Magazine article Public Finance

Sub-Regional Projects Bring Local Devolution Closer

Magazine article Public Finance

Sub-Regional Projects Bring Local Devolution Closer

Article excerpt

Communities secretary Hazel Blears took a major step towards the devolution of powers to sub-regional level this week, but local government experts want to see what Whitehall is prepared to fund and support.

Blears announced 13 sub-regional projects to boost jobs, transport systems, housing and other investment projects through partnerships of councils, public bodies and businesses working across local authority boundaries.

Leaders of the 13 projects must now produce the first set of Multi-Area Agreements by June 2008, outlining how they intend to improve local economies, before Blears decides which powers to devolve.

The 13 sub-regions include Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Merseyside, Tyne and Wear, South Yorkshire including Sheffield, the Tees Valley and Birmingham and the Black Country.

Currently, councils only have limited powers to collaborate on specific transport projects, but Blears promised an era of 'unprecedented devolution to reinvigorate England's towns and cities 'blighted by deprivation for decades, still held back today and now struggling with challenges like guns and gangs'.

Much of the focus, she said, would be on addressing local skills shortages and raising employment rates.

'If we are to face up to these challenges I do not believe that Whitehall should provide all the answers. In fact, I don't think it can,' Blears told local government leaders in Nottingham on November 7.

'Leaders like you, with the space to listen to local people and deliver what they need, with the powers and flexibility to attract investment, and with the vision to plan for their city's future, must play a vital role.'

Blears said the government would respond to the 13 sub-regions' priorities by 'removing barriers to delivery -to ensure that our policies support rather than frustrate your efforts'.

She added that some funding mechanisms had already been introduced to assist sub-regional development - such as proposed powers to use supplementary business rates.

Local government minister John Healey told Public Finance that he wanted councils to take advantage of a range of revenue and investment raising powers, 'some of which have yet to be used on a widespread basis', to help fund the 13 projects.

'I will also champion these sub-regional plans within other Whitehall organisations to ensure that other departments, such as the Treasury, support the proposals as best they can,' Healey added. …

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