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Heseltine Review

Volume 573: debated on Tuesday 7 January 2014

6. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on the role of decentralisation in the implementation of the Heseltine review. (901784)

The Government published its response to Lord Heseltine’s report in March 2013. We accepted its proposition that more funding and powers, currently held centrally, should be available at local level. Some £2 billion a year has been taken from central Government Departments and is available for that purpose. I look forward to assessing proposals during the weeks ahead.

Decentralisation, as outlined by my noble predecessor’s review, can help to promote private sector business. In this context, what progress is my right hon. Friend making with the Oxfordshire growth deal?

I am delighted to say that there has been very good progress. A city deal for the city of Oxford and the surrounding area is being negotiated and we hope to complete it shortly. I will meet the representatives of Oxfordshire to go further than that by devolving more power and resources to the county to further private sector growth.

May I press the Minister to confirm that the Government will genuinely look at new ideas that are proposed by local authorities? More importantly, will he confirm that the onus will shift from Whitehall having to approve ideas to it having to disprove their viability?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is precisely the rubric that has been given to local authorities. It is up to Departments to demonstrate why an innovation should not proceed, rather than simply to say, “The computer says no.”

May I press the Minister further on this matter? There is a devolved Assembly or Parliament in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and there is a powerful Greater London axis under Boris Johnson that is enormously influential, but we in the regions have nothing—Yorkshire has nothing. We have no focus, no strategy, no leadership. The Heseltine review said that we should take this matter seriously. When will the Minister take it seriously?

It is taken immensely seriously. The hon. Gentleman does a disservice to the leaders in Leeds and West Yorkshire, who have been extremely effective in producing a plan for a combined authority that puts their resources together. They have been very clear that progress has been made. More progress has been made in the last three years than was made in the 13 years when the Labour party was in power. Lord Heseltine will be travelling to Yorkshire with me to make it clear that the implementation of his report is as serious as the agreement of it.

The Minister will be aware that Manchester has made huge progress with its combined authority and that the Manchester city deal, which will devolve £1.2 billion to Manchester, was one of the first such deals to be announced by the Government nearly two years ago. Will he say when that deal will be signed, given the ongoing delay in his Department’s signing the deal?