North East Devolution and Levelling Up

Heseltine calls for new wave of mayors

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s top priority should be the creation of a new wave of mayors, according to former Environment (Local Government) Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine.

‘Top of the priorities for Michael Gove should be a creation of a new wave of mayors particularly in the towns and cities of the North, which urgently need strong leadership to reinvent themselves after a generation of neglect and deindustrialisation’, he writes in The House magazine.

Lord Heseltine, who served in Conservative cabinets under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, was closely involved in the regeneration of Liverpool in the 1980s. Under the Coalition Government he wrote the influential No Stone Unturned report on reviving the UK economy in 2012, and in 2016 produced the Tees Valley: Opportunity Unlimited report following the closure of Redcar steelworks.

Conurbation and city mayors are now a significant feature of the. political landscape, Heseltine writes in The House:

‘It remains to be seen whether the recent [levelling up] white paper proposals persuade other authorities to join the club. Set against the challenges facing our Brexit economy, it is as though we have decided to march to the sound of the guns with one hand tied behind our backs. Add to this the adjustments caused by climate change and independence from Russian energy, and it is obvious that every sinew must be strained in a national programme of change.

‘Local government must be equipped to play a major part. It must be led by people recognised locally for their achievements and not simply as reflections of their parties’ standing in national opinion polls. There is evidence that new leaders are already rising above traditional party labels.

‘These leaders must devise local strategies and negotiate their implementation with the government. Only in this way will the strengths of each individual community be the building block for growth and the weaknesses the targets for elimination.

‘Government must adapt its own practices to give substance to the evolving relationship with local leaders. Much larger parts of central government capital funding should be distributed competitively over longer periods. It is quite unacceptable that George Osborne’s reforms in this direction have been eclipsed and the cash reverted to Whitehall departments. The Treasury could fund much of additional local expenditure by ending two-tier government, as I did in Scotland and Wales in the 1990s’.