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Tory MPs slam Kent-Essex 'super-LEP'

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All but one of Kent’s 14 backbench Conservative MPs have written to ministers to voice their opposition to the Eric Pickles-backed plan for a new Kent and Essex economic development partnership.

As revealed by LGC, the proposal for the Local Enterprise Partnership covering Kent, Medway and Greater Essex has been earmarked by ministers for a green light in the first wave of 22 LEPs likely to be announced in the next few weeks.

However, the proposal is not supported by Medway Council or a handful of Kent district councils, which have backed a separate Kent and Medway LEP.

LGC understands that Eric Pickles, who has long favoured a wider Kent and Essex LEP, intervened in the negotiations to ensure that the Kent-Essex ‘super-LEP’ proposal was realised, after Essex CC’s chief executive had described the proposal as a “step too far”.

This was confirmed by Kent CC leader Paul Carter, who told LGC that Mr Pickles had leant a “helping hand”.

But now, in a letter to business secretary Vince Cable and Mr Pickles, 12 of Kent’s backbench Conservative MPs have voiced their opposition to the ‘super-LEP’ proposal.

Three Kent Conservative MPs who did not sign the letter - Greg Clark, Hugh Robertson, and Damian Green - are all ministers in the coalition government. The only other MP not to sign was backbencher Julian Brazier.

Another Conservative MP, Rehman Chishti, sent a separate letter backing the Kent and Medway proposal, over the ‘super-LEP’.

In the group letter, the MPs argue that the Kent-Essex proposal is not in the interests of Kent & Medway’s “economic stability and prosperity” as the area covered is too large and is “not representative of the various micro-economies that exist throughout Kent”.

“Instead, we fear they will be scooped up within an unnecessarily broad and ineffectual Kent-Essex-based strategy,” the MPs said.

The MPs argue that, in being separated by the River Thames, the two counties do not share transport priorities and it is therefore “not clear in what way this proposed LEP intends to tackle localised transport issues or how either county will benefit from the other’s cooperation”.

The MPs also point out that because the two counties fall into two different regions for the purpose of administering European Regional Development Fund aid, “serious questions are raised as to how cooperation from an EU funding perspective is achievable”.

“Securing direct funding for… projects will be complicated due to the two counties falling into different EU regions,” the MPs said.

The MPs added: “We therefore believe that the intention of creating a super-LEP to save central government money in the short term will in fact harm the people and businesses of Kent in the long term. We very strongly believe that it makes more sense geographically and economically to establish the Kent & Medway LEP.”

The move came as economic development expert and former East of England Regional Development Agency chief executive David Marlow, writing for LGC, said the super-LEP was in effect a new-region and ran counter to the professed localism agenda of the government.

He said: “The Kent and Greater Essex proposal to collaborate on strategic economic leadership for this large area runs the risk of creating new barriers to coherent local economies.”

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