Lord Heseltine urges West to seize power from London
Lord Heseltine has challenged the Westcountry to lose its deference towards London if it wants to see power devolved away from the capital to the regions.
The Tory grandee, and former MP of Tavistock in West Devon, was speaking on a visit to Cornwall yesterday, where he urged the South West to take control of its own destiny by raising its game and showing Whitehall that the region could drive forward its own growth agenda.
He said that he had sometimes observed a deference to the capital on visits to the regions, which he said was helping to maintain the UK's London-centric status quo.
"When you talk to officials in London about devolving power, behind closed doors they will say 'they are not up to it'. That's why, over decades, they have taken power away from you," added Lord Heseltine.
The former deputy Prime Minister said that the South West should not sit back and wait for change but should, instead, seize the initiative, warning that "there are ministers who have got budgets who want devolution like a hole in the head".
But with the recession having forced Government to re-evaluate the country's competitiveness in the face of challenging global trading conditions, the veteran politician said the UK was now at "a pivotal moment" when power could shift away from London.
Lord Heseltine added: "If you want power and choice you have to put forward a plan and that plan is not about business as it is, it's about doing things differently and better."
Speaking during a visit that included the Pendennis Shipyard, Falmouth University's Academy for Innovation and Research and the Tremough Innovation Centre, Lord Heseltine said that the UK lags behind the US and Germany when it comes to productivity and languishes in 21st place in international education league tables.
Lord Heseltine has long believed that devolving power and resources to the regions is key to redressing this balance to make the UK more competitive.
Last year he was tasked by the Prime Minister to look at how the UK could achieve more growth, with the resulting report, No Stone Unturned, making 89 recommendations to help industry, including shifting power away from London. Government accepted 81 of these and has freed up £20 billion of funding for the regions, which will be spent by local decision-makers, rather than central government or quangos.
The self-made millionaire, who founded the publishing business Haymarket, began his speech at Truro College by describing himself as "a small businessman", saying: "If you have started a small business the loneliness, the bank refusals, the competitiveness, the mistakes are never forgotten."
Warning that his message was "not comfortable, not easy, not what people want to hear" Lord Heseltine urged the Westcountry's private sector to step up to the plate in order to get things done.
He said that the UK's business community consisted of "warring tribes" that resulted in a lack of strong government support for companies, saying that Germany, America and Japan all had more effective structures in place.
"The major challenge for the private sector is to realise that it is not enough to allow this vacuum of service provision to support small and medium-sized companies," he said.
He added: "We need the private sector to recognise that if it wants to be heard, it has to shout."
Lord Heseltine said he was particularly concerned about 'sink schools' where levels of achievement are low, saying that headteachers of such failing schools should be replaced.
He also urged the business community to get involved with local schools as governors, to ensure youngsters are aware of job opportunities in their communities.
The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership is currently negotiating with government about a Growth Deal that will run from 2015 to 2020, which will include a bid for funding from Whitehall in addition to the next generation of European funding.
Chairman Chris Pomfret said: "Cornwall needs [investment] and it will be up to us to argue that robustly."
Lord Heseltine urged him to "be as rough as I would want you to be" when it came to these negotiations.