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24 LEPs get green light as others are forced to re-bid

Business secretary Vince Cable today confirmed the first 24 local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) that will be approved in the first wave of devolution of economic development powers.

The announcements form part of a White Paper on Local Growth published today. Now 24 out of 62 bids will progress to the next stage. However, no LEPs were approved in Lancashire or Hull, and the Bournemouth, Dorset & Poole partnership also missed out.

Decentralisation minister Greg Clark said more LEPs could be established in future if revised bids are submitted. “The announcement of 24 areas today is a beginning, not an end,” he said.

“For those proposals which did not quite make it this time – we will continue to support them as they refine their plans.”

Greg Clark, decentralisation minister

“For those proposals which did not quite make it this time – we hope that they will draw inspiration from what is possible, and we will continue to support them as they refine their plans.

“And any other area that wants to have a local enterprise partnership that suits business and community aspirations can come forward with proposals at any time.”

A Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) spokesman said the devolution process is “an evolution, not concrete”. Failed LEPs should pursue further discussion with business and civic leaders, she said.

A spokesman for England’s Regional Development Agencies said some bids were rejected due to issues such as not involving the business community enough, or overlapping with other LEPs.

Left in the gaps

He said that areas not covered by the 24 approved LEPs could suffer if they do not manage to get revised bids approved. “If local authorities that are in the gaps don’t get their act together they’re going to get left behind,” he said. “Those gaps will probably start to be closed before the end of the year, but only if local authorities talk to each other.”

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) called for the government to help and advise the proposed partnerships which need to re-bid.

“Partnerships will differ across the country in both form and functions.”

White Paper on Local Growth

In its White Paper, the government failed to explicitly define the roles and powers of LEPs, saying it does not intend to define local enterprise partnerships in legislation.

“Partnerships will differ across the country in both form and functions,” said the paper. “A partnership may need legal personality or a specified accountable body in some circumstances, such as if it wished to own assets or contract to deliver certain functions. The constitution and legal status of each partnership will be a matter for the partners, informed by the activities that they wish to pursue.”

The paper also set out possible roles that LEPs might take on. These included:

  • working with Government to set out key investment priorities, including transport infrastructure and supporting or coordinating project delivery
  • coordinating proposals or bidding directly for the Regional Growth Fund
  • making representation on the development of national planning policy
  • coordinating approaches to leveraging funding from the private sector

Ministers also declared the £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund open for business. The fund “will support the creation of private sector jobs and will particularly support communities currently dependent on the public sector, helping them make the transition to private sector led growth and prosperity”, said the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

In the debate following the announcement, the government was accused of slashing funding for regional growth.

“The regional growth fund is a pathetic fig leaf to cover the absence of any growth strategy.”

John Denham, shadow business secretary

Cable said the £1.4bn would be available over the next three years “to encourage private sector investment across England, providing support with significant potential for private sector led economic growth and sustainable employment”.

Shadow business secretary John Denham said the plan was a “shambles” and the result of “reckless” cuts. “This statement cuts the resources for regional development by at least two-thirds,” he said.

“RDAs will receive about £1.4bn this year. The regional growth fund will have £1.4bn over three years. The regional growth fund is a pathetic fig leaf to cover the absence of any growth strategy.”

Reacting to today’s announcements, the FPB also warned against the possible abuse of tax increment financing by local authorities. FPB chief executive Phil Orford said: “With local authorities soon being able to borrow against future business rate increases, they may find it tempting to hike rates in order to borrow more, so this is certainly something which needs to be monitored and policed very closely.”

The successful bids, chosen from 62 submitted to government, are as follows:

  • Birmingham & Solihull with E. Staffordshire, Lichfield & Tamworth
  • Cheshire and Warrington
  • Coast to Capital
  • Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly
  • Coventry & Warwickshire
  • Cumbria
  • Gt. Cambridge & Gt. Peterborough
  • Greater Manchester
  • Hertfordshire
  • Kent, Greater Essex & East Sussex
  • Leeds City Region
  • Leicester & Leicestershire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Liverpool City Region
  • Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Derby, & Derbyshire
  • Oxfordshire City Region
  • Sheffield City Region
  • Solent
  • S.E. Midlands
  • Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire
  • Tees Valley
  • Thames Valley Berkshire
  • The Marches
  • West of England

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