Heseltine Review of Competitiveness
The erstwhile Deputy Prime Minister’s report, No Stone Unturned, commissioned by Downing Street, urges the Government to take bolder steps to get UK plc growing again.
Lord Heseltine, the former head of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in the 1980s, makes 89 recommendations in his report.
The 200+ page document is Lord Heseltine’s sounding board to heavily promote localism, devolving central power from London to the regions – something he tried to encourage during the 1980s but which was blocked by Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet.
Whilst Lord Heseltine invites criticism as a sign of confidence and strength he makes it clear that the report is not a criticism itself but also boldly states that he thinks the UK "does not have a strategy for growth and wealth creation".
No Stone Unturned backs Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to be the hubs for regional growth and believes that should receive up to £250,000 of new public funding sourced from departmental efficiency savings & underspend over the next two years.
The LEPs also need to review their boundaries, to ensure no overlap, and have the necessary skills onboard to deliver growth with both the private and public sector working in partnership.
Lord Heseltine believes that by funding the LEPs more and devolving power that will find renewed authority to be able to transform their localities.
Central government though should still retain the power to drive large scale infrastructure projects and Lord Heseltine cited the major transport networks of motorways, railways and airports plus the energy industry as targets for centralised decision making.
In these particular areas Lord Heseltine urged greater investment and clearer strategy, condemning delays and inertia for their failure to allow big projects to stimulate growth.
On The Right Track
In the commons, party leaders disagreed over the thrust of the report with the opposition leader Ed Milliband emphasising the quote that UK plc had "no strategy" whilst Prime Minister David Cameron praised No Stone Unturned as "excellent", concluding that the former minister had seen the coalition government as being "on the right tack."
Business groups have had a similarly mixed reaction with the Forum of Private Business (FPB) praising the review but warning against any new initiatives duplicating what is already being achieved in the private sector and expressing concerns that Lord Heseltine may be "mapping out a system" that replicates local Chambers of Commerce.
Alex Jackman, senior policy advisor at the FPB, added:
“It also seems to us that Lord Heseltine is seriously floating the idea of compulsory membership of the chambers. While the research included in the review suggests that businesses which use business support services are more likely to still be trading after three years than those that don’t, we would not support forcing firms to take membership.”
“We need a platform providing better access to all relevant business support bodies, giving existing small businesses and those of tomorrow real choice – it does not follow that Government can justify interfering in a private marketplace in such a crude manner.”
Read the full report here or see a summary of the 89 recommendations.