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Regional shake-up will affect skills

Crucial planning and engineering expertise will be lost during a rocky transition period from regional development agencies (RDAs) to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), government officials said this week.

The teething period for LEPs will be “a challenge”, a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) senior official told NCE.

“Some local authorities will work together better than others,” she said, adding that different LEPs will likely take different approaches to collaboration, with varying levels of success.

Councils involved with LEP bids expressed similar concerns at a BIS select committee meeting this week. Coventry & Warwickshire bid representative Louise Bennett said: “We are worried about the transition. There could be challenges around devolution of power.”

Newcastle Gateshead bid representative Andrew Lewis said: “We can’t instantly step in and fill that gap.”

It also emerged that crucial expertise within existing RDAs could be lost. An RDA National Secretariat spokesman told NCE that although the LEP bidders have “good ideas” about retaining RDA staff, this is unlikely to be co-ordinated for six to 12 months.

Meanwhile, he said, RDAs have already lost 20% of their staff. “They’re going now,” he said. “It might be too late.”

“Some local authorities will work together better than others”

BIS official

Leeds City Region bid representative Tom Reardon said he was particularly keen to retain staff working on carbon capture and storage (CCS).

“The people in RDAs working on that at the moment are in danger of being made redundant and disappearing,” he said.

“We in LEPs would want that expertise. It would be remiss to let that go.”

Speakers said LEPs will also need experienced staff to secure EU grants and funding streams. BIS should “look surgically at what RDAs do and what LEPs will be tasked to do and ensure the right people are retained,” said Reardon.

Other speakers said LEPs will have to look to other funding sources. The government must “either grant funding or the means to raise money,” said Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough bid representative Alex Plant.

He said business rates could be used, and tax increment financing (TIF) “could be a very helpful means”.

Local authorities across the country have submitted joint bids to form LEPs in their regions, together with local businesses. The government is expected to approve 22 of the bids (News last week).

It is not yet clear what powers LEPs will have. More details will be revealed in a sub-national growth white paper at the end of this month.

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