Heseltine: English devolution 'unstoppable'

The move towards greater English devolution is now 'unstoppable' following the Scottish independence referendum, according to Lord Heseltine.

Lord Heseltine speaking at the IED Annual Conference this morning
Lord Heseltine speaking at the IED Annual Conference this morning

The former Conservative deputy prime minister and author of 2012's No Stone Unturned report on regional growth was speaking at the Institute of Economic Development (IED) conference this morning. 

Heseltine, patron of the IED, highlighted the recent backing by the chancellor George Osborne for a High Speed Three rail link connecting northern cities as "very exciting".

He also flagged up the way that one of the key recommendations in his report, on central government funding being devolved to public-private local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) was now being implemented.

He said: "What is indisputable to me is that the process is on it's way. The game is afoot.

"Throw into that the outcome of the Scottish referendum and we know that the politics of 2015 will be heavily influenced by the promises made during that referendum.

"English MPs will become preoccupied with what Scottish devolution means for English constituents.

"Devolution is unstoppable. That to me is a huge prize we've obtained."

Heseltine revealed that he "regrets" that in his report he did not examine the case for devolving central government's "huge capital programme" spending on projects such as roads and health services.

He said: "Getting that better coordinated with what LEPs are designing is another great potential boost. 

"It needs to be better coordinated to reflect the strength of the local economies as opposed to the functional position of the Whitehall departments".

Heseltine spoke about the beneficial effects of using public money in partnership with private funding, given the scarcity of government cash.

"Without spending any more public money you can galvanise large amounts of private money," he said."It's amazing how much additional growth you can get".

Heseltine went on to say that combined authorities could work effectively in parts of the county without major cities. "The combined authority concept can be applied anywhere," he said.

If he had "a magic wand", Heseltine added, he would create unitary county councils across the country.

The IED Annual Conference was staged in association with Planning and Placemaking Resource. It was sponsored by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, Grant Thornton, YKTO Group, Tractivity and WECD.

john.geoghegan@haymarket.com


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