Labour backs Heseltine's plan for regional growth
Ed Balls says Boris Johnson as Tory leader could be akin to Kevin Keegan as England manager: “big hair, no trophies.”
The Shadow Chancellor asked whether the London mayor, from Exmoor and tipped as a Tory leader, will be “the Alf Ramsey or the Kevin Keegan”: “World Cup winner not seen as the most charismatic guy, but he delivered. (Or) Kevin Keegan – big hair, no trophies.”
Labour's Ed Balls has dismissed the Government's flagship plan to boost jobs in the Westcountry as "not fit for purpose".
The Shadow Chancellor criticised the coalition Government for scrapping Labour's regional development agencies (RDAs), and replacing them with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) that lack "clout".
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But Mr Balls, architect of Labour's economic policy, promised that Labour in government would "build on, not rip up" Tory peer Lord Michael Heseltine's alternative economic blueprint for boosting the flagging regional economies. It calls for more power and cash to the regions.
The South West RDA spent a £1billion budget in the seven county-wide region on projects such as the Wave Hub energy terminal off north Cornwall. By contrast, two LEPs in the Westcountry – one for Devon and Somerset and another for Cornwall and the Scillies – have been given little by way of running costs and have to bid for spending money.
Mr Balls told regional newspaper journalists in Westminster the demise of RDAs, while not "universally" successful, had left a "massive gap" in courting inward investment and planning large projects.
He said: "The Treasury bounced the Department (for Business) and (Lib Dem Business Secretary) Vince Cable into abolishing the RDAs because they weren't any good. If you got government out of the way it would make things better.
"Over the last two years, Vince Cable has come to see what a deeply destructive and foolish thing that was. And that's what Heseltine says."
He added: "What has been put in its place is not fit for purpose. They're too fragmented. There's much too much variation in their quality. And more importantly they don't have clout – Heseltine says you have to give that local private-public partnership voice clout."
Mr Balls also warned against promising to reverse deep public spending cuts, claiming that as Britain teeters on the brink of a triple-dip recession the financial inheritance risks being "even worse" than expected. He said: "We can't make any commitments now to reverse any of the cuts coming in advance of our manifesto."
The Yorkshire MP would also not rule out a coalition with the Lib Dems in another hung parliament.
He said: "I've never been one of those people who thought coalition government was a better form of government. But if it's what has to be done in the national interest then we'll be part of that."