Parliamentary Select Committee: are Local Enterprise Partnerships ignoring rural communities

“19 October 2018
The Select Committee on the Rural Economy questions local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) on their role in the rural economy.

Parliament TV – Rural Economy
Select Committee on the Rural Economy
Witnesses
At 9.45am

Cllr Sue Baxter, Chairman, National Association of Local Councils (NALC)
Cllr Bob Egerton, Cornwall Council
Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of Local Government Association (LGA) People and Places Board and leader of Gloucestershire County Council
At 10.45am

Richard Baker, Head of Strategy and Policy, North East LEP
John Mortimer, Chairman, Swindon & Wiltshire LEP
Cllr Louise Richardson, Chair, Leicestershire Rural Partnership, Leicester and Leicestershire LEP
Areas of discussion
Likely areas of discussion include:

Access to rural services
How the battle against rural crime is tackled
How devolution arrangements can be reformed to support the rural economy more effectively?
The impact of Brexit on rural economies and the role of LEPs

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/rural-economy/news-parliament-2017/leps-local-gov/

Report: Accountability in Modern Government: recommendations for change

The report referred to in the post below deserves attentive reading:

https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Accountability_modern_government_WEB.pdf

Finally a way to publicly scrutinise Local Enterprise Partnerships and other quangos?

Owl says; But will the likes of Diviani (LEP) and Randall-Johnson (CCG) be in favour of more (or rather, any) scrutiny?

“Meg Hillier has told Public Finance that audit of local government spending needs to be more “transparent” for an increasingly “savvy” British public.

“I think the British public are much more savvy about things – they don’t trust the authority to spend things well,” she said to PF.

Since the Audit Commission was formally dissolved in 2015 “there isn’t the same level of transparency locally”, Hillier said.

Local authority finances “used to be well demonstrated,” she said, “so I think [making them more transparent again] is just something that we need to keep pushing on.”

Although she said it was “early days” and did not wish to say who she had been speaking to, she said she saw devolution as an opportunity to improve closer examination of how public money was spent.

“At metro mayor level or at a bigger regional level there is an opportunity for value for money audit and analysis because there are certain discreet pots of money coming down for very particular projects, so it’s easier to track it through from the day to day budget value for money,” she said.

Hillier was speaking to PF after the shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne told the Labour Party conference last month: “We will give local authorities public accounts committees to improve local government spending decisions.”

Local PACs was one of the Labour Party’s pledges in its 2015 manifesto so that “every pound spend by local bodies creates value for money for local taxpayers”.

Hillier said she was not able to give a clear view on what her vision for the extra layer of scrutiny of local government finances would be but did not believe local PACs were necessarily the answer as they would require “huge infrastructure”.

“I am not advocating we go out and set up lots of mini NAOs [National Audit Offices] – there is a bit of realism in this,” she added.

But Ed Hammond, director of Centre for Public Scrutiny, which has long been an advocate of local PACs, told PF that there is an “urgent need” for such bodies.

“Local PACs will be bodies led by elected councillors, empowered to follow the public pound across a local area, cutting across different organisations to get a real picture of the value for money of public services,” he suggested.

“In a world of increasingly complex decision making, and with greater pressure on finances, there is an urgent need for these bodies to give the public the assurance they need on the services they rely on.”

An Institute for Government report, out on Monday,

https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Accountability_modern_government_WEB.pdf

said that government should “review the case for setting up local Public Accounts Committees” to “provide new capacity to local government to scrutinise performance across the breadth of services offered in a region”.

These could initially be trialed in mayoral combined authorities, the IfG suggested.

Local PACs were discusssed in an IfG-led Twitter discussion on the report.

@ben_guerin
We also need to scrutinise links between local public services like health and social care: review case for setting up local PACs, initially in mayoral combined authorities #IfGaccountability

The Conservative mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority James Palmer believed there was already enough local authority financial scrutiny in place.

Although, he suggested if more fiscal devolution was handed down to metro mayors then “that of course must come with the necessary level of local governance and scrutiny”.

“Whether that comes in the form of a local public accounts committee is of course a discussion that would need to be had as part of further devolved powers.”

Northern metro mayors recently called for post-Brexit EU replacement funding to go straight to the regions, bypassing Whitehall.

Chief executive of the Localis think-tank Jonathan Werran recently wrote a blog for PF on the future of fiscal devolution – see here:

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/opinion/2018/10/running-out-road-time-change

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/10/pac-chair-seeking-ways-beef-local-government-spending-scrutinyq

“Why The Hinkley Point C Power Station Is The Subject Of A Court Battle”

“A Cardiff court will play host to a group of activists on Tuesday, as they fight for an injunction to stop 300,000 tonnes of “nuclear mud” from a Somerset power station being disposed of just outside Cardiff.

