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Vince Cable's pledge to rural areas over investment in enterprise

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 07, 2012

Vince Cable

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Business Secretary Vince Cable has moved to ease any fears the far South West will miss out on money handed to the regions to boost jobs.

Chancellor George Osborne's Autumn Statement announced the creation of a single funding pot for housing, skills, transport and tackling unemployment by 2015.

The money will be there to turn into reality plans drawn up by official local coalitions, led by businesses leaders, known as local enterprise partnerships.

The Westcountry has two LEPs: one for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the other covering Devon and Somerset.

Handing down extra Whitehall cash represents the Government endorsing a key recommendation of a recent policy review by Lord Michael Heseltine, the former Tory Deputy Prime Minister.

In a briefing with regional journalists based at Westminster, Mr Cable conceded the size of the pot had yet to be determined but that it would be "substantial".

He said the key point of the Heseltine analysis was that "there's no point Government nibbling at little initiatives here and there", which ministers had accepted.

He told the Western Morning News areas without a major city driving the regional economy would not be neglected.

That appeared to be the case under "city deals" to hand powers to the regions. The Government has mainly focussed on eight "core" cities, including Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.

But Mr Cable said: "We're already rolling out the city deals to a wider range of cities. Not just the 'mega' city regions. The other point on the LEPs is they do represent rural areas. Sometimes they do it very well.

"Two that I've encountered – Cornwall is an excellent example, Cumbria is another. Very tightly focused LEPs with a strong agricultural base. I would expect them to be part of this process."

A formal response to the Heseltine review – which included scores of recommendations – is expected around the time of March's Budget.

Mr Cable dismissed suggestions the coalition is re-building Labour's regional development agencies (RDAs) – scrapped because ministers deemed them a waste of money – which included the Exeter-based South West Regional Development Agency.

LEPs, which will also get extra money for running costs, are to be asked to draw up master plans to be used as the basis for applications to the single pot of funding.

But elected public bodies, such as the local authority, will be expected to deliver the projects, according to the Autumn Statement.

Mr Cable said the "majority" of LEPs work well but "we want to raise their overall standard of performance".

He added: "That's why we are giving them a bit more core funding. We don't want to give them too much. That would turn into 33 RDAs – we don't want to go down that road."

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