Ministers should support 'failing' towns says Heseltine

Image caption Lord Heseltine was known as the "Minister for Merseyside" in the 1980s

The former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine has dismissed claims that "failing" towns and cities should be abandoned by the government.

An article in The Economist suggested that a number of industrial towns were "decaying" and their inhabitants should be encouraged to find jobs elsewhere.

The magazine listed Hull, Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as places where "dollops of public money" had failed to boost the local economy, despite years of heroic effort.

The article has caused an outcry in Hull, where the city council leader described its recommendations as "disgusting".

In an interview for the Sunday Politics in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, Lord Heseltine said similar claims were made about Liverpool in the 1980s.

Michael Heseltine was appointed by Margaret Thatcher to lead the regeneration of Liverpool, following riots in the city in 1981.

The former Conservative cabinet minister claims the best way to stimulate economic growth in deprived towns and cities is to devolve more power away from Whitehall.

Lord Heseltine said: "What I have argued over decades is that we should say to cities what would you do?

"Because you know what Leeds needs, what Bradford needs and what Hull needs."

Former Liverpool MP Peter Kilfoyle told me there had been numerous calls over the years to turn-off the government spending taps on Merseyside.

Mr Kilfoyle, who served as a Labour minister under Tony Blair, said: "We had a think-tank a few years ago which said that Liverpool should be abandoned and everybody should move to the south.

"This is nonsense. Any forward looking government would want to invest in Hull, just as they invested in Liverpool."

Cabinet papers from 1981 reveal the chancellor of the exchequer at the time - Sir Geoffrey Howe - raised the possibility of a programme of "managed decline" in Liverpool.

However, Lord Howe recently said there was never a suggestion that Liverpool should be abandoned by the Conservative government in the 1980s.