Updated: Monday, 20th January 2020 @ 2:08pm

'Not long enough': Manchester business chief has concerns over Government pilot to overturn years of neglect

'Not long enough': Manchester business chief has concerns over Government pilot to overturn years of neglect

By Robbie Gill

A pilot project to boost growth in cities across the UK may not be long enough to overturn 'years of neglect' in Manchester, a local business leader has claimed.

Chris Fletcher, the Chamber's director of policy and communications, made the comments come in the wake of the launch of The Greater Birmingham Project – a three month pilot project led by a steering committee which hopes stimulate growth in the area.

The project is a response to Lord Heseltine’s claim that the UK's 'great provincial cities' should decide how and where they spend money to create jobs and boost economic growth.

Mr Fletcher said: “The only concern is that this is a short term 3 month pilot and may not actually be long enough to prove or disprove the theory.

“When you have had years of neglect and strict central control, 12 weeks of a pilot scheme is nowhere near long enough to overturn an established and some would say flawed system.

At the heart of the review is a desire to decentralise power and give the regions the ability to decide on how to stimulate growth in their area – although government are reluctant to let go.

He said: “Some areas of the UK, such as Greater Manchester, have done a huge amount of work over the last few years culminating locally for example in the Combined Authority.

“But there still seems to be some reluctance on the part of central government to “let go” and let local businesses and people take control of important economic and funding decisions.”

If successful, the pilot could be rolled out nationally and Mr Fletcher believes that it could be the right direction to follow.

He said: “In Greater Manchester we have quite a few of the core components already in place and the Chamber acts as a great engagement tool for businesses to have their say.

“The idea of businesses being at the heart of future economic decision making and deciding on how money should be spent to locally is again at the heart of Heseltine’s proposals.”

Lord Heseletine urged the Government to give cities their head and allow councils and business leaders to drive growth "in a more dynamic way than has previously been allowed."

Lord Heseltine said he was convinced Britain's big cities would generate growth if they had direct access to Government cash, rather than having the purse strings controlled from London.

The pilot's launch follows the publication of Lord Heseltine's report in October 2012: No Stone Unturned, which offered 89 recommendations to help industry.

He said there was a historic "distrust" in London about the capacity of regional councils to be "up to the job" of making decisions on their own.

He said: "That is why we have a system of micro-management, the ring-fencing of money, the control of grants, issuing of circulars and the accumulation of power in Whitehall.”

If successful any future scheme would tap in to a single pot of based around the £49 billion in current government money and the £11 billion in European Union cash available.

Lord Heseltine said the current method of distribution was decided by the staff in Whitehall departments, and not by local people and businesses.

He said: "That is no criticism of the integrity of those people in the Government departments, who are mainly civil servants.

“But what it does tell us is that it's not about Birmingham, or Manchester or Liverpool - it's about those departments.

"Each department has a branch office in the cities, and so you have this centralisation of power coming down.”

He said decision-makers in cities were better placed to make decisions as to how money should be spent to deliver economic growth.

However, he offered "no guarantees" the idea would be taken on by Government – also acknowledging that Whitehall may not be in favour of allowing control to pass to the regions.

He added: "Not everybody in Whitehall is leaping up and down about this.”

Mr Fletcher reiterated his concerns over the short length of the scheme and expressed his fears that it could derail what could be an extremely beneficial scheme.

He said: “It would be a travesty if the results were not positive after such a short period of time.

“Especially if this prevented other areas from implementing what could prove to be a game changer when it comes to local economic growth.”

Picture courtesy of Rtype909, with thanks.

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