The unusual dispute centres on the “Hinkley Point C” building site, where energy supplier EDF are currently in the process of constructing two new nuclear reactors.

In order to drill the six shafts needed for the reactors, EDF is clearing 300,000 tonnes of mud and sediment – and planning to dispose of it just off the Welsh coast, on the Cardiff Grounds sandbank.

The prospect of that amount of waste being ditched a mile and a half away hasn’t exactly excited locals or environmental campaigners, but there’s another factor causing added concern.

For decades, Hinkley Point has been a nuclear power hub, with its first station – “A” – operating for 35 years before closing in 2000. Hinkley Point B was opened in 1976 and is still functioning today.

The presence of these two plants has led to concerns over whether the mud there is radioactive and when the plans were announced, various online petitions calling for the Welsh Assembly to look into the matter were launched online, gathering a total of 100,000 signatures by mid-September.

Throughout the process, energy suppliers EDF have remained adamant that public safety is not at risk, with a spokesperson previously stating, on numerous occasions: “The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds site.”

Natural Resources Wales have backed them up too and say on their website that mud tested in a laboratory “did not have unacceptable levels of chemicals or radiological materials and was suitable for disposal at sea”.

But these statements have not satisfied campaigners – who count among their number a member of welsh band Super Furry Animals.

Keyboard player Cian Ciarán has become something of a spokesperson for the campaign and recently told the Guardian that he’s “involved as a Welshman and a concerned earthling”.

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/hinkley-point-c-super-furry-animals-mud_uk_5bb22f81e4b0c75759677a09?guccounter=1

What happens if most English local authorities fail due to inadequate funding?

Owl has a theory.

Their money (but with fewer responsibilities and much less scrutiny) will immediately be passed to Local Enterprise Partnerships!

Unelected, unaccountable, barely scrutinised they will be free to use our money however they wish. And responsible only to government.

A score of unelected business people of dubious quality, dubious expertise and with complex conflicts of interest get full power.

What could possibly go wrong?

Local Enterprise Partnership – Partnership: Arise Wessex! Or maybe not …!

Below is a comment on an earlier post:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/09/16/greater-south-west-local-enterprise-partnership-partnership/

reprinted here as it raises some interesting questions, raised by David Daniel, who so eloquently spoke about the unrealistic expectations of our LEPs growth strategy to a largely uninformed and disinterested majority of Conservative councillors at DCC recently:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2017/11/30/watch-eda-councillor-shaw-and-budleigh-resident-david-daniel-make-most-sense-on-lep-strategy/

This now seems to be the THIRD such trial marriage of various south-west LEPs. None of them seem to be made in heaven ……….

“WESSEX here we come!

English devolution is a mess, whether it will evolve into anything sensible is uncertain.

A third of people living in England outside London live in one of England’s nine combined authorities, six being cities with directly elected mayors. These are corporate bodies formed of two or more local government areas to enable decision-making across boundaries on issues that extend beyond the interests of any one individual local authority, like strategic transport planning.

Our nearest is the West of England Combined Authority of: Bristol; North Somerset; Bath and North East Somerset; and South Gloucester. The Government has encouraged the creation of these structures in order to provide the economic scale needed for devolution. These are on the fast track.

County identities are medieval in origin but they continue to lurk in our consciences. We identify with them democratically and historically. The focus of the Coalition 2010 white paper that set devolution in progress was to create administrations based on economic functional areas rather than regions. This has set in train a conflict between perceived economic necessity and community identity and democracy. A few Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) followed county boundaries eg Cornwall and Scilly, and Dorset, but most did not. Some even overlapped.

Following on from the combined authorities, which are all centred on what one might describe as metropolitan areas, we are beginning to see the creation of new concepts by the combination of LEPs into “power” groupings such as the Council of the North, Midlands Engine, Oxbridge Corridor etc.

We now have the Great South West Partnership of: Heart of the South West (HotSW), Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, and Dorset LEPs. Or do we? The reason I add a question mark is because not very long ago (April to be exact) we had the Great South West Partnership comprising FOUR LEPs, including Swindon and Wiltshire “working together” to agree the next steps in implementing the recommendations of a report on Productivity. We were also told that GFirst (Gloucester) and West of England (Bristol) LEPs were also taking an active interest.

In his first interview on Somerset Live the new HotSW Chief Executive, David Ralph said “We’ve set a really big ambition about doubling the size of the economy in this area over the next 30 years.”

https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/everything-you-need-know-local-1872023

Previously the target had been to double the economy in 20 years. When I asked for clarification I was told it was a mis-speak, not a change of policy to something slightly more realistic.

