Q and A | Lord Heseltine, chair of the Regional Growth Fund Advisory Panel

Lord Heseltine is chair of the Regional Growth Fund Advisory Panel and, along with vice-chair Lord Shipley, is advising ministers on which LEPs should receive what money. He talks to Infrastructure Intelligence editor Antony Oliver about progress and ambition. 

Leps analysis

At the recent ACE annual conference Lord Heseltine, author of the No Stone Unturned report, predicted that the outcome of the current Local Enterprise Partnership bidding process would be the big story of the year and “transformational” in terms of regional development 

However, he warned that while the amounts on offer were significant they were still not enough and added that most LEPs still had some way to go in terms of delivering truly “aspirational” bids, pointing out that the competitive element of the process was vital to boosting performance. 

“The process is in its infancy but central government has to change the means of handing out the money and LEPs have to prove they can deliver,” he said. “Competition is an incredible motivator and introducing it into the public sector is a game changer.”

LEPs, he said, “have to raise their aspirations in my view”, accepting that while there were a number of very organised and forward thinking LEPs, many had work to do to boost the quality of bidding.

Q: You have been critical of the “aspiration” by LEPs in their bids. Is this changing?

A: We are making progress. What industry wants is certainty and that is now happening. The issue is still on what scale and at the moment it is happening on a relatively modest scale but I hope that we can prove it works and therefore the figures will tend to go up.

Q: There is a variability of performance and success in LEPs? Do we have the right skills in place in LEPs?

A: Every system that you set up will have patchy performance within it – that is the nature of the beast. But this is a competitive process. The best bids will deserve more support and that will produce more precedence and examples for the next rounds which will follow on very quickly. I think the people who don’t win [in this round] will rapidly learn how to get better. There is always a variability in quality but the thing is to get the quality up.

Q: The LEP process is still quite misunderstood. Are sufficient professionals engaged?

A: I think that [professional engagement] will receive a major boost when the first report comes out in the summer. Once people see this working and the ability to influence locally a lot more people will take an interest.

Q: You say that the London centric nature of development support “very much needs to change”. Why?

A: This country was made by our great cities and it is the way in which over the last century London has assumed more and more power that has done so much to diminish the discretion and initiative locally. I am one of many people who want to see that reversed.

Q: High Speed 2 must deliver regional benefit? Will development corporations such as those you pioneered 30 years ago, help?

A: I have no doubt that there is a powerful argument for using development corporations [to help drive the development alongside HS2].
I personally would never have got rid of the London Development Corporation and would have extended its remit. It is a question of judgement about what works and a big part of the discussion with local people about what is needed. What is for sure is that within the Local Enterprise bids, the potential for HS2 is now widely understood.

To view an interview with Lord Heseltine and his discussion with Antony Oliver at the ACE conference visit

If you would like to contact Antony Oliver about this, or any other story, please email