Michael Heseltine has called for Michael Gove to be put in charge of the UK’s economic recovery after the coronavirus.
The ex-Conservative cabinet minister said Gove should be responsible for co-ordinating the job of reigniting the British economy once weeks – or possibly months – of social distancing measures are brought to a close.
Gove should oversee a process whereby elected metro mayors submit plans for regional growth once the lockdown is over, the peer said.
Britain, according to the Budget watchdog, is on course for its worst recession in more than a century as a result of the coronavirus clampdown.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has predicted that the economy will shrink by 35% in this quarter and 13% over the course of the year, with national debt to rise to levels not seen since the Second World War.
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Lord Heseltine, in an article for the London Evening Standard newspaper, said the government should allow elected devolved mayors, such as Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Andy Street in the West Midlands, to produce plans for how to resuscitate regional economies.
Heavy public borrowing will be needed to shore up jobs, the former defence secretary suggested, adding ‘Whitehall will never think so creatively’ on how to spend such investment as mayors bedded into their communities.
The devolution champion said: ‘The government should now invite the mayors to draw up proposals that would most quickly and most effectively rekindle their economies.
‘These plans will not conform to some national concept as the local challenges are all different, as are their strengths to cope with them.
‘We need to address situations as local people know them to be, not as Whitehall imagines them to be.’
A minister, such as the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Gove, would be required to push the mayors’ proposals in Whitehall, Lord Heseltine argued.
‘This initiative will require a senior minister to be put in charge,’ continued Lord Heseltine, who served in both Margaret Thatcher and John Major’s cabinets.
‘Michael Gove would be well placed but, to succeed, it will need the enthusiastic support of the prime minister,’ he said.
‘Without this endorsement central government departments will do what they always do and approve projects that conform to their functional responsibilities and specific experiences.’