The Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, yesterday addressed the All Party Parliamentary Group on Local Government on the issue of economic growth.
Introduced by Heather Wheeler MP, Mr Pickles praised local government as the most flexible and adept part of the public sector.
Describing his vision for driving local growth, Pickles argued that it was vital for local government to be set free from statute in order to enable real change. The aim of the NPPF is to relieve councils from the “stultifying” effects of the planning regime. Whilst planning regulation had been originally introduced to enable communities to design their own neighbourhood, it represented an unnecessary burden.
Highlighting further components of his growth strategy, he explained how the repatriation of business rates in April would serve as an important incentive in stimulating local growth. LEPs and City Deals likewise provide an important vehicle for local authorities to collaborate and share finances. LEPs importantly must be understood not as independent, bureaucratic bodies like the Regional Development Agencies, but as a tool for councils to lead with. Elected city mayors, he suggested, may provide a further logical step in order to enable greater economic coordination, although he added that city mayors would only make sense when the people want city mayors.
Looking forward, Pickles stated that the shared single funding stream proposed by Heseltine, alongside City Deals, represent the future for local growth. As the most efficient and innovative part of the public sector, he added, Whitehall could do well to look and learn from local government. Responding to questions about the limitations of City Deals due to difficulties with other Departments, Mr. Pickles pledged that deals could still be struck.
With the Budget ahead, of course the question remains whether such flexibility and ability to innovate will prove grounds for defending councils from further spending cuts, or evidence that local government can handle additional funding reductions.
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