Heseltine backs East Anglia’s regional powerhouse campaign

Michael Heseltine at Easton & Otley College to look at the progression of their new construction cen

Michael Heseltine at Easton & Otley College to look at the progression of their new construction centre. Pictured signing the growth deal alongside Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Political heavyweight Michael Heseltine said East Anglia will not be ignored in its quest to become a major economic powerhouse.

Michael Heseltine at Easton & Otley College to look at the progression of their new construction cen

Michael Heseltine at Easton & Otley College to look at the progression of their new construction centre.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Deflecting concerns that the chancellor had set his sights too narrowly on creating a 'northern powerhouse', Lord Heseltine said there had been significant investment in the east, as he visited the region yesterday to sign a deal that helped pave the way for a new construction college.

The Conservative ex-minister, pictured, who produced a much-lauded report on localism and growth for the government in 2012, visited Easton and Otley College, near Norwich, to view the training centre being built with funding from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

In further support of central government statements, Lord Heseltine said the possibility of fewer LEPs, hinted at by communities secretary Eric Pickles, should be decided by local people first and foremost.

But he said it was not a fair assessment to say the focus on a 'northern powerhouse' had deprived investment or support in other regions such as East Anglia.

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He said: 'There should be no concern at all that the east of England has been left out, because the government has devolved large sums of money to a lot of enterprise partnerships,' he said. 'Every region has its share.'

The New Anglia LEP, set up in 2010 with 38 others across the UK, made a successful bid first for £173m of government funds and then for £48m in autumn last year, to bring a total of £221m investment to the region.

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The college has won £2.5m from the LEP's growth deal for a purpose-built training centre for construction students at its site in Easton.

Yet the number of LEPs in every region may fall after the election, according to Mr Pickles in an announcement made in February this year.

Mr Pickles said that some LEPs – including those that are under performing – might merge as part of their ongoing evolution, a claim which Lord Heseltine asserted must be worked out at a local level.

'If local representatives think the best thing to do is merge their LEPs, then that should happen,' he said. 'But it must reflect their judgement, not central government's.'

Lord Heseltine said that a key strength of LEPs is their capacity to generate local contributions, as seen in the £245m raised by East Anglian companies to match the £221m LEP growth deal.

'It is important to realise what has changed,' said the long-standing champion of localism. 'This money would have been spent by local authorities anyway, advised by well-meaning civil servants. But now we ask - you're here, you tell us what you would do with the money.'

Mark Pendlington, chairman of the New Anglia LEP, said it was a huge vote of confidence in the region to have Lord Heseltine sign the growth deal in person.

'You were the founding father of the concept of a growth hub,' Mr Pendlington told him. 'We are going to meet and exceed your expectations of growth in this region.'

Can Norfolk be an 'eastern powerhouse'? Contact business writer Jess Staufenberg on 01603772531 or email jessica.staufenberg@archant.co.uk or tweet @StaufenbergJ.

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