City will get a fair deal, vows deputy PM Clegg
PLYMOUTH will have a level playing field in competing to secure new spending powers from Whitehall to kick-start the economy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has insisted.
The Lib Dem leader has stressed there would be no "northern bias" in assessing "city deal" bids, which he said would be judged on the ability of submitted plans to "drive real growth".
Plymouth is among 20 cities invited to put forward 'ambitious' proposals, following an expansion of the scheme.
Ministers have already signed agreements with eight major cities worth millions of pounds. Birmingham got £25 million for a new medical centre while Liverpool was promised £75 million to boost the economy.
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Plymouth along with the other local authorities have been invited to draw up proposals stating what they want from the Government, and what they can offer in return. This typically means promising to help create jobs.
Although city deals can involve receiving government grants for specific projects, they can also include giving councils more control over existing funds administered by Whitehall, and making it easier for them to raise money from the private sector.
Many cities have demanded the right to take responsibility for skills and training, to make sure that workers have the expertise needed by local employers.
But ministers have warned it is a competitive process and do not expect deals to go-ahead with all 20 cities.
The main beneficiaries of another economic flagship policy, the Regional Growth fund, have been the North East, North West, and the West midlands, due to their dependency on the public sector.
But Mr Clegg told The Herald there would be a level playing field in relation to awarding city deals.
He said: "I will agree deals with the cities who come up with proposals that are radical, ambitious and bold enough to make changes that will drive real growth. Each city has its own unique strengths. There is no northern bias.
"I want to see a more balanced economy that means building strong local economies outside London and the South East.
"Plymouth is over 180 miles away from London – just as far as Birmingham or Leeds."
Earlier, Mr Clegg warned the economic fortunes of the regions could not be revived through Whitehall handouts.
He said: "Certainly not now when the Treasury's coffers are bare. And even if we did have lots of money, the previous approach was fundamentally flawed.
"Revenues from the financial services sector were recycled round the rest of the country through the long arm of the state, creating the illusion of strong, national growth. Jobs were created but in an unbalanced way, over-relying on the public sector, funded by tax receipts from the City of London.
"And we've seen what happens when the conveyor belt breaks, as it did spectacularly in 2008. Those tax receipts fall, the money stops flowing and the whole country feels the consequences as the public sector contracts and jobs are lost. This nation is made up of 100,000 square miles. It cannot rely so heavily on one. So we need a stronger, more resilient economy, built on the backs of industrious and independent cities."
Oliver Colvile, the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, welcomed the announcement.
He said that he, Alison Seabeck, the MP for Moor view, and Gary Streeter, the MP for South West Devon, had been campaigning for it.
"We have worked across the party political divide," Mr Colvile said.
He added that he had written to the Prime Minister in March, asking for a boost for the city, after Mr Cameron made "a slip" by referring to Plymouth's non-existent enterprise zone.