“In England, devolution is now unstoppable,” according to Lord Michael Heseltine, but the communication between local and central government needs to improve in order to make it work.
Speaking in the evening after Greater Manchester’s historic devolution deal agreed with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Heseltine gave the inaugural address of the University of Manchester’s policy week at Manchester Town Hall.
He highlighted Manchester’s historic role as a catalyst for change both nationally and internationally, and opened with a quote from Sir Robert Peel: “What Manchester thinks today, the world will think tomorrow.”
“Today’s announcement is a very big and very exciting change. The Chancellor has set us on a journey which will have a significant effect,” he said.
“For devolution, the machinery between central and local government is not good enough. To match the aspirations of a great city with the disparate entities of Whitehall will need delicate machinery in place.
“We just don’t run this country as effectively as our competitors. We need unitary authorities with someone in charge.”
As part of the devolution agreement, Greater Manchester needs to elect a Mayor by 2017.
“Mayors are characteristic of all other advanced economies,” Heseltine said. “Someone needs to lead, and stand up and say ‘there’s a better way of spending this money.'”
He stressed the importance of strong public and private partnerships if devolution is to be a success. He pointed to the industrial revolution as the beginnings of the rift between the sectors, with businesses losing control over decision-making in their local areas.
“Over a long period of time, the process of driving change in communities ceased to be at the discretion of the wealth-makers, and became the responsibility of people whose job it was to raise conditions”. According to Heseltine, this led to the role of councillors becoming “increasingly prescribed”.
“Now, if you were Prime Minister and you wanted a good policy for Manchester, how do you do that? In private sector language, you would want to know the strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats of Manchester, but sources in Whitehall couldn’t tell you that.
“We need to build policy on where people have knowledge and expertise, getting the views of people who live in Manchester and who earn in Manchester.”
Heseltine entered the Conservative cabinet in 1979 as Secretary of State for the Environment, where he spearheaded the Right to Buy campaign. He was Deputy Prime Minister and first Secretary of State between 1995 and 1997, and drafted the ‘No Stone Unturned in the Pursuit of Growth’ report in 2013 which promoted the devolution of powers to the regions.