Proposals to break up the South East Local Enterprise Partnership could be put forward to ministers after the general election, according to leading figures in the organisation.
The South East LEP’s Essex vice chair George Kieffer told LGC that any incoming minister would be “very foolish” to maintain the status quo without questioning whether the LEP was “delivering for government what government expected of it”.
The South East LEP, which covers East Sussex, Essex, Kent, Medway, Southend, and Thurrock, is the “biggest non-metropolitan LEP in the country”, said Mr Kieffer, and while he had not seen “a formal proposal to disband or break [it] up” he was “not ruling it out”.
Last September Lord Adonis called for the number of LEPs – there are 39 across the country – to be reduced, while in July communities secretary EricPickles indicated he would be open to the idea of changing LEP boundaries.
Mr Kieffer said although an in-depth review of the LEP would have to wait “until we see the colour of the next administration and the priorities that they have got”, he could foresee the way it could be broken up.
“I suspect Kent and Medway will go together,” he said, and added there was “perhaps a case for East Sussex being together with the Coast to Capital LEP” which covers Brighton and Hove, Croydon, East Surrey, Lewes, and West Sussex. Mr Kieffer added a Greater Essex LEP, including Southend and Thurrock, could also work.
Talks are already under way about forming a Greater Essex combined authority. David Finch (Con), leader of Essex CC, told LGC that having a coterminous LEP “would be a positive”. However, he said he was not sure any new government “would entertain smaller, more discrete” LEPs as he got the impression both the Conservatives and Labour would prefer fewer, larger-scale LEPs across the country.
“We are looking at all of the options available to us,” he said.
Kent CC leader Paul Carter (Con), who has long complained about the size of the South East LEP, told LGC that even if it was broken up any potential breakaway LEPs would “still be among the biggest LEPs in the country”.
He said the current set -p and way leaders made decisions on projects in areas they knew little about was “nothing short of madness”. As a result he said he would be “very much” behind any proposals to break up the South East LEP.