Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Lancashire Growth Deal is anything but a ‘devolution revolution' with nothing for Hyndburn or Rossendale

The Government and the LEP this week announced the Lancashire Growth Deal 2014, which is a 6-year package of ‘new’ investment worth around £370m agreed by the LEP and central Government.

The reason the word ‘new’ should be in inverted commas is that £100m of the money from the ‘Competitive Local Growth Fund’ is described as “Previously Committed Transport Funding”. I obviously welcome spending on transport in Lancashire, but I think my constituents would regard it as 'a bit of a swindle' that the Government are trying to take credit for spending the same funding decision twice, and then use it to bulk up headline figures.

Furthermore, though there are some excellent local projects in towns across the County, there is nothing specifically for either Hyndburn or Rossendale. Though these areas will of course benefit from spending across Lancashire as a whole, it can hardly be regarded as a ‘devolution revolution’ as Nick Clegg called it the Commons today.

While no one could argue against a transfer of money from Whitehall to the regions, I think any talk of a ‘transformative’ approach is exagerated. It is not a transfer of decision-making powers, and upon a closer inspection the money is in fact significantly less than the impression given by the Government.

I want to see proper devolution and a better political and financial settlement for Lancashire, and I believe this can better be achieved in part through the recent recommendations made in Adonis Review:

• Encouraging local authorities to form Combined Authorities and strengthening Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

• The devolution of £6bn a year (£30bn over a Parliament) of central government spending on adult skills, housing, transport and business support; and

• The devolution of 100% of revenues from Business Rates so that Combined Authorities fully benefit from any additional growth in revenues.

This would represent a real step forward in the long battle to rebalance the UK economy and state, rather than simply a sum of money for some projects in Lancashire which has been handed down from Whitehall, and £100m of recycled money to generate better headlines.