Austin Macauley 17 November 2014

Report: Freedom, flexibility and long-term thinking key to closing north-south divide

Councils would have a better chance of closing the north-south divide if Government gave growth initiatives enough time to prove themselves and allowed areas the freedom to adapt schemes to local circumstances.

The message comes in a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Urban Development Group, British Property Federation and Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners looking at how devolution of powers and resources can boost economic performance.

It said enterprise zones should be more bespoke and called on Government to act as an ‘expert resource’ to help local authorities to join up ‘the many different strands of local growth funding, policy-making, and implementation’.

Local enterprise partnerships need longer-term funding and cross-party commitment to succeed, it said. Other recommendations include expanding the Growing Places Fund and using it alongside Tax Increment Financing maximise its impact on infrastructure investment.

But all of these initiatives need time to succeed and the report warned Government against ‘scrapping these schemes and replacing them with new ones before they have a chance to bed-in’.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: ‘In challenging circumstances Government has sought to kick-start economic growth through a plethora of initiatives. It is right to appraise these to see what is working.

‘Unsurprisingly, the picture is mixed as many of these policies are designed to show results over a number of years, but one consistent aspect of business feedback is that if Government really wants to stimulate economic growth, create jobs, improve infrastructure and build more houses, it has to allow local leaders to make more local decisions.

‘Allowing for more flexibility and freedom within the current structures will allow local places to tailor them to their needs and unlock more development.’

MP for Wolverhampton South West, Paul Uppal, who is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Urban Development Group, said: ‘This Government has aimed to secure the economic future of the UK through pro-growth policies, and by supporting businesses by offering competitive levels of taxation, unlocking investment and financing infrastructure spending.

‘Governments can always learn, and as we look beyond 2015 this report gives a vital insight into what has succeeded and how we can build and improve upon the growth initiatives this Government has put in place.’

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