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Heseltine to test run LEP proposals

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Lord Heseltine’s call for local enterprise partnerships to be given a strengthened role in economic growth could be piloted in the west Midlands, LGC has learnt.

Birmingham & Solihull LEP is set to work closely with the Conservative peer over the coming months to investigate how the recommendations of his ‘No Stone Unturned’ review could be applied in practice.

Working with a team which will include local MP Caroline Spelman (Con) and MEP Phil Bennion (Lib Dem), Lord Heseltine is expected to produce some findings early next year following on from his review which called for LEPs to draw up local area strategies and business plans in order to access funding from central government.

He also wanted LEPs to work more closely with local chambers of commerce and schools, improve their governance arrangements, include more employee representatives on their boards, have a greater role in skills funding.

Lord Heseltine also called for a review of LEP boundaries and criticised the existence of overlaps where local authorities were in two LEP areas - the situation for a number of councils who are in both the Birmingham & Solihull LEP and the Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire LEP. He also advised that ineffective LEPs should have their funding and responsibilities withdrawn by government.

In a letter sent to the prime minister this week, LEP chairman and John Lewis managing director Andy Street has requested Whitehall department officials give Lord Heseltine the same level of access and support as they did while he was writing his report.

“Colleagues and I wish to move this agenda forward and we have invited Lord Heseltine to assist us in the work we have in mind. We intend to look at the opportunities that could arise here in our area were the government to pursue a more localist agenda, to consider what we might add to any expenditure from our own resources or by partnership with outside interests.”

Although Lord Heseltine’s work with the LEP does not necessarily signal government has committed to his recommendations, sources in the west Midlands said they were hopeful that the prime minister would respond “in the positive” to the LEP acting as a test case.

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