Businesses question Heseltine growth report

BUSINESS leaders yesterday continued to digest Lord Heseltine’s government-commissioned report on economic growth, amid concerns that it advocates a return to the state picking winners.

Although the former Deputy Prime Minister’s calls for a coherent economic growth policy were broadly welcomed, there were concerns about some details such as a desire to put more restrictions on foreign takeovers of UK firms.

Professor Philip Booth, editorial director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, warned Heseltine’s proposal for closer collaboration between business and government “would be a dismal failure”.

“It is a recipe for corporatism and restricting competition, and consequently growth. Current areas of close cooperation between business and government – the banking and energy sectors – are testament to how damaging this can be,” he said.

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson also raised concerns about the business benefits of devolving economic control: “Moving spending powers from Whitehall to other tiers of government isn’t the answer.

“What we really need is more certainty and stability, with the government giving a clear lead in investing in critical infrastructure, and in removing fiscal and regulatory burdens which inhibit investment. Freezing business rates next year would be a good start.”

But Lord Heseltine told ITV News that regional cities must take control of own economic destiny: “Should we be run as a country by bureaucratic inertia or the self-interest of London? I don’t think so.”

Chris Gentle, head of insights at Deloitte, was concerned that the report “focuses on what government could and should do” while the focus be on “business to drive that growth”.

“Actual growth and wealth creation has to come from thriving businesses and more must be done to nurture these,” he added.