Opposition leader Ed Miliband has pledged to release Birmingham and the big cities from the stranglehold of Government control if he wins the next election.
The Labour leader declared himself a great supporter of Lord Heseltine’s No Stone Unturned report in which they called for more political power and budgets to be devolved from Whitehall to the regions.
Birmingham is among the group of UK cities pushing for greater freedom and funding for tranpsort, public services and infrastructure arguing they are better placed to make key decisions than Government civil servants.
And Lord Heseltine made that case that cities and regions given this freedom will use it more effectively to drive economic growth and create wealth.
It was also designed to rebalance the national economy away from the current concentration on London and the South East.
Mr Miliband, during a visit to Birmingham, said he would look to support that agenda in Government, especially as the Coalition Government’s response was widely regarded as poor. Mr Miliband said: “We’re very enthusiastic about that agenda. Just because it was driven by Michael Heseltine it doesn’t mean it was wrong. It actually has a lot going for it. We’ve got Lord Adonis who has done work in Birmingham and work for us on this agenda.
“He’s looking at how we strengthen cities like Birmingham, how we give them the power. And those powers aren’t hoarded in Whitehall as they are at the moment.
“This is an agenda we are keen to put forward in the future.”
Although the Coalition Government accepted 81 out of 89 of Lord Heseltine’s recommendations, it was roundly criticised for failing to back it with funding.
Only £2 billion out of Lord Heseltine’s recommended £49 billion of Government funding over four years is set to be devolved to the Single Local Growth Funds – from which all UK regions can make bids.
Local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships have been underwhelmed by the commitment.
Lord Adonis has already stated he would push the Heseltine agenda further under a Labour Government. But this is the clearest indication that the Labour leader shares that view.
Mr Miliband offered more support to council leader Sir Albert Bore and his beleaguered Labour administration as they struggle with an expected £119 million budget reduction in 2014/15 and more to follow in the years ahead.
He said: “Birmingham’s got a very strong case about a fair formula and fair funding. My colleagues in Birmingham are rightly pointing out they feel very hard done by compared to other parts of the country. I think it’s absolutely right the job Sir Albert Bore is doing making his case to central Government, and we are sympathetic to that case.”
More optimistic members of the local Labour group are hoping for a change in fortunes should they win the 2015 general election, but Sir Albert has previously warned them that a Labour government is unlikely to make a great change to spending plans until 2016 at the earliest, by which time massive cuts would have been implemented.
Mr Miliband used his visit to Birmingham to further push his campaign over energy prices.
He met a couple from Erdington who complained that they cannot afford to heat the home they share with their daughter and 21-month-old grandson.
Barbara Brown, 65, has recently come through a two-year battle with bowel cancer, while husband Jim has recently retired after 42 years as a bus driver with National Express West Midlands.
Mr Miliband said they perfectly illustrated the people up and down the country who are being hit by the ‘cost of living crisis’.
The main parties are competing to establish their credentials as the ones who will take on the energy companies and cut fuel bills. Labour snatched the initiative by announcing a price freeze if elected in 2015. Chancellor George Osborne is expected to outline his proposals in the Autumn Statement.
There has also been widespread outcry after npower announced that call centres in Oldbury and Stoke-on-Trent are on a list of national closures with the loss of 950 jobs in the West Midlands. The jobs are being transferred to India.
Mr Miliband ruled out re-nationalisation of the energy companies saying it would cost too much to buy them back.