international terrorism, and crime, will drive regulatory intervention
deeper into our way of life.
If the role of government in wealth creation is so important, the next
question centres on the collective response of the private sector.
The answer is complex and controversial. Understandably, opinion
focuses on and is led by the great raft of British companies that are
world competitive. Too little time is focused on those that are not.
My experience tells me that our competitor nations have been much
more positive in the partnerships within the private sector and
between the public and private sectors that they have created. There
are different models, but the most common is the role of Chambers of
Commerce. In the 1990s, I pioneered the establishment of Business
Link to provide comprehensive support to businesses. By the time of
the arrival of the Coalition government, the system was attracting two
million enquiries a year but, in an act of political vandalism, it was
replaced by a much less ambitious concept.
Over subsequent years it has been rebuilt with publicly supported
growth hubs and the wider local enterprise partnerships. There is an
urgent need to build this process to world standards.
The election of the Coalition government in 2010 strained the already
fragile commitment of the Tory manifesto to “give the citizens in each
of England’s 12 largest cities the chance of having an elected mayor”.
The Lib Dems had no enthusiasm and, it is fair to say, neither did
many senior Conservatives. The referendum campaign attracted little
public interest, minimal levels of turnout and very disappointing
results. A split in Bristol’s Labour Party enabled a local independent
to beat both main parties. He was the only winner.
For me, the turning point came when George Osborne and Vince
Cable invited me in 2012 to produce a report of much wider compass
– growth in local economies across England. This report became
No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth and advocated significant
devolution within England.