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Ed Miliband pledges Labour will be the "party of devolution"
12:10am Tuesday 8th April 2014 in News
LABOUR will today (Tuesday April 8) vow to end Whitehall's grip on power in the region - by handing over twice as much cash to local leaders as the Government.
Ed Miliband will kick-start a race to be the “party of devolution”, by doubling the funding pot for local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to “at least £20bn” over the next parliament.
In a major speech, the Labour leader will say ministers have largely “ignored” Lord Heseltine’s radical call for England’s towns and cities to have real muscle.
And he will pledge to pick up that baton – giving LEPs both far more money and far greater powers than the Coalition, starting within months of Labour winning power.
LEPs would – if they “met strict tests” – bid for a £4bn annual pot of Whitehall cash, instead of the £2bn currently being made available, from next year.
And they would also run back-to-work schemes, apprenticeships programmes and large-scale housebuilding projects - all powers not currently on offer – as well as transport funding.
Promising the “biggest devolution of power in a hundred years”, Mr Miliband will say: “This government had an opportunity to make a difference.
“Michael Heseltine’s review called for a massive devolution of funding from Whitehall to the cities. But David Cameron and George Osborne allocated just £2bn.
“The best report this government has produced has been the one that they have most ignored. We can and must do a lot better than that.”
Mr Miliband will unveil the “interim conclusions” of a ‘growth review’ carried out by Lord Adonis, the former Labour transport secretary.
And he will pledge: “Cities and towns that agree to come together with local businesses, to plan for their economic future, will be given historic new powers over funding for infrastructure, skills and economic development.”
The “strict tests” include forming a combined authority, something achieved last night by seven North-East authorities, including County Durham, when parliament approved an Order.
Speaking after the Order was approved, chair of the North East Leadership Board, Councillor Simon Henig, said: “I was present at the debates in both Houses of Parliament which were very positive, with strong support for the Order to establish the combined authority and good wishes for the new body’s success in achieving its ambitious vision for economic growth.
“We now look forward to the formal process completing within a week, with a date for the launch to be confirmed as soon as possible.
“This is an important moment for the North East. Today’s proceedings open up a whole host of opportunities for us as a region to access the funding and powers which will drive our economic fortunes.
“By working together in this way we can speak with a single voice and improve the prospects for our residents and businesses by delivering vital economic investment and better transport infrastructure, housing and skills.”
The Tees Valley councils and those across North Yorkshire would also have to agree to join forces, by working together formally.
Councils would also need to show they have drawn up viable devolution plans, jointly with the business-led LEP and local universities, to be ready by early 2016.
Mr Miliband and shadow Chancellor Ed Balls have written to all councils, universities and LEPs, urging them to “prepare plans” urgently.
What is striking about the announcement is just how much Labour is adopting the Coalition’s approach of LEPs, City Deals and competitive funding pots – albeit larger ones.
It confirms the party has no intention of bringing back regional development agencies with statutory powers, possibly to the disappointment of many North-East MPs.
But a Labour aide said it was just the start, adding: “Adonis is examining every line of the Heseltine report, so that significantly more funding can be devolved.”
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