Dr Steve McCabeDr Steve McCabe, Director of Research Degrees at Birmingham City Business School shares his views on the Lord Heseltine Review in the run-up to its launch in Birmingham today. For more from Dr McCabe see tomorrow’s (November 1st) Birmingham Post.

In March Lord Heseltine was commissioned by the Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary Vince Cable to specifically examine policies that could be implemented to encourage growth through cooperation between all agencies both private and public.

In essence, though, he was given a ‘free hand’ to do talk to whoever he thought might achieve the objective of stimulating growth in regions outside the Southeast which, of course, includes the apparently ever-prosperous London; though poverty is all-too-easy to find there.  The fact that Heseltine’s review was launched in Birmingham speaks volumes of his willingness to, as the expression goes, ‘think the unthinkable’.

The statement below is taken from the briefing document which was sent to those invited to seminar events in early July which included one in Birmingham (which I represented on behalf of Birmingham City University) where invitees were asked to think in way that was explicitly radical and ambitious:

“It is currently estimated that it takes from ten to fifteen years of academic evidence to percolate through to policy formation. Lord Heseltine aims to cut this down by talking directly to academics on the issues that matter. This is a huge opportunity to contribute to an enormously anticipated review. Speakers will be expected to contribute new interpretations and innovative ideas the issues raised. More importantly they will be expected to challenge one another,>not in the technical or methodological details but on the implications and consequences of their ideas.”

According to leaked reports Heseltine’s review will include backing for control over the way in which takeovers of British companies can achieved by overseas investors. This would, of course, have been welcome news by workers at Cardburys. However, there is a view that this proposal will not be possible because of EU law. An irony of this proposal is that it would be backed by politicians who hate the EU and would happily disentangle all links between the UK and Europe. Heseltine we all know is a staunch advocate this country’s even more active membership of Europe.

Another leaked proposal that will come out of Lord Heseltine’s review is the recommendation that civil servants should move from London to the regions where growth is urgently required. This is perhaps likely to be welcome by central government which may see an opportunity to potentially reduce wage costs (remember the proposal to pay lower salaries outside London) and to raise money by leasing redundant properties.

Most importantly for the purpose of creating regional growth is the call that Heseltine is likely to make that there should be increased involvement for local chambers of commerce in enterprise and that the 39 LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) should also have greater ability to intervene in supporting business start up and boosting the economies of regions. This is hardly going to stir up much opposition. However, it is believed that the most important stimulant to business is confidence which, as we have seen, is starting to return though there are no certainties.

The final leaked proposal of the review, and which is likely to be opposed by Eric Pickles, the community secretary, is the abolition of two-tier councils to be replaced by unitary bodies whose key objective would be in assisting growth by aspirant business. Once again, it’s hard to see any real issue with proposal.

We’ll see what emerges. Unfortunately, it seems, this review may become a mere footnote and be regarded as a missed opportunity to do some really radical things. Ultimately, though, it is extremely difficult for politicians to make propose change that will alter economies rapidly and create sustainable success. That said, all power to Lord Heseltine for having tried to think in unthinkable ways.

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Dr Steve McCabe

Dr Steve McCabe

Birmingham City Business School