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'LEP-less' pushing for green light

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Areas left without new local enterprise partnerships to replace the soon-to-be-abolished regional development agencies are revising their plans to try to meet ministers concerns and secure LEP status.

In October minister announced a first wave of 24 successful LEP out of around 60 bids submitted for approval. But the decision left large swathes of the country, particularly in the south-west, north-east and east of England without a body to take on the work of the outgoing RDAs.

Ministers have said approval for a LEP covering all of the north-east, except for the Tees Valley is imminent. Cllr Paul Watson (Lab), Association of North East Councils chair and leader of Sunderland City Council told LGC a single LEP covering Northumberland, Durham and the five metropolitan authorities in Tyne & Wear was close to being finalised.

He said: ”I think people will want to get something done quickly because they are aware of the need to bid to the regional growth fund, and there is no other serious idea around for LEPs here.”

‘LEP-less’ - progress update

North-west

  • Lancashire: a stand-off between the Pennine Lancashire partnership and the county council continues. But a possible solution of two LEPs, one for the east and one for the west Lancashire, which would mirror the organisation of the Lancashire chamber of commerce, is emerging

North-east

  • A LEP covering the north-east, except for the Tees Valley, is close to being finalised

West Midlands

  • Worcestershire may resubmit their bid but Bromsgrove DC has joined the Birmingham & Solihull LEP and Redditch DC may follow
  • The Black Country LEP could simply press ahead without ministerial approval

East Midlands

  • Northamptonshire CC says it is still pursuing its bid but all of its districts, bar East Northamptonshire, have joined the South Midlands LEP

East

  • Norfolk CC and Suffolk CC have submitted a joint LEP bid

South-east

  • Districts in north Hampshire are considering their options after the Enterprise M3 bid failed

South-west

  • Devon, Somerset, Playmouth & Torbay are putting together a plan for a ‘super-LEP’
  • Gloucestershire, Wiltshire & Swindon are strengthening their existing proposals
  • Bournemouth, Dorset & Poole are considering their options, which could include merging with the Solent LEP

However, in Lancashire there is still no resolution in sight to a local row over the new economic development geography, with the Pennine Lancashire partnership, which covers authorities in the east of Lancashire pressing ahead with plan for their own LEP and Lancashire CC continuing to push for a LEP covering the whole of the county.

Last week, Graham Jones, Labour MP for Haslingden, secured a parliamentary debate over the future of economic development in Lancashire. “The current situation is becoming untenable, both East and West Lancashire are losing out due to the absence of a serious proposal,” he said.

Uncertainty in south west

In East Anglia, where there were initially a number of conflicting proposals, Norfolk and Suffolk CCs and their districts are now set to form a single LEP. South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller (Con) said: “The steer from the government is that a joint bid from the two counties would be welcomed and I believe that is on the minister’s desk.”

However, in the south-west there is still some uncertainty. Ministers approved LEPs for Greater Bristol - called the West of England Partnership - and for Cornwall and the Isle of Scilly - but bids covering the rest of the region were rejected.

These included a bid from the Bournemouth, Dorset & Poole partnership, which has a multi-area agreement in place. Dorset CC group manager for economic development David Walsh said the partnership had not yet had formal feedback from the government on its rejection.

He said: “The informal feedback is that the government was concerned about whether it covered a large enough economic area. It’s possible the government wants us to join [the neighbouring] Solent LEP [covering South Hampshire], but this isn’t explicit. Doing that would make some sense for the Bournemouth and Poole area which have links with Southampton but those links fade as you go north and west.”

‘Enterprise M3’

Elsewhere, LGC understands proposals are being worked up for a single “super-LEP” covering Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay, while the Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire LEP bid - which was given an “amber” light by ministers - has been asked by the government to demonstrate what added value it would bring beyond the work the councils concerned already do, Bill Cotton, Swindon BC director of economic development said.

Meanwhile, in the south-east districts in western Surrey and northern Hampshire saw their ‘Enteprise M3’ LEP bid fail because ministers were concerned about its relatively small geographical size, Andrew Finney (Con), leader of Basingstoke and Deane BC, said.

“Originally there was a lack of clarity about what might happen at county level but now the rest of Hampshire has gone into the Solent LEP we know where we stand,” he told LGC. “There is strong support from local business for the M3 LEP but the government is concerned about geographical scale and if you look at the LEPs that have been approved, it is small.”

Cllr Finney said there was no pressure from the government to join the adjacent reading and Berkshire LEP, which was approved in the first wave.

Northants in the cold

In the east Midlands, Northamptonshire CC is mulling its future after its bid for a county-wide LEP was rejected. All the county districts except East Northamptonshire Council have joined the South East Midlands LEP, which was approved in the first wave.

East Northamptonshire leader Stephen North (Con) said: “The indication from the government is that it would not support the county LEP unless all the districts did so, and since most of them have already done it with South East Midlands it is clear they don’t. We are looking at joining the South East Midlands, but we are also being courted by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough LEP, so we may go in with both.”

Northampton leader Brian Hoare (Lib Dem) said: “The problem with a Northamptonshire LEP is that we don’t think it has the critical mass.
“There would be a population of 650,000, whereas South East Midlands has 1.8m and the government has made it clear it does not want county boundary LEPs unless they are functional economic areas, and Northamptonshire isn’t one”

A Northamptonshire spokeswoman said the county was “still trying to convince the government of the merits” of the county-wide LEP.

Meanwhile, in the west Midlands Worcestershire CC, which had its bid turned down, is pressing ahead with its own plans for economic development, with the council making an extra £300,000 available in 2011-12.

Cabinet member for planning, economy and performance Simon Geraghty (Con), said the extra cash would be used to increase the council’s support for business after the loss of the Advantage West Midlands regional development agency.

Worcestershire & Black Country limbo

In a report to the council’s cabinet, Cllr Geraghty said the money would be spent in 2011-12 while “at a slower speed, but no less importantly, assessment can be made of the potential for joint working, or alternative delivery mechanisms, through LEPs and cross-LEP collaboration”.

Cllr Geraghty’s report added: “Irrespective of the future local enterprise model adopted for the county (and this is still under review) the LEP will not replace the county council’s lead role in infrastructure, strategic planning and community leadership on behalf of the county.”

But Bromsgrove DC has elected to join the successful Birmingham & Solihull LEP and Redditch DC may yet follow suit, meaning any possible Worcestershire LEP bid would be smaller than that already rejected by ministers.

Meanwhile, the partners in the adjacent Black Country LEP bid could decide to ignore ministers’ rejection of their plan and press ahead without Whitehall approval.

Dudley MBC deputy leader Les Jones (Con) said. “Because it’s not clear whether LEPs have a legal status we could just go ahead with a Black Country LEP if we choose to, whether it has government approval or not. Localism means we should be able to do that.”

But Rose Poulter, director of policy development for West Midlands Councils, said she was “optimistic that the Black Country LEP will be recognised very soon”.

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