Belfast Telegraph

Can Tarzan swing in to save the economy?

Executive to examine Tory Heseltine's plan to regenerate Britain

By Noel McAdam

The Stormont Executive is to examine a radical blueprint from former Conservative Minister Lord Heseltine designed to spark economic growth.

The former deputy Prime Minister met Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, Trade and Industry Minister Arlene Foster and others to discuss the plan at Stormont a few months ago.

It is understood the meeting was also attended by Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry, Education Minister John O'Dowd, Environment Minister Alex Attwood - whose portfolio includes local government - and Junior Minister Jennifer McCann.

Mr Wilson said : "He never gave the impression that what he was proposing was going to be a basis for policy but I am sure the Government will now take a look at his proposals."

Seventeen years after he was a member of John Major's cabinet, Lord Heseltine was asked by Prime Minister David Cameron to draw up a strategy for growth which he published yesterday. Chancellor George Osborne promised to study the report "very carefully".

Among the ideas are that a £50bn pot of taxpayers money - currently spread across Whitehall - could be bid for by city areas and regions of the UK.

His aim, he said, is to reverse the centralisation of power in Westminster and attempt to re-invigorate the big cities that fuelled the growth and wealth in the UK in past decades.

The ex-head of the national Department of Trade and Industry in the 1980s also proposed that funds should be allocated to new local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) over the next few years whose responsibilities should include wealth creation.

Mr Wilson argued: "It does fit it with what we are proposing here in Northern Ireland and the Executive will certainly I would think want to look at certain aspects of the report over the next few months.

"We did indicate that first of all in terms of the role of local government we are already reflecting some of this in the Reform of Public Administration (RPA), where the plan is that councils will be able to have more powers over economic policy in their areas, and planning, and in borrowing.

"And we have already seen this for example with Belfast City Council bringing forward their own capital investment programme.

"We believe that there is greater scope for regions to do their own thing.

"Certainly there is a big difference between the south east of England, where you might ask whether there is a recession, and the other regions of the country.

"Lord Heseltine is thinking particularly of having the focus back on cities again - the great industrial cities of the past. He feels there's no reason why that can't be renovated, why that can't emerge once more.

"I don't think that £50m is going to make a difference but the principle of trying to find ways of focusing what can be done through municipal authorities and of course part of our, as we pointed out to him, RPA proposals are to give greater control of local economic development to larger councils."

The report, called No Stone Unturned, also proposes the creation of a national growth council, chaired by the Prime Minister; a major devolution of funding; more government leadership for major infrastructure projects and a role for employers in education.