Westcountry to get more devolved powers say Lib Dems
London Editor Graeme Demianyk reports from the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.
Nick Clegg has given the clearest signal yet that areas such as Devon and Cornwall could be handed a raft of powers under devolution from Whitehall to the regions.
Leaders in both counties are demanding a greater say in strategic decisions on infrastructure projects, regeneration plans and skills training, similar to what the UK's eight biggest cities have been given under so-called "city deals".
Speaking to regional journalists in Brighton, the Deputy Prime Minister – instrumental in leading the Government's agenda to boost areas beyond London and the South East – said his "long-term ambition is to make the city deals the norm rather than the exception".
The Liberal Democrat leader, who will close conference with his keynote speech today, went on that the principles could be "extended wherever we can to other parts of the country".
Both Cornwall Council and Devon County Council want the Government to place rural areas on an equal footing with their urban counterparts, such as Manchester, Leeds and Bristol.
Pioneering talks have already taken place on a so-called "Cornwall Deal" as part of coalition promises to empower local communities.
Town hall bosses argue the region should be given more clout to implement polices over housing, health and economic development, as well as more funding to carry out any new role.
While in the early stages, the Deputy Prime Minister said a "hybrid approach" could be developed to let regions without big urban areas "get a fair crack of the whip".
Mr Clegg told reporters: "If you look at the dilemma we face as a country, that the central state, that Whitehall, is going to be cash-strapped for quite some time, the only way you're going to be able to square the circle ... if there's less money at the centre, is giving more freedom to everyone else.
"And I think that should in the first instance apply to our great cities but it should be extended wherever we can to other parts of the country.
"So there will be a second wave. We're not rushing straight away to launch a second wave because we want to see how it's going to work but we will in due course launch a second wave."
He also made a fierce defence of the £2.4 billion Regional Growth Fund – a pot of state cash to help businesses create private sector jobs – of which Mr Clegg is seen as being the major champion.
The Committee of Public Accounts this month claimed it was "scandalous" the fund had been plagued by delays, arguing £60 million – or just 4% of the entire fund – had reached projects on the front line.
Among projects waiting to get cash, according to the report, are a new space exploration venture at Goonhilly Earth Station near Helston, Cornwall, a Princess Yachts factory in Plymouth and luxury leather goods firm Mulberry's new facility in Bridgwater, Somerset.
But Mr Clegg said most projects were up and running: "Yes there have been real delays at the beginning. I admit that. Why? Because it was a completely new programme and also because we quite rightly are held to account for due process and the due diligence that we need to perform on the expenditure of any of your money.
"On the other extreme, if we just splashed the money around we'd be quite rightly condemned for throwing money around when there's not much of it."
He added: "It's really revealing that Labour think the measure of success for a fund like that is if a man from Whitehall turns up in a suit with a cheque and hands it over to someone on the factory floor.
"It shows absolute lack of understanding of how the private sector works."