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Local Enterprise Partnerships shake-up announced

The Government has published plans to reform Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and tackle overlapping boundaries.

On the last day of Parliament, before MPs head off for the summer recess, ministers published a new report, which promises to reform LEPs’ ‘leadership, governance and accountability’.

The report includes plans to introduce a requirement for women to make up at least one third of LEP boards by 2020, with the expectation of equal representation by 2023.

And it also includes a mandate for LEPs to submit proposals for revised geographies including removing any situations in which 2 LEP geographies overlap.

The paper also includes a commitment to provide up to £20m of additional funding between 2018 to 2019 and 2019 to 2020 to support the implementation of these changes and the development of local economic strategies, as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

‘This publication of the Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships policy represents a step change in approach for LEPS,’ said housing secretary, James Brokenshire.

‘We will continue our work to strengthen these leading institutions to develop ambitious strategies for growth and build an economy which is fit for the future.’

In the past, LEPs have been criticised for being unaccountable and not up to the task of delivering local economic strategies.

Commenting on the launch of the of the report, the vice-chairman for the County Councils Network (CCN), Cllr Philip Atkins, said: ‘CCN has long campaigned for the government to revise Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) boundaries and remove overlaps. We welcome of direction of travel announced today, particularly the commitment to remove all overlaps.

‘It is important for local areas to now consider the changes and respond with proposals to government, agreed in partnership with county authorities. Some LEP mergers, alongside greater coterminosity between county and LEPs boundaries would clearly be beneficial where this is locally desired.

‘We recognise that LEPs should be private sector led, supported by the vital contribution of local government, particularly county authorities. However, we are concerned that the proposals announced today could downgrade the role of democratically accountable local government, with the requirement to increase private sector board membership to two thirds and create an independent secretariat. This underestimates the role county authorities can play in supporting LEPs and promoting growth in their areas,’ added Cllr Atkins.

While the British Chambers of Commerce’s director of research and economics, Mike Spicer commented: ‘Companies have long wanted LEPs to have clearer structures and greater accountability to the local private sector. Properly seen through, a number of the decisions made by ministers could help to improve the relationship between local firms and the partnerships that are tasked with prioritising how public money is invested in the local economy.’

Last month, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) accused LEPS of failing rural areas.

survey published by the pressure group showed that LEPs are perceived, by almost two-thirds (60%) of respondents, as having a negative impact on issues affecting the countryside.

Local Growth Minister added Jake Berry MP added: ‘We’ve committed over £9 billion to help LEPs through 3 rounds of Growth Deals to deliver on their investment priorities, while creating new and exciting economic opportunities for local businesses and communities across the country.

‘This landmark shake-up of our local enterprise partnerships will help us deliver on our pledge to deliver over £12 billion through the Local Growth Fund by 2021 while allowing LEPs to use their local knowledge to deliver inclusive growth.’

To read the full Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships report click here.

Jamie Hailstone
Senior reporter - NewStart

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