that such a plan “would be an important contribution to the hunger for hope that grows with every locked down day.”