The Sheffield City Region has asked to be at the front of the queue to take over major powers and funding from Whitehall in a move that could put the region in the vanguard of a new era of devolution.
The partnership of council leaders and business has told the Government it wants to pioneer a new approach to the way public money is spent in the English regions which Chancellor George Osborne is expected to set out in more detail next week as part of the Budget.
Mr Osborne will be responding to a report on kickstarting growth by former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine which argued Whitehall spending in areas including skills, housing and business support should be put in a “single pot” for local leaders to spend.
Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership chairman James Newman has told Lord Heseltine and Cities Minister Greg Clark the area is ready to pilot the single pot idea.
He said: “I hope that the Chancellor’s Budget announcement will reflect the key principles of the Heseltine Review - that the UK needs a comprehensive strategy for national wealth creation through economic growth and that devolving power to the key city regions is one of the most effective ways to deliver this.
“Lord Heseltine’s report clearly endorses the principle that private-public partnerships are the best way to deliver this economic growth and its recommendations reflect the vast growth potential of an appropriately funded and resourced LEP.
“We strongly support the principle that strong local leadership together with devolution and decentralisation of decision making should be the main route to delivering a more robust, sustainable and rebalanced economy – and we believe that the Sheffield City Region LEP, with its record of success, is in a very strong position to lead this change.”
Councils and business on the Humber and through the area’s local enterprise partnership have already held discussions with Lord Heseltine about how his ideas might be put into practice.
The Sheffield City Region offer underlines the ambition in Yorkshire for more local control over its affairs.
Leigh Bramall, cabinet member for business, skills and development at Sheffield City Council, said: “For too long far too many powers and funding streams have been held centrally and that’s not a particularly efficient way of allocating resources.
“People in their own communities know the demands of the local economy and they know on the ground what schemes are needed to unlock economic growth.
“It will also allow quicker decision-making and with growth stalling we need to act now rather than waiting a number of years.”
Last year, the Sheffield City Region agreed a ‘city deal’ with the Government that saw powers and money moved to the area with a particular focus on skills.
However, the Heseltine report argued the Government needs to be more ambitious in the way it devolves control over major spending decisions away from Whitehall if it wants to unlock the potential of the English regions.
Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber, said: “The Heseltine Report has stimulated the debate around business support in the new environment built with the local enterprise partnerships, which the Sheffield Chamber very much agrees with.
“The business community is encouraged by a simplified business support activity which is much more focused on the economic priorities of the region.
“We do not believe one solution fits the needs of different regions, so we support the offer the Sheffield City Region LEP has made.”