Opinion: Heseltine is calling for return to cap in hand culture

I take my hat off to Michael Heseltine for producing a report on growth that has passion, commitment and vision. It is far cry from the usual dry as dust, Treasury reports that obsessively tinker at the economic margins. Alas, despite its punchy prose the Heseltine report is flawed.

There is a lot to celebrate in this report. Heseltine condemns a dysfunctional Whitehall for neutering local leadership: “As Whitehall has taken more powers so its distrust of local decision makers has increased. At the first sign of trouble, further powers are wrested back to the centre.” But like Eric Pickles, he does not trust council planners. He wants the Planning Inspectorate to call in slow moving proposals. He wants to beef up local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) with teams of private sector planners to plan economic development. Soon elected councils will be left dealing with just minor developments.
Heseltine calls for a single funding pot for growth in local areas, and for the initiative and delivery to rest with local leaders. It’s a good idea that he immediately undermines by insisting that localities will have to bid for their share of the funding pot. Who will they bid to? Whitehall of course.

Heseltine is not keen on local councils having this money. He wants it to go to the LEPs. They will only get the money when their bid chimes with national growth priorities. Not local priorities that might be achievable, but priorities dreamed up in Whitehall.

Whitehall likes matters to be tidy, so Heseltine insists that LEPs cannot overlap. He also insists that they are reshaped to “have a good match with their functional economic market area.” The reality is that market areas overlap, often substantially and that is the main reason why 12% of councils are members of more than one LEP.

Heseltine’s proposal just leads us back to the same cap in hand culture that the local authorities have had for too long in relation to central government. If Whitehall could solve economic problems, surely it would have done so by now?

The underlying problem, as Heseltine acknowledges, is that Whitehall does not trust local government. It believes that local leaders will mishandle the money. It believes that only people in London know best. His proposals will perpetuate that culture.

Heseltine’s vision for the economy will not work until there is a new bond of trust between central and local government. In the short term, that needs a concordat that sets out what national and local government will deliver and how they will interact. In the long term, local government must be responsible for its own finances rather than having to beg Whitehall for cash.

What we do not need is yet another version of the cap in hand relationship between Whitehall and localities that has failed this country for so long.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

6 Comments

  • Simon Beard 1st Nov '12 - 3:50pm

    Thanks Andy. I really liked what I have heard about the report so far, but your criticisms sound very fair, Heseltine is undermining his own best intentions. Its a shame the way Conservatives never really ‘get’ localism, its only ever a means for them, never an end. One suspects they are also just too scared about giving money to councils in-case the Conservative ones are outperformed in spending it.

  • Not surprised he wants to “speed up the planning process”. This is the same Michael Heseltine who came to Stockton in the 1990’s to open a new Samsung plant that did not have planning permission. It was called the biggest retrospective planning application in the country at the time. Having taken the land that was not in the right place, and Samsung having taken whatever grants were going, the factory closed. And just how has that benefited our local economy ?

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Nov '12 - 9:53am

    The problems with local government we often lack fresh approach, with the elected councillors. I agree with this report. It could cut cost, there could be other ways that there is input from the local community.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Pearce 2nd Jul - 12:45am
    Glenn, freedom of movement is an issue because Leave have made it an issue. We are in an insane position because they failed to explain...
  • User AvatarStevan Rose 2nd Jul - 12:11am
    "People who voted leave should be ashamed of themselves" The overwhelming majority of people who voted Leave are not racist and do not condone this...
  • User AvatarStevan Rose 1st Jul - 11:55pm
    @ Chris Bertram. Well said. Migration is vital to the economic and social well-being of this country. Immigration policy needs to be generous in spirit,...
  • User AvatarPaul Pettinger 1st Jul - 11:23pm
    The Party has played a blinder in the last fews days, serving as a centre point for people who want to live in an open,...
  • User AvatarAndy Hinton 1st Jul - 11:21pm
    I'm late to this party, but: Holly is right, fighting the liberal fight on immigration means properly addressing the challenges created by migration, rather than...
  • User AvatarCassieB 1st Jul - 10:51pm
    Bill > As it is here is where we are one week on: When absolutely nothing has changed (i.e. we are still in the EU)...