Devon and Cornwall bid to get 'radical powers'
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has pledged to pass "radical new powers" to rural areas as part of his "quiet revolution" to devolve decision making from Westminster.
Plymouth has been included in a list of urban areas set to compete for more clout under the Government's new "city deals" programme.
Counties such as Devon and Cornwall are in line to be the next to benefit from his "quiet revolution" to let communities control their own destiny.
Mr Clegg told the Western Morning News he had been "really impressed" with recent proposals for a Duchy Deal in Cornwall, outlined by St Ives MP Andrew George.
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He said those behind the plans were "pushing at an open door" and promised to put powers in place this Parliament.
"This is a quiet revolution of a very British kind – transferring powers on a scale not seen in recent history – for a generation or two," he added.
"It would be absurd if the city deals were only urban places – counties and rural areas deserve just as much as the big cities.
"I was really impressed with Cornwall's calls for a future deal – I am a huge supporter and will work flat out to make sure it happens."
Ministers have already signed agreements with eight major cities worth millions of pounds.
The Government will today announce that Plymouth is among 20 cities being urged to put forward ideas. Local authorities will be invited to draw up proposals stating what they want from Whitehall and what they can offer in return.
The prize will be cash- raising powers aimed at kick-starting the economy and creating thousands of jobs. But only those areas which demonstrate "political leadership" and come up with the most imaginative ideas will succeed. They must produce ambitious and innovative proposals to help make changes that will be felt by everyone across their region.
Mr Clegg added: "It is not just about recycling old-fashioned ideas but to really see whether Plymouth can come up with the innovative ideas to create new job opportunities."
Asked when Devon and Cornwall might be in line for extra powers, he said it was not possible "all at once".
"This is a process which is going to go on the success of the first and second waves," he added. "I need to explore a third way to bring in rural areas – it is up to the people of Cornwall."
Although city deals can involve receiving government grants for specific projects, they can also include giving councils more control over existing funds administered by Whitehall, and making it easier for them to raise money from the private sector.
Many cities have demanded the right to take responsibility for skills and training, to make sure that workers have the expertise needed by local employers.
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said he had spent four months "working at close quarters with the Cabinet Office" on the plans.
He welcomed the inclusion of Plymouth and insisted the concept "must survive longer than the Parliament".
He added: "This cannot just be about cities being the only place where you can generate growth – a lot can come out of the rural economy and a similar programme has to come out of that.
"The Government has got an unrealistic idea about cities being the only place where you can create critical mass – they need to have a plan outside the big cities.
"The model is good but we need to see how this would play out in the rural economy."
Both Devon and Cornwall have called for the Government to place rural areas on an equal footing with their urban counterparts.
Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George, presented the Deputy Prime Minister a dossier entitled A Duchy Deal? during summer talks.
Powers to build affordable homes, pool all funding and expertise to create jobs and combining NHS, social care and welfare budgets under an "integrated" health service are among the ideas being floated.
Plymouth City Council leader Councillor Tudor Evans said: "We know we must be innovative not just in terms of the way in which we work to solve problems but also who we work with and the way we work together.
"Our City Deal, focused on the travel-to-work-area, will have benefits for jobs and prosperity beyond our city limits."
Labour MP for Plymouth Moor View Alison Seabeck said: "I and the other MPs will obviously do all we can to support them (the council) in producing the bid."
Tory MP Oliver Colvile said: "I think Plymouth is very well-placed to be successful. It's very important we act to rebalance Plymouth's economy."
Conservative MP for South West Devon Gary Streeter said: "The council is putting together what looks like an exciting and innovative bid."
Plymouth will need to submit proposals by January 15, 2013. The government aims to finalise the deals by November.