LOCAL ENTERPRISE PARTNERSHIPS: QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
What are LEPs?
Local Enterprise Partnerships were set up by the coalition government in 2010. They control billions of pounds of public money, which they are supposed to use for investment that will help drive economic growth in their region. They replaced Regional Development Authorities. But unlike RDAs, LEPs were never set up in law and are ‘voluntary bodies’. This means that, despite making decisions over billions of pounds, many have no legal structure.
How many of them are there?
There are 39, one in every region in England.
Who sits on them?
LEPs are led by boards of local authority officials and private business bosses. According to the rules set out by the Government, the boards must be chaired by a businessperson and at least half the members must be from the private sector. But under the Government’s ‘light touch’ regulation of LEPs, the bodies are otherwise free to make their own decisions on how to appoint board members.
How powerful are they?
LEPs have been given £7.3billion of taxpayers’ money so far – and in last week’s Autumn Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond promised them another £1.8billion. Although the money they control is kept in council accounts, LEP boards have free rein to decide where it goes.
Are they transparent about how they spend our money?
Despite being asked for details of all their expenditure via Freedom of Information requests, they were unable or unwilling to provide details of at least £3.7billion of the money they have been given.
Some LEPs refused to provide any information at all for more than five months – and many still refuse to answer key questions about payments they have made.
No firm rules were made about how transparent LEPs had to be about how they used public money, or how grants were made. And no rules were made which prevent the board members from benefiting from grants. In March, the National Audit Office found LEPs were ‘not as transparent to the public as we would expect’. It found no details of the pay and perks of senior staff available to the public at 87 per cent of LEPs. Four in ten did not publish a register of interests.
How are they scrutinised?
Incredibly no real scrutiny of LEPs appears to exist. The Government claims it is the job of councils to check on their decisions.
But no councils contacted by the Mail were willing to investigate the questionable payments we found. In fact, many did not appear to understand they were supposed to be carrying out independent scrutiny. The NAO said Ministers’ ‘light touch approach to assessing value for money’ was at risk of becoming ‘no touch’, relying on conversations with the LEP and ‘self-reporting’ to assess how well they are doing.