Responding to Michael Heseltine’s review today, the Forum’s senior policy adviser Alex Jackman said: “Lord Heseltine’s review presents the case for long-term structural change to the way the country as a whole does business, including the part Government plays in its interactions with industry. With the way the world economy is heading it’s right to be looking at root and branch change of UK Plc.
“The review also suggests a distinct change of national direction by handing the reins of power back to local and regional institutions. We agree that cities and regions are better placed to know their own strengths and weaknesses better than a London-centric government.
“For the nation’s economy to be successfully rebalanced with more of a focus on private sector growth, all regions of the UK must be cultivated and given equal help, not just the south east.
“There’s also clear instruction to expand the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as organisations to help facilitate small business growth regionally. Many will see this as a return to the Regional Development Agencies model, and while we cautiously welcome some aspects of these proposals it is important to remember that business support is out there and any new initiative should not be duplicating what’s already provided by the private sector.”
He added: “Worryingly, Lord Heseltine seems to be mapping out a system, the foundations of which are based on the chambers of commerce. He even proposes legislating to give the chambers ‘basic statutory functions’ – we question how this could ever be independent from government.
“We do not want to see the type of cronyism from the 80s that Lord Heseltine himself will remember when it comes to business support.
“It also seems to us that Lord Heseltine is seriously floating the idea of compulsory membership of the chambers. While the research included in the review suggests that businesses which use business support services are more likely to still be trading after three years than those that don’t, we would not support forcing firms to take membership.
“We need a platform providing better access to all relevant business support bodies, giving existing small businesses and those of tomorrow real choice – it does not follow that Government can justify interfering in a private marketplace in such a crude manner.”