The Chancellor must listen to the all-party team backing Michael Heseltine's historic blueprint in the Greater Birmingham Project and give the green light to a devolved 'single pot' for up to £70 billion in regeneration cash, says Phil Bennion MEP.
The West Midlands Euro MP was the only Lib Dem member of the Steering Group who has been working with Lord Heseltine on the pilot project to transform the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships since January. Other members included Caroline Spelman, Conservative MP for Meriden, Birmingham's Labour leader Sir Albert Bore and Andy Street of the John Lewis Partnership.
Speaking at a press conference in Birmingham ahead of an expected response by the Chancellor, the Lib Dem MEP said:
"This is a historic opportunity not only for Birmingham and Solihull but for all UK regions to cut through the forest of red tape and centralisation that has held us back for decades.
"In just ten weeks Lord Heseltine and the team from the 'Greater Birmingham Project' have created a workable model for devolution that all three parties can support.
"The prize is to put local politicians and specialists from Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in charge of a single pot, without ring-fencing, of billions of pounds of government help currently dispersed all over Whitehall.
"The model worked out is practical and effective, keeps local democratic accountability through a supervisory board with council leaders and is not tied to elected mayors or any other constitutional reforms which different parties might hope for but are not achievable at this time.
"What we have is a belt and braces package to end decades of inertia. It will take the shackles off decision-making in Birmingham and Solihull and the other council areas in the Great Birmingham Local Enterprise Partnership, and later can be rolled out to all the other sub-regions working through their LEPs too.
"The structure and priorities are not imposed from the top down but driven by local councils and businesses working together from the bottom up.
"It was inspiring to work with Lord Heseltine on the steering group. He is a radical thinker who really understands how to make local decision-making work and the synergies required to create growth."
Plans being drawn up by the Greater Birmingham Project team include projects to lever in private sector investment for up to 100,000 new jobs in the 'M42 Gateway' area linked by the motorway, joint bids under the Green Deal to slash energy bills and a big push to invest in integrated buses and trains.
Other projects are being drawn up to invest in growth in all the council areas within the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, including Cannock, Lichfield, Tamworth and Burton to the north and Bromsgrove, Redditch and Wyre Foest to the south.
Lord Heseltine wants to transfer authority for a wide range of national projects administered in Whitehall and put the cash - up to £70 billion - into a "single pot" which Local Enterprise Partnerships can bid for. The Greater Birmingham Project – incorporating the Birmingham and Solihull LEP - would lead the way as a pilot for the rest of the country in the new streamlined bidding process.
Lord Heseltine said: "The ideas identified in this new report show that Greater Birmingham has the vision, the determination and, I believe, the basis of corporate governance essential for the Single Pot to work. Now it is important that Government clarify its position as far as the Single Pot is concerned. I hope this report provides further reassurance to the Chancellor that this approach can unlock the potential of the regions and bring about a step-change in the performance of the UK economy."