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South east makes early bid for single pot cash

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England’s largest local enterprise partnership has offered to pilot a proposed single pot of funding for regional economic growth.

However, the South East LEP has told government plans to introduce a competitive bidding process are the wrong approach and instead argued for funds to be allocated on the basis of population and growth potential.

Partnership chairman John Spence wrote to the chancellor last week calling for the single pot recommended by Lord Heseltine to be trialled in the south east economic body which covers East Sussex, Essex, Kent CCs as well as Medway, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock councils.

“If the single pot formula is successful, it will be successful first in places like ours”, he said. “The single pot could help unlock growth across the Thames Gateway, in our seaside and market towns, our rural and urban areas, delivering a powerful economic return for the SELEP area and the UK as a whole.”

Mr Spence said the area’s experience of close working with Whitehall on the community budget pilot and the LEPs profile as the biggest partnership in the country all made it a better candidate than any other to pilot the funding reform.

His letter also advised against Lord Heseltine’s plan for LEPs to access single pot funding via a competitive bidding process.

“Single funding pots should be devolved to local enterprise partnerships rather than distributed following a competitive bidding process,” Mr Spence said. “The size of the single funding pot for any given LEPs should reflect the ambition of LEP partners and the potential of the local economy to deliver growth; and the population of each area.”

Lord Heseltine is already working closely with Birmingham & Solihull LEP to develop the recommendations contained within his report on economic growth, but a briefing note submitted by the South East LEP argues for the involvement of a variety of areas.

The involvement of the south east would “allow government to explore the single pot model in a large geographical area”, the paper notes, “work to develop a single pot for a large non-metropolitan area will be different from a similar work in a tightly bound urban centre”.

Mr Spence’s letter to the Treasury came at the same time as complaints from Essex CC leader Peter Martin (Con) that the Treasury and ministers were too focused on city deals and ignoring the economic potential of non-urban areas.

In his letter, Mr Spence said: “City deals have been lauded for giving urban areas new responsibilities and new possibilities…[but] while cities can be powerful drivers of economic growth, the evidence from England shows that over half of the country’s GVA [gross value added] is generated outside London and our core cities”.

Lord Heseltine’s report into economic growth recommended the creation of a single pot containing at least £49bn of funding linked to economic growth, including employment support, skills, infrastructure and housing.

The chancellor quickly responded positively in the Autumn Statement and a more detailed response to Lord Heseltine’s report is expected in the Budget next month.

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