THE leader of Newcastle City Council has met Labour leader Ed Miliband to put the case for devolving power and funding to the regions.
Nick Forbes, the authority’s Labour leader, was joined by colleagues from other major cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham to lobby the leader of the opposition at his Westminster office.
They have joined forces to form a Cabinet of the Core Cities, which is urging the Government to enact proposals drawn up by Tory peer Lord Heseltine to devolve funding to the regions.
The NEvolution campaign, backed by The Journal, is calling for more decision-making powers to be handed back to the region. Attention has focused on the spending review to be announced by the Chancellor on June 26, when he is expected to reveal how much money will be allocated to a “single pot” which Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will be invited to bid for.
But local authority leaders also want Labour to ensure that councils play a leading role rather than see funding diverted solely to LEPs, which are controlled largely by business leaders.
Speaking to The Journal in London, Coun Forbes said: “There is a real appetite both in the Government and opposition for a fresh look at the powers and responsibilities that need to be devolved to major cities.
“I’m here with the Core Cities Cabinet to continue the conversation with Ed Miliband and his front bench team about what Labour’s approach to devolution would look like in the run up to the next General Election.
“There is very compelling evidence that devolution of powers and responsibilities increases the scale and pace of economic growth, and given our commitment in Newcastle to becoming a fully working city, this is a hugely important agenda for us.”
There is concern that the funding Mr Osborne is willing to devolve might be far less than the sum proposed by Lord Heseltine, who has identified up to £70bn in central government and EU funding which he believes could be spent by local bodies across the country.
But the Core Cities Cabinet is considering asking the Chancellor to devolve cash to major cities first, before rolling the scheme out to every local authority, so that they can prove that local authorities are capable of managing the cash effectively.
Meanwhile, Lord Heseltine has urged the Chancellor to “seize the moment” and devolve significant sums to the regions – but warned it would be a “slap in the face” if Mr Osborne refused.
Speaking to an all-party group of MPs in a Commons committee room, the Tory peer said: “In two weeks, the Chancellor announces what the figure will be.
“I have no idea. I read speculation, but I’m also well aware there’s a battle going on in Whitehall (for ministers) to hold on to what they’ve got.”
Responding to reports that just £2bn will be made available over a four-year period, he said: “There are 39 LEPs. If you’ve got £2bn over four years, you’re talking £50m per LEP.
“You’re not going to get anything worth the name. So this great local enthusiasm which the Government has built up, and which is very real on the ground, would in my view just get slapped in the face.”
There is very compelling evidence that devolution of powers increases economic growth