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LEPs to take leading local industrial strategy role

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Local Enterprise Partnerships are to take a leading role in developing and overseeing the implementation of local industrial strategies despite their varied performance and concerns about their governance.

The government’s industrial strategy policy, led by business secretary Greg Clark, has hinted at a reorganisation of some LEP areas as part of a review of the bodies’ roles and responsibilities.

The policy document, published Monday morning, said local industrial strategies are to be led by the six combined authority mayors in England, while “the development of the strategy will be led by the local enterprise partnership” in the rest of the country. The government is aiming to agree the first local industrial strategies “by March 2019”.

Liam Booth-Smith, chief executive of thinktank Localis, said putting LEPs instead of councils in charge of strategic economic planning is a “disappointing and sub-optimal option for driving national growth and productivity”.

“Some LEPs do a very good job, with excellent people involved on boards and leading them but others are less well-equipped to leading local industrial strategies effectively, democratically or accountably,” said Mr Booth-Smith.

In March communities secretary Sajid Javid told LEPs to “take a good look at your corporate governance”. Last month, a government review outlined plans to implement a number of changes aimed at improving the governance and transparency of LEPs, including tightening rules to tackle conflicts of interest.

The industrial strategy said the government remained “firmly committed to local enterprise partnerships”; so much so that the prime minister is to, from next year, chair a biannual “council of local enterprise partnership chairs”, which will give LEP leaders an opportunity to “inform national policy decisions”.

A set of “more clearly defined… activities and objectives” for LEPs will outlined early next year, the document said. These “will be driven by influential local leaders, acting as figureheads for their area’s economic success”, it added.

In addition the government is to “review overlapping geographies” of LEPs.

Following its review, the government “will make additional financial resources available to LEPs that demonstrate ambitious levels of reform”.

While the main focus for driving economic growth will be on LEPs, the industrial strategy did acknowledge “the need to have policy flexibility” below the regional or LEP level.

It said “some towns face particular challenges”. As a result the government “will consider” striking deals with places which can demonstrate collaborative working between local leaders and businesses “to develop innovative solutions and attract private investment”. It specifically referenced discussions over a “pilot town deal with Grimsby”.

Meanwhile, the industrial strategy referenced the impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union on funding for various projects. The document said the government “intends to consult next year on the precise design and priorities” for the UK shared prosperity fund which will replace the pot of EU funding currently allocated to places.

“We have committed to guarantee funding for any project signed while we are in the EU, even if it continues after we have left, so long as the project provides good value for money and aligns with domestic priorities,” the document said.

On air quality, a new £220m clean air fund will be “allocated competitively to local authorities in England with the worst pollution problems” from the start of 2018. This money is in addition to the £255m made available to implement air quality plans earlier this year.

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