Rebalancing act is essential

BUZZ phrases come and go at a fair rate of knots in politics. David Cameron’s “Big Society” has given way to “Aspiration Britain”, while Ed Miliband is pinning his General Election hopes on a sketchy “One Nation” platform pinched straight from the Tories.

There is one such phrase, however, one frequently trotted out in the early days of coalition, that is less a hollow soundbite and more an important goal towards which the Government should now be making substantial strides.

Yet it is noticeable that references to “rebalancing the economy” have gone missing in recent months, as signs of recovery emerge.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The reason for this is quite straightforward – such an ambition appears to have all but vanished from the Government’s radar.

Having asked former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine to write a report on unleashing the growth potential of the regions, Chancellor George Osborne initially backed his key conclusion that control over billions of pounds of public spending should be moved out of Whitehall.

Yet when the details of the Single Local Growth Fund emerged in June it became clear that the ambition had been radically scaled back with far less cash than expected in the pot. Moreover, much of what money there was had already been promised to the regions.

For those at the sharp end, such as Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole, this failure to trust local decision-making as a means to release the untapped potential of the regions raises justified fears that they could be left behind by a London-centric recovery that is overly dependent on another housing bubble.

This is not a case of being anti-London or seeking handouts, but about being given the tools that enable regions such as Yorkshire to contribute to a wider recovery that is felt by the entire country.

The Government may point to HS2 as proof that it is serious about ploughing major investment into the North, but it is in the here and now that it must demonstrate a commitment to rebalancing the country’s skewed economy and creating the conditions under which regions such as Yorkshire can flourish.

Aveil of secrecy

AMID the swirling chaos of the 2008 financial crisis, difficult decisions had to be made by then Chancellor Alistair Darling. Some of them would prove more contentious than others.

While it was by no means an easy task to steer a path through an ever-changing – and fast-deepening – economic catastrophe, Mr Darling’s move to nationalise the Bradford & Bingley bank was as baffling then as it is now.

Why was it that other struggling institutions such as RBS, Northern Rock and HBOS were allowed to continue trading as Bradford & Bingley was being broken up, despite them having far worse balance sheets?

It is to this simple question that, for the last five years, the Bradford & Bingley Action Group, with the backing of Shipley MP Philip Davies, has been seeking an answer on behalf of nearly one million former shareholders who saw their funds wiped out at a stroke.

At every turn, however, the campaigners have been obstructed.

Mr Davies claims that, after first denying any documents on the B&B affair even existed, the Cabinet Office refused to release them on the grounds of public interest – ironic when public interest surely dictates that they must be published.

It has used the same grounds to justify its refusal to state whether the decision to nationalise the bank had Cabinet backing. Shamefully, Mr Davies said in yesterday’s hard-won debate on this issue that shareholders would have remained ignorant of the process but for details included in Gordon Brown’s book Beyond the Crash.

If officials have nothing to hide then there should be no reason for maintaining this veil of secrecy. The many questions pertaining to the break-up of Bradford & Bingley will not go away. Nor, it would seem, will those determined to get to the bottom of this sorry saga.

In the interests of fairness, there must now be a full and frank disclosure of the chain of events that led to this hotly-disputed decision

And, if that process is found to be flawed, appropriate compensation must be forthcoming.

The no-go zones

HAVING been somewhat inconsistent in terms of stimulating growth when they were launched in the 1980s, the Government’s resurrected enterprise zones demanded early success to prove their worth.

Yet despite predictions that the 24 zones, created two years ago, would bring 30,000 jobs by 2015, to date they have resulted in just a few thousand.

Council leaders and developers in Yorkshire have not been slow to pinpoint the problem as being their failure to make the figures stack up for companies looking to locate to them.

If this flagship policy is to fulfil its remit in terms of triggering regional regeneration and job created, then a fundamental rethink is now required.

The Government should start by extending the scheme of capital allowances, which offer companies the sweetener of a cut in their tax bills.

Enterprise zones can play a role in tapping into growing business confidence, but only once the right incentives are in place.