Despite his ennoblement, it seems that Michael Heseltine has lost none of his Parliamentary fire, as shown by his new report on the government’s economic policy, No Stone Unturned: in Pursuit of Growth. In the report, the former Tory Cabinet minister was brutal in his assessment of the Coalition’s work, stating: “the UK does not have a strategy for growth and wealth creation” – and that “continuing as now is not an acceptable option”.
Heseltine also set out a series of action points in the document, among them calling for the formation of a National Growth Council, headed up by a Growth Minister, to encourage “joined-up policy making” and look after important, large-scale infrastructure projects.
The “inertia” of the government’s airport policy – characterised by indecision over the expansion of Heathrow – came under heavy fire, with Heseltine urging a decentralisation of power and money away from London to “unleash the power” of other UK cities, such as Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.
Other action points that Heseltine called for include changing the immigration system to allow businesses to hire skilled foreign workers, while bringing in more careful controls on foreign ownership of UK companies. That ownership, he argued, should only be permitted if they compliment the UK’s industrial priorities.
Labour predictably called the report a “damning indictment” of the government, for not having a credible growth plan halfway through its Parliament. But Conservatives seized upon Heseltine’s backing of the overall economic strategy for reducing debt. Others criticised the report itself, with several business leaders arguing variously that restrictions on foreign investment would be unwelcome; that the focus should be on small businesses, and that moving power and money away from Whitehall would not be successful.
The likelihood is that Cameron will act on the elements he likes, and quietly forget about the recommendations he does not. To give credit to George Osborne – who commissioned the report – it was always likely that Heseltine would come back with some criticisms. As he conceded: “I wanted Lord Heseltine to do what he does best: challenge received wisdom and give us ideas on how to bring government and industry together. He has done exactly that.”
Lord Heseltine image courtesy of Financial Times photostream via Flickr. According to Wikipedia, pic was reviewed on 4 July 2010 by the FlickreviewR robot and confirmed to be licensed under the Creative Commons.