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Michael Heseltine hits out at transport spending 'bias'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 13, 2013

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Lord Heseltine, the Government's economic adviser, has warned ministers against pumping transport cash into the South East at the expense of regions such as the Westcountry.

The former Devon MP told MPs he did not think it was "desirable or practical" to target state investment at the UK's economic powerhouse, despite projections that the policy would create more jobs.

The Tory peer and former Deputy Prime Minister has championed a devolution of power and money from Whitehall to the provinces, and his No Stone Unturned report has garnered cross-party support.

Yesterday, MPs on the Commons business select committee quizzed Lord Heseltine on his dossier, and asked whether infrastructure investment was too heavily favoured to the South East.

Lord Heseltine, who is also advising the Government on how it spends the £2.6 billion regional growth fund, said it was, adding: "Personally, politically, I don't believe that is desirable or practical. But are we looking at this as politicians or economists? This is what politics is all about."

He added there needed to be a "political priority" to invest in the regions. Westcountry politicians and business leaders have complained bitterly in recent months that while ministers have committed to a £32 billion high-speed rail link between London and the North, the far South West gets little support.

This week, South West Tory MEP Giles Chichester accused the Government of ignoring the South West as part of its HS2 high-speed rail link investment, creating a "Cinderella region" which routinely misses out on crucial cash.

Last November, the Western Morning News reported Commons officials warning of "unjustified bias" that leaves the South West short-changed over vital spending on road and rail.

In 2010, £774 per head was spent on public transport in London – comfortably the highest in the country. By contrast, just £212 per head was committed in the South West, according to Treasury figures. Other regions beside London were also lavished with more cash than the South West. In the North West, the calculation was £337 per head and the East received £328 per head.

The Coalition has invested in the long-awaited South Devon link road to Torbay and the dualling of the A30 on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.

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