Civic leaders make bid for £1bn deal to revitalise Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire
BUSINESS and council leaders are compiling a manifesto for economic growth as they prepare to battle 19 other regions for a Government deal worth £1 billion.
Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent are setting aside the region's Tory/Labour political divide to compete for a 'city deal' designed to create 50,000 jobs in 10 years.
Officials are meeting Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London today to take the first steps in staking their claim.
A deal would see control over Government funding devolved from Whitehall and handed to the region, as well as unlocking millions in additional investment and incentives.
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Civic and industry leaders on the region's local enterprise partnership have pledged to double the size of the economy and create 50,000 extra jobs – if they gain the unprecedented powers over transport, education and infrastructure-building budgets.
Major schemes would include widening the M6 to cut delays and building a High Speed 2 station to ensure the region profits from a new Midlands rail link to London.
The region's pitch to Government will be based on four key pillars designed to ensure the region's bid stands out from the crowd. They are:
- Radical plans to become independent of the national grid; generating power from hot water running through mine-shafts and the county's natural resources like peat and shale;
- Exploiting the region's central position between Manchester, Birmingham and the East Midlands with connections to five motorways; train routes to London, and road links to 90 per cent of the UK population;
- Creating new opportunities for the region's skilled workforce and capitalising on its traditional manufacturing strengths in industries like ceramics;
Promoting the county as a desirable place for a growing workforce to live with access to everything from countryside and heritage sites to theme parks.
They will also highlight the county council's swift action to deliver the i54 enterprise zone near Wolverhampton; picked by Jaguar Land Rover for a £355 million engine plant.
Philip Atkins, leader of Conservative-run Staffordshire County Council, said: "The West Midlands region was one of the worst-performing in the country and Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent was the worst-performing sub-region within it. Everybody else was growing between 1995 and 2008 but as a region we were going backwards.
"We estimated it would take 30 years to get back on track – 10 to halt the decline, 10 to bring us up to speed and 10 to start catching up. But as the entire economy has declined, we have not declined as much and the gap has narrowed considerably.
"We are now one of the top three areas in the country for attracting inward investment and we now believe we can do this in 10 years if we can just get on with it. What's good for Staffordshire is good for Stoke-on-Trent, and vice versa."
Mohammed Pervez, Labour leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: "We're not asking to be a special case, instead we're promoting everything we have to offer and showing them there is huge potential in this area and that if they invest they will get the returns they are looking for.
"It's a competitive process and what we need to do is put forward a bid that will be unique and will stand out and I believe one of those elements will be energy innovation. Both areas are sitting on energy-rich resources.
"From what we can see, city deals is the only game in town. We very much hope we are successful. If we're not, our mandate for change initiatives will continue and we'll work hard to try and get that growth and create those jobs – but it won't be through Government support.
"The Government's regional austerity measures were predicated on growth in the economy and that growth has not happened in the way they expected. They are continuing with austerity anyway, and it's extremely important we get growth locally because these cuts are impacting on our residents in a big way."
In July, eight of the biggest cities – Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – agreed their city deals. The number available in round two has not been confirmed.
Formal expressions of interest will be submitted in November.
They will be reduced to 12 preferred bidders in January, before the final deals are announced in late 2013.
Ron Dougan, chairman of the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire local enterprise partnership, said: "Businesses have been working with local authorities to champion our area as a great place to do business and promote initiatives that will deliver substantial growth and new jobs. The deal presents us with the opportunity to really step up these efforts."
Tristram Hunt, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, said: "The energy concept is really innovative and if we can partner with central Government on green investment it would be very positive.
"I think we're still quite rightly furious about the enterprise zone. We have had some good news on regional growth fund investment and that is welcome, but a strategy for investment in the city and county would be very welcome."