James Morris is Member of Parliament for Halesowen and Rowley Regis. Follow James on Twitter.
Localism can help drive economic growth; but only if we are
really serious about devolving economic and financial decision making. There
are many things I disagree with in the Heseltine growth plan – far too much focus, for example, on
structures – but where I do agree with him is in his recommendations in favour
of a more radical, decentralisation
of economic decision making.
We must have the courage to hand decision making power and
resources to cities, and sub regions across Britain. Heseltine, in his report,
has identified some £50bn of public expenditure which could devolved to local
areas in a ‘single pot’. It is vital that, for example, skills funding is
devolved so that money can be targeted at skills gaps on the basis of a clear
understanding of local priorities and needs. As a country we have spent large
amounts of money on skills over the last two decades yet profound skill gaps
exist in many parts of the country and are holding back our economic potential.
Our approach needs a radical re-think.
What we don’t want, however, is the creation of Regional
Development Agencies by the back door. RDA’s were the antithesis of localism.
They were administrative constructs which were instruments of central
government in the regions. Local Enterprise Partnerships, business led and
focussed on defined economic geographies are much more effective mechanisms to
drive local growth priorities. Heseltine is right that they need more resources
in order to fulfil their potential; but we must not seek to resurrect Labour’s
failed regional policy but pursue a collaborative hyper local growth strategy.
The government’s ‘City Deals’ plans have started the
process of devolving decision
making and in Round 2 of the City Deals areas like the Black Country in the
West Midlands, part of which I represent, has been invited to offer bids. However, we need to go further and
identify how to devolve the £50bn the Heseltine Review has identified and must
not be afraid to follow a hyper local growth strategy which doesn’t attempt to
force funding into artificial regional constructs but which allows for local
priorities to be met through collaboration between local authorities and
industry, driving innovation and local entrepreneurial energy.
Some argue that a growth strategy needs to focus on cutting
taxes and deregulation and I would
agree that they have a part to play; but, in themselves, they are not
sufficient to achieve long term growth objectives like the essential need to
re-balance the British economy away from London and the South East. It will
only be through a focused, hyper local and comprehensive devolved process that we can address the imbalances in
the British economy and drive growth in those areas of Britain which have
lagged behind for far too long.