Under the Labour Government the land was divided up into Regional Development Agencies. Now our country is made up of Local Enterprise Partnerships. The man on the Clapham omnibus (or other key parts of local infrastructure) might shrug and assume the names had been changed but not much else.
However he would be wrong.
The old RDAs were part of the “Whitehall knows best” top down approach. The LEPs come from the bottom up. Local authorities and business offer to put some money into a project and then ask the Government to provide some more.
£6 billion of local projects have been agreed as the first wave of Growth Deals are announced. This includes the complete allocation of £2 billion from the Local Growth Fund for 2015 to 2016.
The Government’s announcement says:
“Growth Deals are a revolution in the way our economy is run. For the first time ever, housing, infrastructure and other funding is being brought together in a single pot, and put directly into the hands of local authorities and businesses to spend the way they know best.
“Projects beginning in 2015 to 2016 are expected to be matched by local investments worth around twice the contribution from central government. Across the country they are expected to lead to work on more than 150 roads, 150 housing developments and 20 stations.”
There will be £18 million to revamp the Metrolink transport system in Manchester, which will include 12 new trams. Then £23 million for a new road tunnel linking Swindon to Wichelstowe.
There will a Glass Academy in Sheffield to train people to work in the city’s glassworks and an Oil and Gas Academy in the Tees Valley
The Prime Minister said:
“Growth Deals are a crucial part of our long-term plan to secure Britain’s future. For too long our economy has been too London-focused and too centralised. Growth Deals will help change all that. They are about firing up our great cities, towns and counties so they can become powerhouses.
“By trusting local people, backing business and investing in infrastructure, skills and housing, we can create thousands of new jobs. And that means more economic security, peace of mind and a brighter future for hardworking people across the country.”
Greg Clark, Minister for Cities, said:
“This is a landmark day for Britain’s local economies. National growth is the sum of local growth. For Britain to prosper every part of the country needs to fulfil its potential. No 2 places are the same and the people who live, work and do business in each place know best what their area needs to do well. Today is the day when we back local leaders to create jobs and prosperity in their area.
“These Growth Deals build on the success of our City Deals. I look forward to meeting with all LEPs over the next few weeks to negotiate the next instalment of Growth Deals building on this momentum.”
Lord Heseltine said:
“In every experience I have had of backing local people, local experience and local initiative the results have seriously exceeded expectations.
Today’s announcement is a giant step in the rebalancing of our economy.”
Looking through the projects shows great variety. That reflects localism. Its point is to allow flexibility and innovation. Councils are not just shaking a begging bowl. They are also putting in their own money. Often developers will be too. There might a large new housing scheme or business planned, but it needed a new training station or road to be viable.
Often the deal will be done with Labour councils in big cities. Places where civic leaders suffered years of frustration during a Labour Government where spending went on some pet project favoured by Lord Prescott.
Labour nationally claims that they too now believe in localism. But it seems pretty synthetic. Ed Miliband writes in the Guardian:
“Labour will introduce a statutory requirement for authorities to set up a public accounts committee.”
So, a new statutory duty for scrutiny committees to scrutinise. A bit like the last Labour Government’s pointless statutory duty on councils “to promote democracy”
Mr Miliband also announces a:
“New requirements to publish performance data” and “performance league tables for every local service.”
By which I suppose he means the reinvention of Best Value Performance Indicators – hundreds and hundreds of Whitehall tick-box targets.
Only the Conservatives can deliver localism of substance.