Heseltine's prescription a shot in the arm for business

Heseltine's prescription a shot in the arm for business

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, November 1 2012

I thought the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) was dead.

But along comes Lord Heseltine saying in his hard-hitting growth report that Local Enterprise Partnerships - the successor to RDAs which were hated by the Coalition - at least the Tory side - and scrapped - should be given more powers.

Surprise, surprise, they should develop local economic plans and compete for funding from a national funding pot.

This is very much a case of the King is Dead, Long live the King.

Ex-SEEDA employees and bosses who spent hundreds of hours creating economic plans and bidding for cash from the Government will have a rueful smile.

It has always been a concern that LEPs, including the south east version covering Kent, Essex and East Sussex, would have little resource.

But chairman John Spence - from Essex - and Kent colleagues on the SELEP board have always insisted that they can punch above their weight, even with miserly resource.

To some extent, that’s true. They played a role in winning £35m of Regional Growth Fund cash for East Kent in the wake of the Pfizer pullout. Lord Heseltine also played a part because after a visit to the area in 2011, he was convinced by the strength of the local argument.

SELEP has also been involved behind the scenes in winning £20m for the so-called TIGER regeneration scheme for North Kent.

It is doubtful whether Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary Vince Cable will accept this recommendation. For Osborne at least, it was good riddance to SEEDA, and he would hate more layers of regional influence.

The British Retail Consortium appears to agree. Director-general Stephen Robertson said that moving spending powers from Whitehall to other tiers of government wasn’t the answer. “We’ve seen regional policies come and go. What we really need is more certainty and stability, with the Government giving a clear lead in investing in critical infrastructure, and in removing fiscal and regulatory burdens which inhibit investment.”

Government “should be addressing the very real challenges retailers see on high streets and in shopping centres up and down the country. You only need to look at the one in five shops that are closed in some areas to understand how some towns and cities are struggling. Freezing Business Rates next year would be a good start.”

Lord Heseltine played a key role in the development of the Thames Gateway and the high-speed rail link. He has some good ideas and is not afraid to voice criticism, even to the Cabinet members who asked him to report on growth.

The man who was bold enough to quit and storm out of a Cabinet meeting has gravitas and widespread respect. The Coalition cannot afford to shunt his review into a cupboard and lock the door.

You may not see a Son of SEEDA, but look out for Heseltine’s growth proposals and a new emphasis on growth, something that has woefully absent from the Government’s agenda.

George Osborne has been prolific in slash and burn tactics, but without the necessary growth counterbalance, has made Britain, its economy and businesses - gloomier than they need have been.

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The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess

The stories behind the stories, plus news, views, gossip and analysis from Kent Business editor Trevor Sturgess.

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