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East Anglia: Heseltine revolution gets business leaders’ broad backing

11:00 01 November 2012

Lord Heseltine delivers a speech in Birmingham Town Hall where he calls on the government to take bolder action to stimulate the economy

Lord Heseltine delivers a speech in Birmingham Town Hall where he calls on the government to take bolder action to stimulate the economy

A SHAKE-UP of the Government’s growth strategy, laid out in a new report, has been welcomed by East Anglia’s business leaders.

Tory grandee Lord Heseltine was tasked by Prime Minister David Cameron with coming up with radical ideas to kick-start the economy and lead the UK into a brighter future.

He has produced a 200-page report, entitled No Stone Unturned, containing 89 recommendations to Government, including stripping £60billion from Whitehall departments to give extra money to the poorly-funded bodies which replaced regional development agencies, Local Enterprise Parterships (LEPs).

He also called for the two-tier council system to be abolished and replaced with unitary authorities, and for every school to have local business leaders on its governing board. He also made recommendations which would boost the role of chambers of commerce. New Anglia LEP chairman Andy Wood broadly welcomed the report.

“In the New Anglia area we have an effective partnership between the public and private sectors and have been pursuing the type of plan Heseltine discusses in his report,” he said. “It is clear the coalition has moved on from seeing LEPs as an experiment to being an essential component of economic growth. Recognising this, I welcome the core idea of greater powers being devolved to the local partnerships.”

Jeanette Thurtle, East Anglia Development Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said Heseltine raised many good points about letting people get on with running their business - but criticized the emphasis on the role of chambers of commerce.

“The FSB has said that LEPs should discuss growth ideas with local stakeholders and should have more resources to identify local economic shortfalls. However, the boards of LEPs must represent all sizes and sectors of local businesses otherwise they will fail. The FSB disagrees that chambers should be legislated as they do not represent all businesses – particularly self-employed and micro firms.

“To create a stable environment for businesses to thrive, the FSB would encourage the Government to look to the success of the US Small Business Administration (SBA). Instead of pooling enterprise funding and central staff, Lord Heseltine should have looked at good practice from across the world, such as the SBA, and recommended a better policy making machine and an agency which co-ordinates small business policy such as lending, procurement and exporting.”

Suffolk Chamber president Dr Peter Funnell said Heseltine’s analysis of the state of the UK economy was “compelling”, but warned Government to “think carefully” before committing to a restructuring of Government.

“Businesses in the county will welcome his call for steady, long-term thinking to improve the UK’s economic performance. However, Heseltine’s prescription for action gives insufficient focus on the fundamental barriers to business growth,” he said.

“We are pleased that he believes chambers can continue to play a central and expanding part in making local economic growth happen. Lord Heseltine makes a range of recommendations that, in his view, would help bolster chambers’ ability to serve local business. We will be studying these recommendations carefully.”

David Burch, director of policy at Essex Chambers of Commerce said: “We very much welcome the thrust behind Lord Heseltine’s report. He recognises the need for the UK to grow. In order to do that there needs to be closer collaboration between the private and public sectors. He especially recognised the role of chambers of commerce in delivering that.”

He added: “We just hope that Government won’t simply dismiss it and will enact some of the recommendations.”

A South East LEP spokesperson said it was keen to explore all opportunities to breaking down the barriers preventing our businesses from growing and flourishing.

“We have already shown through our innovative approach to programmes such as the Growing Places Fund that we are able to unlock the potential for an estimated 43,000 jobs and almost 19,000 homes across the SELEP area,” he said.

“It is important that we have the necessary freedoms, flexibilities and resources to continue the progress we are making towards our overall objective of creating the most enterprising economy in England. While we need to examine the full details of the Lord Heseltine review it certainly gives us plenty of ideas for consideration.”

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