The heartlands of England can be an “engine for growth”, George Osborne said as he visited the area in his drive to devolve power from Whitehall to England’s cities.
The Chancellor, who used a day-long tour of the Midlands to announce an extension of Birmingham’s enterprise zone and confirm plans for a range of transport projects, urged cities in the region to be part of his “revolution”.
The Midlands should be Britain’s engine for growthGeorge Osborne
Ministers have already agreed a devolution plan with council leaders in Greater Manchester as the centrepiece of Mr Osborne’s much-vaunted “northern powerhouse”.
Mr Osborne used a speech in Derby to spell out his vision of a “Midlands engine”, claiming there was a “real buzz” about the region after years of neglect.
He said: “For too long the Midlands was overlooked by successive governments in London, and I’m here to tell you: not any more. We’re going to attract the jobs, make the investments, bring the prosperity here.
“The Midlands should be Britain’s engine for growth and this Government has a plan to back you – the people of the Midlands – at every stage of your life.”
The Chancellor said £5.2 billion had already been committed to transport projects, upgrading key roads including the M1 and M6, as well as improving rail infrastructure, “so that the Midlands can act as a transport hub for the entire country”.
The HS2 high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham will bring “massive benefits”, Mr Osborne said. “It is the great engineering project of our age and it will transform the economic geography of our country.”
The Chancellor added: “Today we’re committing to maximise the value of the investment for Birmingham by extending the current enterprise zone there in the centre of the city so it covers the whole of the regeneration area around the new Curzon Street station. And we’re also going to extend how long that runs so the local enterprise partnership can invest more in infrastructure to maximise the benefits of HS2.”
He vowed to work with local council leaders across political divides on shifting power from Westminster. Under his plans, new powers would be transferred to city regions if they agreed to a new “metro mayor”.
“It’s right that there’s a single point of accountability, someone elected to take decisions and carry the can,” he said in a speech at engineering firm Garrandale.
“That means, if we go for the full suite of devolved powers, a metro-wide mayor.
“Now, Manchester has already said it will travel down this exciting road to the future. It is my sincerer hope that the cities of the Midlands will choose to be part of this revolution in city government.”