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Imaginative shift to access investment

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Michael Heseltine has always understood regeneration and cities. This is something we’ve seen in Manchester, from his visible presence as we came to terms with the 1996 IRA bomb, to his backing for the groundbreaking regeneration projects we have since developed in the city.

Lord Heseltine’s recent report shows he has not lost any of his vigour. He calls on the government to do much more to release places such as Manchester from the shackles of centralist control and also calls into serious question how government actually operates.

We need to challenge the orthodoxy of thinking that the benefits of government cannot be recognised at a spatial level

He shows how departments just don’t ‘get’ individual places, how the civil service often lacks the experience that comes from working on the frontline, and how reform must include the structure and culture of government as well as a renewed focus on devolution of functions.

While we will all have views on the detail of his many recommendations, the broad thrust of his analysis is right and is welcome.

We have seen here and in other parts of the country how effective civic leadership can transform places.

But nothing tells us more about the challenges ahead than the current system of local government finance. The government rightly spoke about re-localisation of business rates. It then changed that narrative to say that no more than 50% of business rates could be re-localised. It now appears to be saying this is not possible at all.

Local government and their business partnerships should secure access to the benefits of government, so that they have the capacity and incentive to seek the necessary interventions to drive employment and investment initiatives.

We therefore need to challenge the orthodoxy of thinking that the benefits of government cannot be recognised at a spatial level. I am not clear whether this is a philosophical belief, a budget assumption or something that the Office for Budget Responsibility is forcing on government.

Whatever the reason, it is wrong. A prudent liberalisation of this thinking is the key to more imaginative ways of accessing investment such as the earnback model, which was the approach in Greater Manchester’s city deal earlier this year.

We also need a new approach to how we account for the funding of public services generally, so that new investment models can be brought forward.

Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive, Manchester City Council

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