UK Politics

Cameron promotes growth in North West of England

David Cameron and Lord Heseltine on the banks of the Mersey
Image caption David Cameron and Lord Heseltine visited Merseyside on Thursday

Prime Minister David Cameron has promoted his economic growth plans on a visit to the North-West of England.

He was accompanied by Lord Heseltine, recently appointed chair of a new regional growth fund.

The PM said economic growth and "rebalancing" the economy were his top priorities for the new year.

But Labour claimed he had "abandoned" the regions and the coalition had cut funding to them by two thirds when it scrapped Regional Development Agencies.

Mr Cameron visited a £4.5bn development in the Wirral, where he was joined by Sir Terry Leahy, the outgoing chief executive of Tesco, and other business leaders to discuss the government's new Local Enterprise Partnerships, which are being brought in to replace Regional Development Agencies.

'Credible'

In a speech in Manchester, the prime minister spoke of the need to "rebalance" Britain's economy so that the regions grow at a faster rate - and said he was determined not take a hands-off "laissez faire" approach to business policy.

And he hit back at Labour claims that his plans to cut Britain's budget deficit threatened growth, saying they were essential to restore confidence.

"Make no mistake - this government is doing everything we possibly can to drive growth and make the next decade the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in our history," he told an audience of business leaders.

Mr Cameron encouraged firms to bid for money from the £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund, announced in November to boost private sector growth in parts of England likely to be hardest hit by public sector job cuts.

Lord Heseltine, who is in charge of the fund, said it was now "open for business" and he would be holding a series of roadshows across England to encourage "high quality" bids from entrepreneurs. The first bidding round ends on 21 January.

The former deputy prime minister stressed that his committee would be taking a "hard-nosed" attitude to the bidding process and the money would only go to schemes which offered "sustainable" private sector jobs rather than temporary boosts.

And although the money is available throughout England "there will be parts of the country that find it very difficult to qualify" as it will be focused on areas that are currently dependant on the public sector for employment.

'Too far'

He also revealed that he was in talks with the four main High Street banks to find a way of getting cash from the fund to smaller scale entrepreneurs.

At the moment, the minimum bid is £1m but Lord Heseltine said he wanted to be able to give that cash to the banks to distribute to their customers.

Labour said it hoped Mr Cameron's plans would work - but accused the coalition of going "too far and too fast" in its efforts to cut Britain's budget deficit and of lacking a "credible" growth strategy.

Shadow Business Secretary John Denham said: "David Cameron today confirmed he was abandoning hard hit regions to their fate, demonstrating once again that this Conservative-led government has no real plan for growth and jobs.

"At a time of rising unemployment and economic uncertainty we need David Cameron to set out a clearer plan on where the jobs of the future will come from."

He said funding for regional growth had been cut by two thirds and accused the government of "months of inaction" on bank lending.

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