Westcountry could miss out as regions take power from centre
Concerns have been expressed that the South West could be overlooked under new government plans to decentralise power and funding away from Whitehall.
It was announced yesterday that the Government is to implement nearly all of the changes recommended by Tory peer Lord Heseltine last year in his report, No Stone Unturned.
Lord Heseltine called for the Government to slash red tape and hand back decision-making powers to the regions, giving them greater say over matters including transport, housing, and vocational training to boost economic growth.
The Government will create a single pot of money, in 2015, which Local Enterprise Partnerships will bid into and spend on projects of their choice.
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Lord Heseltine wanted this to be worth around £70 billion but it is believed that the pot will fall well short of this.
Lord Heseltine said: "The Chancellor's decision to accept so many of the recommendations in my recent report No Stone Unturned is one of the most strategic supply-side decisions that I can remember. In essence, it accepts that London and its functional bureaucracies should rely more on the incentivisation of England's provinces and less on central instruction."
In return for greater financial control, the Government will make LEPs set out their long-term plans in Local Growth Deals, with £500,000 of funding over two years made available to help them do this.
The chief executive of the Devon and Somerset Local Enterprise Partnership, Liz Waugh, welcomed the increased funding but urged the Government to ensure that it is calculated in a way that does not favour the more densely populated areas of the South East and North West.
She called on the Government to ensure that rural areas received their fair share, saying she was "really concerned" that it would be done on a per capita basis.
"The concern is that the funding mechanism is fair and that there are sufficient opportunities to bid in from rural and coastal areas," said Ms Waugh. "We have been spending a lot of time talking to politicians, saying that urban centres are important, for example Plymouth has a City Deal, but you can't afford to ignore the rural economy. We want to see a counterpoint to the urban focus."
Chris Pomfret, chairman of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, said that the combination of a single funding pot and the possibility of LEPs having more control of European funding could be "truly transformational."
But he, too, said he was concerned about the way funding arrangements would be calculated. "If I have one concern it's that it sounds like the money will be distributed on a formulaic basis," he said.
"If it's done on a formula of population then Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly tends to lose out because it's a relatively small population."
LEPs were announced in 2010 as private-sector led successors to Regional Development Agencies which would leverage in investment from business to drive growth.
But, in practice, the difficult trading conditions have meant that the private sector contribution has not been nearly as much as the Government had hoped, particularly in areas like the South West whose economies are dominated by small businesses that simply don't have the resources for such investment.