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Review of economic assessments

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Ministers could move to repeal a duty placed on town halls to produce detailed assessments of their local economy, amid concerns the measure is placing unnecessary burdens on councils.

New communities minister Bob Neill told LGC the government would review the statutory duty, which came into effect in April, that requires all upper-tier and unitary councils to produce detailed assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of their local economies.

Mr Neill said that under the new government councils would play “an ever-more important role in promoting economic development and regeneration”.

However, he added the review would consider whether the Local Economic Assessments “actually add value, as we are keen to cut unnecessary burdens and paperwork on local councils.”

The review follows a report by consultancy Rocket Science in conjunction with the Improvement & Development Agency, which found that progress by the 16 vanguard local authorities that are leading on the assessments was hampered by a lack of capacity and funding, as well as confusion about what constitutes a local economic area.

The report said that though central government had provided funding, “contrary to initial suggestions” this had not been ring-fenced and was being siphoned off to fill gaps in other budgets.

The report also said that where councils had made progress, analysing the “sheer volume of evidence” was a challenge.

It detailed confusion about what constituted a local economic area and suggested that councils should work together at a sub-regional level on assessments.

Caroline Masundire, a senior associate at Rocket Science, said that done “properly”, assessments would be of “real value” to councils as they could be the foundation for wider policy. “It’s not a burden but an opportunity and needs to be treated as such,” she said.

She said assessments should be integrated with the Total Place agenda and could form the basis for the Conservatives’ plans to bring consortiums of councils together in economic development partnerships.”

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