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James Morris MP: Devolution of power, as well as deregulation, is vital for economic renewal

6a00d83451b31c69e2017d3d14c08c970c-150wiJames 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.


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