So who knows where we are going?”

Greater South West Local Enterprise Partnership – partnership!

Another GREAT to add to GREATER EXETER – the GREAT South West Partnership!

For this one, Dorset now holds the purse strings (thanks to Oliver Letwin?) but developer Steve Hindley still holds on to the Chairmanship. Somerset County Council seems to have lost its financial control role – hardly surprising now it’s in a financial crisis.

And all still unelected, unaccountable and non-transparent.

Rather confusingly, in one part of the press release there is a reference to high productivity in this new LEP region but then it goes on to say: “When productivity in the South West matches current levels in the South East, the region will add more than £18 billion a year to the UK economy.” Do they really expect it to overtake the south-east? They could just as well have said “when productivity in the region the region overtakes China it will add £18 trillion to the UK economy”!

“Press release from Heart of the South West, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnerships:

A campaign to highlight the South West’s economic potential and make the case for Government investment on a par with other UK regions has been launched at Westminster.

An alliance of business leaders, local authorities and higher education chiefs formally launched its Great South West vision that aims to put the South West on the UK economic map, to Parliament.

The delegation of the Heart of the South West, Dorset and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) were in London to promote the South West’s economic development ambitions.

They are calling on the government to give their vision for growth the same high-profile backing as other initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.

Great South West Partnership Chair & Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Steve Hindley CBE DL said: “The Great South West already has an economy twice the size of Greater Manchester’s and the West Midlands’. We have the largest building project in Europe underway at Hinkley Point C, as well as unrivalled natural assets that attract more visitors than anywhere outside London.

“This partnership stands out from the other UK public-led economic partnerships, as ours heavily backed by the business and university sector, and by working together we have the benefit of scale that gives us the chance to really show what we can do, given the right backing from Government.

“We’re now on the verge transformational growth in productivity, and we’re looking forward to realising our full potential and increasing our contribution to the UK economy on the back of increasing the prosperity of our local communities and businesses.”

Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LEP, said: “The government’s recent review of LEPs acknowledged their vital role in developing ambitious strategies for growth and driving investment and job creation.

“The Great South West is about cross-LEP collaboration on a shared agenda, such as transport and infrastructure that can deliver real growth in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as well as the wider South West.”

Dorset LEP Chair, Jim Stewart, said: “The South West economy is nationally significant and is larger than any combined authority – double the size of both Greater Manchester and West Midlands.

“Yet we are not receiving the same financial investment from the government as these regions.

“Our Great South West alliance of regional business leaders, academic heads and local authorities is determined to win backing for our plans that will put the region on the economic map.”

In July a government review of LEPs said the partnerships played a crucial role in ‘supercharging’ economic growth and the delivery of its Industrial Strategy.

Representatives from the three LEPs met with South West’s MPs at a meeting in Westminster to launch Great South West.

The MPs received a presentation, which set out the economic significance of the region.

In addition to having double the size economy of Greater Manchester and West Midlands, Great South West also contributes more to UK Gross Value Added than both Thames Gateway and Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor.

It also has a bigger productivity than both the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine but lags behind the English average.

When productivity in the South West matches current levels in the South East, the region will add more than £18 billion a year to the UK economy.

In addition, the South West is home to the single largest infrastructure project in Europe – the new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Somerset, which will generate billions of pounds worth of new business opportunities.

Tourism is a huge industry, with the region attracting more visitors than anywhere outside London.

And the region is also home to the largest aerospace sector in the UK, with pioneering automotive, nuclear and marine renewables and microelectronics industries. It also has a growing creative and digital sector.

Dorset West MP Sir Oliver Letwin worked with the LEPs on arranging the meeting with members of Parliament. He said: “This meeting provided a great opportunity for south west MPs to be properly briefed about this exciting proposition, which could grow to deliver a significant step-change in productivity for the south west.

“It is highly encouraging to see the diversity and number of stakeholders, even at this early stage – with Local Enterprise Partnerships, local authorities, universities, the CBI, Chambers of Commerce and many others all involved in the Great South West project.

“I hope that this project can continue to move forward with ever increasing momentum, and to help further realise the extraordinary economic potential of the South West.”

The Great South West partnership faces a number of challenges, including transport and connectivity, large dispersed populations and some of the country’s most deprived areas. This results in low productivity.

To tackle these challenges Great South West is calling the government to support it to improve transport connectivity and strategic routes, drive productivity in trade and build supply chains and increase economic connectivity in the rural sector.

A letter has been sent to James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to seek formal government support and investment for Great South West.”

https://heartofswlep.co.uk/news/great-south-west-set-rival-northern-powerhouse-midlands-engine/