Speech

Herefordshire: a vision for the county

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version. A friend of mine, a senator from Wisconsin, once said ‘if you don’t like…


Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

A friend of mine, a senator from Wisconsin, once said ‘if you don’t like the folks, don’t be in our business’.

So on my first day in this job I made clear that this Government would be all about the folks.

I remember walking into the Department. The entire building is out there, right up into the atriums, a very fine looking lot of civil servants all politely applauding.

I told them my top three priorities in Government; Localism, Localism, Localism.

Localism is the principle, the mantra that has defined everything we have done in Government so far.

It’s your opportunity as leaders, as businesses, as members of the community to seize these unprecedented opportunities.

To use your initiative, and run ahead with the powers that we are giving you.

To grow, develop, invest and shape the future of the area.

The Localism Act

This time Government is not snapping at your ankles, nor pulling at the leash, telling you how and when.

We are right beside you - helping to create the conditions in which positive change, change that you decide, happens.

And creating the right conditions for growth is key to that.

Not least because localism and growth are two sides of the same coin.

Growth requires ambitious and forward thinking leaders and communities.

Localism requires ambitious and forward thinking leaders and communities too.

Now my department isn’t just the localist department it’s the local growth department too.

Localism will support growth. And growth will support localism.

You can now grow at your own pace, match your own ambitions, finance your own projects.

And the Localism Act lets you do exactly that.

General power of competence

You can’t expect to manufacture growth.

You can’t expect to boost local business.

You can’t expect enterprise to reach its true potential if local councils are restrained from acting in the best interest of the local area.

It’s like having fine thoroughbred racing horses all lined up at the starting line raring to go and the gates just won’t open.

By handing powers to councils we are opening these gates.

Enabling them to act creatively and innovatively to improve services, drive down costs and enhance their local area.

That’s what the general power of competence does for councils.

It doesn’t just help with Town Hall prayers, as important as that freedom and liberty is.

The power allows councils to do, within reason, whatever they think is best for their local area without being held up waiting for the go ahead from the centre.

It is at your disposal right now so use it.

Planning reform

In planning we’ve lifted the anchor of control, bureaucracy and red tape that was once a drag on growth.

We have scrapped irrelevant regional strategies and housing targets, abolished unaccountable regional development agencies. And given control back to local people.

Reforms to the planning system are making way not just for growth in any old place. But responsible, careful, sustainable development that’s right for the local community.

Neighbourhood planning allows people to come together and make decisions about their future.

Such as where new homes and offices should go, and what they should look like.

We are giving people real choice.

And making sure that with that real choice comes real responsibility.

Councils, communities and businesses who say “yes” to growth should feel the benefits of that growth.

People respond to the carrot rather than the stick.

The New Homes Bonus and the reformed Community Infrastructure Levy put real cash in the hands of the places who host development.

Our reforms to business rates are rewarding places that grow.

We have given the flexibility for councils to offer business rate discounts - to help attract firms, investment and jobs.

This is the essence of the Local Government Finance Bill.

We want to let councils feel the benefits of supporting the economy.

Rather than giving councils reasons to talk their successes down, we want to give every possible encouragement to secure private sector growth.

This isn’t simply about redistributing a pot of money in a new way.

It’s about creating the right conditions to make that pot bigger, to boost growth overall.

Those councils that do the most to encourage and enable firms to succeed will see the fruits of their labours.

It just provides an even stronger reason to work in partnership.

Community rights

Councils and businesses working together is all well and good but it means nothing if you leave communities dragging on the coattails.

Growth can only happen when everyone is on board.

Rather than just taking communities with us we are putting communities in the driving seat.

I’ve already mentioned Neighbourhood planning.

The new suite of community rights is another way in which we are putting local people at the forefront of change in their local area.

Giving them the right to take over their treasured assets, to bid to run local services. To shape a vision for their future rather than be dictated to.

Local economies

You can’t think about the success and growth of a local area without thinking about the local economy.

We don’t presume to know better than the local leaders and businesses what the local economy needs.

You, as the people who have spearheaded business in the area, are the experts.

Instead of imposing structures from the top down, we’ve asked local businesses and councils to come together.

And instead of entrusting our economic future solely to officials, we want business and enterprise to take their rightful place.

Not just consulted. Not just informed. But involved and leading on the big decisions.

This is the essence of Local Enterprise Partnerships.

I am pleased to say that Local Enterprise Partnerships now cover the whole of the country.

Epsom and Newell District have formally written to request that they become part of the Coast to Capital Partnership, meaning that every local authority are in England is now part of a Local Enterprise Partnership.

And a Local Enterprise Partnership is what you make it.

It’s like a clothes horse - on which you can hang whichever elements suit local conditions best.

It’s as tame as you want it to be… or as ambitious.

Instead of being stuck in a room with detached bureaucrats negotiating for government approval - filling in endless forms for one size fits all funds that don’t really suit your area’s needs …

Localists like yourselves can now be in a room of your own choosing.

A room that includes local businessmen and local entrepreneurs.

A room where you make real decisions, with real impacts, about what to do and when to go for it.

It’s important to remember this - that these partnerships are not Government bodies, they are local partnerships. It is not up to us what they do, it’s up to you.

We are very happy to support partnership’s activities and to hear where we can provide help, but what you do is up to you.

Take the half a billion Growing Places Fund.

We put cash on the table with the simplest of applications and instructions.

We said to Local Enterprise Partnerships you decide what infrastructure to spend it on. Your local priorities will be our national priorities.

It’s encouraging to see that the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership is taking this on.

The partnership has five and half million to put towards getting housing and growth going.

It is working hard to set the criteria that will be used to make decisions - local criteria, not central rules.

If it’s invested wisely, then it will produce returns that can be used again on other projects, continuing growth and local improvements

Enterprise Zone

The partnership has also secured an Enterprise Zone - which will be a hot house for growth.

The competition for Enterprise Zones was tough.

But the Marches delivered. Putting in a convincing proposal that demonstrated commitment and ability to deliver.

In fact, the Enterprise Zone has already been so successful in attracting interest from investors that the Chancellor has agreed that it should be expanded by an extra eight hectares, to provide additional space for new businesses and more jobs.

While the Enterprise Zone is in Hereford, it provides opportunities over a much wider area.

The more businesses you attract, the more business rates you have to pump back into the future development and growth for the Local Enterprise Partnership - complementing the investment of the Growing Places Fund perhaps?

Then there is the learning.

The experience of having developed a site and made it attractive to investors, creating buzz so that people want to be there.

There’s no reason why this can’t be replicated in other places.

And so I’m really pleased to hear that the Local Enterprise Partnership is supporting ‘Enterprise Areas’ in Shrewsbury and Telford.

This is what I was saying before - it’s up to you to take the initiative - the Local Enterprise Partnership, the business boards, the councils and the communities.

It’s great to see that happen.

Conclusion

I’m pleased that you’re having this event today - it shows Herefordshire is a ‘can do’ county.

Where local leaders are thinking differently;

  • leading the way
  • seizing the opportunities
  • taking the initiative
  • spotting obstacles and taking them down
  • not waiting for instructions

It these new approaches, revolutionary ways of thinking that will be crucial to restoring growth.

So don’t look over your shoulder. Take your ideas. Run with them. You have the powers at your disposal.