While Slasher Osborne noted that there may be scope for to increase funding in future years, it all leaves the feeling that Lord Heseltine had been stymied by Whitehall. Localism loses out.
Or as fellow Birmingham Post blogger John Clancy puts it, Whitehall wins. As always, it seems.
Osborne has for some time been making out that he is behind Heseltine’s proposals while offering very little in reality, and the spending review entrenches that position.
And anyway, it has all been postponed to 2015-16: in other words, it will be the next government which implements (or not) Heseltine’s plans.
In addition to the lack of hard cash, Osborne has also rowed back from either giving LEPs control over infrastructure spending, or job and business support schemes, or even reviewing LEPs’ boundaries and governance structures.
Officially the Government keeps up the rhetoric that it is responding to Heseltine positively and that a significant decentralisation is taking place. I doubt it very much. While the Government announced they are ‘accepting in full or in part 81 of Lord Heseltine’s 89 recommendations’, the reality is much less encouraging as a detailed examination of Annex A of the Treasury’s response to Heseltine indicates.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has poured several buckets of extra cold water on Hezza’s big plan, arguing that the LEPs don’t have the capacity to handle big amounts of money (all a bit ironic given that it was a Cable-Pickles double act which stymied the LEPs in the first place).
But Cable was right in highlighting that giving big piles of public money to unelected LEPs wouldn’t be right. He instead favoured City Deals. They are a good start but in many cases don’t go far enough – including here in Birmingham, which needs more power to invest locally.
Yet this argument over a lack of democratic accountability shouldn’t be used to forestall broader devolution, especially to English cities. England remains the most centralised state in Western Europe, and will be even with City Deals.
According to a recent BIS Select Committee report, the LEPs are characterised by a lack of confidence, confusion and short-termism. Add in the lack of resources for the LEPs and a question arises...
What’s the point of them if they have so little in the way of resources?