Conservative-led Northamptonshire County Council and Liberal Democrat-led Hull City Council have turned their back on the government’s flagship economic development policy, electing to push ahead with plans that have not been approved by ministers.
In Northamptonshire, the move comes after the county council had its plans for a local enterprise partnership blocked by ministers in October, when the first wave of 24 LEPs were announced.
Instead a South East Midlands LEP, taking in all but one of Northamptonshire’s district councils as well as Milton Keynes and parts of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire to the south, was given the green light. This left the county council’s bid for a LEP based on county boundaries in limbo.
With the county’s only remaining district not to be signed on to a LEP, East Northamptonshire DC, now in talks with both the South East Midlands LEP and the Greater Cambridgeshire LEP, it was unclear how the county would proceed.
But in a report to the council’s cabinet last week, the council said it would press ahead with its own plans for a Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership (NEP), “with or without the backing of government”, which the council said was in keeping with the “Big Society and localism agenda”.
The report said that as the government is not proposing to define LEPs in legislation and as non-statutory bodies “it is unclear what greater opportunities will be afforded to LEPs than other private/public sector partnerships”.
“At present no specific powers have been awarded to LEPs. Moreover, the government has stated that funding will not be made available to support LEPs, including set up and ongoing operational costs,” the report added.
It said that the county “has an advantage” over LEPs in that it had already proposed an Economic Investment Fund through resources from the council’s own funds, which would give it “the ability to re-align its existing budgets and capital programmes to support jobs, skills and economic growth where appropriate”.
The NEP will be about action and not just talking. It will be a nimble and savvy model, drawing on the strengths of its key partners and the acumen of our business community,” the report added.
Northamptonshire’s move to ignore the government’s LEP process it also being following by Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council, whose bid for a LEP covering the north bank was turned down by ministers, after a rival bid covering both banks of the Humber estuary was submitted by North Lincolnshire Council.
However, Carl Minns (Lib Dem), Hull City Council leader, told LGC the partners were pushing ahead with the LEP plan, “with or without ministerial approval”, and had put a shadow board in place which met for the first time this week.
“Why should we wait around for government to rubber stamp our arrangements? That’s not localism,” he said.
Cllr Minns said it was “pretty shoddy” that the north bank bid had been rejected but the partnership had received no formal feedback from the government.
He said: “Our proposal is based on hard economic data. If someone wants to put data in front of us that shows a Humber-wide partnership would be better they can do so - I’ve said that all along - but no one has done so.”