As the Local Government Secretary of State I’ve set about abolishing all the Rs. Regional Spatial Strategies, regional housing targets, Regional Assemblies, Government Offices for the Regions and Regional Development Agencies. We’ve said our goodbyes. The arbitrary regional tier of government administration and bureaucracy was unpopular, ineffective and inefficient. So it’s the end of regional government: we need a new era of localism. Nowhere is that more important than in the economy.
Looking back over the past decade, it’s easy to see that the national economy has become completely unbalanced. Too much growth, wealth and prosperity concentrated in just one part of the country, while other parts of the country were neglected and left behind. We can’t afford to do that any more. We need to make the most of local knowledge to foster local enterprise, support local businesses and promote local prosperity. That’s a far more effective and sustainable way of promoting national economic growth than by government prescription.
This means putting power back where it belongs: in the hands of local people, local business and local councillors. So instead of me telling them what to do, I’ve asked local authorities and business leaders to submit proposals for their own local enterprise partnerships. This is an opportunity for local leaders and business to drive economic growth in their area. They will be able to bid for a £1 billion regional growth fund, with an Independent Approval panel chaired by Lord Heseltine.
The business community have embraced local enterprise partnerships. I’ve met the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chamber of Commerce who have both backed them. Now it’s time for councils to step up as well. They’ve said for a long time that they wanted a lead role in the local economy. Now it’s time to show what they can do. This is a big shift for councils. For thirteen years, they’ve been micromanaged and told what to do. And some still can’t quite believe they’ve got the freedom they wanted.
I get asked questions – can I do this, Secretary of State? Is it ok if I do that, Secretary of State? What are the real guidelines?I say in return:. It’s up to you. Be as ambitious as you can. Be as radical as you like. Be as bold as you want. I’m not going to stand in anyone’s way – instead I’m going to be the local champion in Cabinet. We’ve already made sure that councils will have a central role in the new health reforms.
Local enterprise partnerships will make sure that they have a central role in the local economy too. This offers a real opportunity for local government to set out a vision for a strong local economic future. And I absolutely believe local government can deliver if they just get on and do it.
Councils must work with businesses to seize the initiative with local enterprise partnerships and use their insight and understanding to say how they want to organise themselves and transform their area. If we can rebuild and rebalance local economies – without strangling businesses with red tape – new economic opportunities will spread across the country. Britain can be enterprising again – and it starts locally.