Enterprise Zones - Back to the Future

  • 22 February 2013
  • From the section England

There's an element of "Back to the Future" about recent fanfares for the Enterprise Zone (EZ) in Birmingham, and not just because Tarzan himself, Lord Heseltine, has been in town to find out what local leaders are doing to turn pious principles into practical measures to create growth.

EZ's were one of his big ideas for regeneration when he was in the Thatcher government in the 1980s.

Michael Heseltine tried to start up Enterprise Zones when Margaret Thatcher was in power

Their long-term benefits were questionable then, so what's different this time?

That's what I asked the Chancellor George Osborne during his visit to the city's Assay Office, which will be moving from its present outdated premises into a state-of-the-art building in the Enterprise Zone next year.

What's different now, he told me, is that the government, local authorities and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) will all be putting their full weight behind the drive for Birmingham to offer a real alternative to London for inward investment. They aim to bring-in nearly £3bn every year, creating 40,000 jobs.

Businesses setting-up or expanding into the zone will benefit from a variety of Treasury-funded tax breaks, light-touch planning regulations and high-speed broadband. The LEP will be allowed to keep the proceeds from the local business rates to help keep up the momentum.

The real test of this will be whether Birmingham can succeed in generating prosperity for the wider region surrounding it, for the Black Country and Coventry, where council and business leaders have long argued they need an economic boost just as much as the "Second City" itself.

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