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Volume 580: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2014

6. What recent assessment he has made of progress on the Government’s policy of decentralisation in England. (903983)

This Government have instituted the most radical devolution of power and financial autonomy to local councils for a generation. After ever-increasing centralisation under the previous Government, we believe that all regions, cities and towns can play a part in securing the economic recovery and in building a better and stronger economy for the future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that giving local enterprise greater control over its own destiny has helped to rejuvenate the entrepreneurial spirit of local areas? Will he commend the ambition of Birmingham and Solihull LEP’s strategic economic plan, which aims to create 41,000 jobs for a Government investment of only £86 million next year?

I will indeed commend that ambition. It is appropriate that the enterprise partnership that brings together Birmingham and Solihull has the great good fortune to be led by Andy Street, the managing director of John Lewis and one of the country’s most admired business people. It is fantastic that he is devoting his time to helping the local economy to grow and providing that private sector leadership, which is in marked contrast to the regional development agencies that we had in the past, presided over by governors-general such as the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown).

The social economy is becoming an increasingly important driver of innovation and growth. We have 75,000 social enterprises in this country, employing 1 million people, and one in four businesses in the European Union is now a social business. Will the Minister commit in his conversations about city deals and about local enterprise and growth to ensure that social enterprises and the social economy are at the heart of that drive to reinvigorate the regions of this country?

I certainly will. I completely agree with the right hon. Lady. I recall going to Brighton to sign the Brighton city deal in a social enterprise—a hub for start-up tech businesses, brought together by the voluntary and social enterprise sector, that is thriving. Part of the deal was to expand it. That is a model to which I hope other places in the country will aspire.

Does the Minister agree that the Government are right to pursue the principle of decentralisation, because local communities are best placed to make public investment decisions in their area? An excellent example is the Coventry and Warwickshire city deal, building on the strength of the area, which is advanced manufacturing.

I do indeed agree and my hon. Friend was a stalwart in campaigning for the city deal. The people who know and understand their areas best are those who live and work in them. That is the simple principle behind our city deals and the policy of this Government.

May I thank the Minister for his answers and his commitment to this area in general, which we support? Council leaders of all parties in London and the Mayor of London believe that greater powers, including financial responsibility, should be devolved to London. The Minister answered the question from the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) about business rates—a move that we welcome—in the past tense. Do the Government have any plans to transfer power from Whitehall to city hall and town halls in London?

Yes. I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes a personal interest, as he is hoping to move on from this place to city hall, although he might face a tough fight in doing so. We are committed totally to moving power from here to the city halls and town halls of the country. At the moment, we are negotiating a £2 billion a year transfer of funds from the centre to every city and county across the country, including London, to put control of these resources in the hands of local people rather than officials in Whitehall.