Greater local powers and access to national funds to produce growth are at the heart of an announcement by George Osborne to create a Single Local Growth Fund.
The Chancellor confirmed in the Budget the acceptance of recommendations of former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, made in his report titled No Stone Unturned. Originally published last November, the report advocates the decentralisation of funding to the regions through the Local Enterprise Partnerships.
Funding will be allocated to those LEPs, which put forward compelling proposals on how investment in their schemes will lead to economic growth. It aims to encourage organisations within the region to work closely with their LEP to ensure the widest benefit within the local area and remove barriers to private sector investment.
Although no figures have yet been attached to it, the Single Local Growth Fund will be operational by April 2015, with the Chancellor promising further detail will be set out at the 2015-16 Spending Round. Two of the North West's LEPs have already welcomed the decision.
Mike Palin, executive director for strategic economic development at the Liverpool City Region LEP, said the area would work hard to showcase the opportunities it has in growth-potential areas including low carbon, super-port and tourism: "The Budget has given LEPs a clear cue. Our task now is to create a compelling case for allocations from the Single Local Growth Fund. To do this we must continue to bring together local leaders and local businesses to present a clear and credible case for the city region, leading economic growth through collective action.
"The Chancellor commented on our need, as a country, to continue to increase our exports to countries outside of the EU. Through initiatives like our Business Growth Grant and the International Festival for Business 2014, together with building on the success delivered by our manufacturers, who are more productive than the average in the UK, we are confident we can meet the challenges we face."
Howard Hopwood, deputy chairman of the Cheshire & Warrington LEP, was bouyed by the announcement: "It is imperative to retaining our major employers in Cheshire and Warrington and to winning new investment that we have increased devolution of economic powers. It is encouraging that government is giving local places the autonomy and powers they need to deliver growth.
"The Cheshire & Warrington LEP is one year into delivery of its ambitious business plan to drive forward economic growth in Cheshire and Warrington – by 2030 we aim to grow the population to reach 1,000,000 and build the economy to a value of £30bn. We welcome the announcements this week which are consistent and supportive of the priorities as laid out in our business plan."
James Leaver, head of public sector at Knight Frank, commented: "There is also mention of devolving significant funding to Local Enterprise Partnerships to tackle barriers to business growth and development, including infrastructure requirements.
"This is positive news, and something that has been lacking in recent years due to budget cut backs in regeneration, but it remains to be seen how much is available for each LEP and how the impact of the Community Infrastructure Levy also interacts with this additional funding."