The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A Rolling Stone?

By Chris Fletcher, Director of Policy and Communications at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

Last week saw the release of “No Stone Unturned – in pursuit of growth” the not so catchily titled report from Lord Heseltine into boosting competitiveness in the UK. Weighing in at 228 pages with an accompanying supplementary document at 42 pages, it isn’t something that could be classed as a light read. Bearing in mind though that both Vince Cable and George Osborne have this at the top of their must-read list and following the Chamber’s input into the review (see pg 191), I have found myself casting more than a glance at it over the last few days.

So in amongst the 89 recommendations, what does it actually say and will it ever make the leap from being a substantial wish list into government policy?

In amongst the autobiographical references to Lord Heseltine’s career there are some tangible issues highlighted as warranting attention and funding to kickstart economic growth. Many of these are areas we have identified from members’ concerns, such as transport, skills and energy amongst others.

So, no real change from several dozen other reports over the years. However where Heseltine then goes is where many politicians fear to tread - looking at what local structures will be required to help identify, plan, demand and manage the funding to tackle the above issues.

He suggests using a single pot of funding (£49bn) and getting re-energized and re-funded Local Enterprise Partnerships to act as strategic bodies to develop local growth plans and bid for the funds. Chambers of Commerce have been picked out for a starring role in the process, given new statutory powers to act as the principal independent mechanism for business support and the main engagement organisation between local businesses and decision makers. In other words you tell us what you want and we’ll go away and make it happen.

On the face of it there does seem to be a healthy dose of common sense to all this. At a time when many are demanding bold and decisive actions to jump start the economy, there’s certainly plenty to choose from within the report.

Having said that, in the absence of any obvious growth plan from government at present scribbles on a fag packet would seem impressive. Questions remain about how quickly and at what cost the significant and required shifts in power from Whitehall to the town hall could be achieved. With Greater Manchester already having a pot of government funding via the City Deal to point at areas that need it, would the extra funds from a future incarnation of what Heseltine proposes make a difference especially with all the extra local government baggage that may be attached to it?

So, plenty to think about for Messrs Cable and Osborne. I suppose the big question will be who will make the decision on whether any of this ever sees the light of day again, with the Treasury ruling the roost in these times of austerity? Is there a pick and mix option and could the best bits be delivered individually or is it an all or nothing plan? More importantly will this get sucked into the whirlpool of indecision that seems to infect all levels of decision making at present?

The first test will be 5th December when the Chancellor delivers his Autumn Statement. From the amount of references that he makes to the report, we could probably start to gauge how well this sits with government.

Whether every stone has been turned over in pursuit of an effective and deliverable growth plan remains to be seen. Lord Heseltine seems to have had a good go and, coupled with our constant relay of your ideas to central government backed up by the evidence from the Quarterly Economic Survey, it is increasingly worrying that the present course of action seems to be the only option. How government reacts over the coming weeks and months will be interesting to watch. The clock is ticking, stay tuned….

No comments:

Post a Comment