Evo-North: 11 business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships unite to hijack funding formerly controlled by local authorities

Coming soon to a group of Local Enterprise Partnerships on your doorstep.

On 9 July 2018 it was announced that 11 Northern Local Enterprise Partnerships would join together as “Evo-North”:

“Christine Gaskell, chair of the Cheshire and Warrington LEP and vice-chair of NP11, said: “To translate the Northern Powerhouse concept into increasing impact requires new types of conversations across the region and at the heart of this collaboration are common goals which transcend local interests.”

Gaskell noted that the The NP11 will serve as a “strong coherent regional voice” with national government about the potential of an innovation-led economy for the North.”

http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/council-for-the-north-on-the-way-aimed-at-aligning-businesses-for-northern-powerhouse?dm_i=4WAR,1AG5,WEIUK,3PBB,1

Now we see the full take-over of former local authority funding by this new business-led UNELECTED group as a press release publicising one of its forthcoming events makes clear:

“Following last month’s announcement from Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry that 11 LEPs will form the government-funded body ‘NP11’ to act as a modern-day ‘Council for the North’, last week, a cross-party group of MPs called for £100bn investment to transform the north of England’s transport by 2050 and for the date of Northern Powerhouse Rail to be brought forward to 2032.

This makes EvoNorth the perfect opportunity to put your products and services in front of the budget-holders who are actively seeking them. You get the opportunity to ask questions and network with the people responsible for delivering the Northern Powerhouse by attending this exclusive event. You can benefit from branding and exhibition opportunities by contacting the events team on 0161 833 6320, and you can also submit an enquiry or click here to contact us by email.

EvoNorth is an important event and platform where the Northern Powerhouse is discussed and debated across a wide range of topics including skills, employment & apprenticeships; digital revolution and innovation; health and social care; wellbeing & fulfilment; and infrastructure, business and inward investment.

It stands out from the crowd with its immersive series of lively and engaging Q&As, roundtable discussions, workshops and exhibitions. You can be a part of this exciting opportunity by attending, exhibiting or sponsoring: just contact the events team on 0161 833 6320, submit an enquiry or click here to contact us by email.”

https://cognitivepublishing.co.uk/4WAR-1AG5-B6WEIUK95/cr.aspx

So, very, very soon our district, our county and our region will almost certainly be in the grip of these unelected business people who have already shown their conflicts of interest countless times.

And we can do nothing to stop them …. unless the Conservative government which has enthusiastically x nay zealously – driven this initiative is removed from power.

“Local council plans for Brexit disruption and unrest revealed”

Owl wonders what EDDC and DCC (and our Local Enterprise Partnership) have arranged for us.

“Councils around the UK have begun preparing for possible repercussions of various forms of Brexit, ranging from potential difficulties with farming and delivering services to concerns about civil unrest.

Planning documents gathered by Sky News via freedom of information requests show a number of councils are finding it difficult to plan because they are not clear about the path the government in pursuing.

The responses, from 30 councils around the UK, follow the publication of details of Kent council’s no-deal planning, which suggests thatparts of the M20 might have to be used as a lorry park to deal with port queues until at least 2023.

Bristol council’s documents flag up a potential “top-line threat” from “social unrest or disillusionment during/after negotiations as neither leave nor remain voters feel their concerns are being met”.

One of the fullest responses came from Pembrokeshire council, which released a Brexit risk register detailing 19 ways it believes leaving the EU could affect the area.

Eighteen are seen as negative, of which seven are deemed potentially high impact, including the “ready availability of vital supplies” such as food and medicines.

The one positive impact was that Brexit may drive people to move away from the UK, which could reduce demand on council services.

A number of councils, including East Sussex, are worried about the provision of social care after Brexit because of the potential fall in the number of EU nationals working in the sector.

According to Sky, East Sussex’s report says: “There has already been a fall in the number of EU nationals taking jobs in the care sector and the county council has great concerns that the end of freedom of movement will put further pressure on the sector that is already stretched and struggling to deliver the level of care required for our ageing elderly population.”

A number of councils have expressed concern about the disappearance of various EU funding streams and whether thethe Treasury would step in to replace them.

The local authority in the Shetlands released a document saying that tariffs on lamb exports under a no-deal Brexit would mean 86% of sheep farms could expect to make losses. The current figure is about 50%.

One common complaint, according to Sky, was frustration at the lack of central government information about which plan might be pursued. Wirral council said: “Given the lack of detail from government about any proposed deal or arrangements, it is difficult to carry out an assessment that is not purely speculative at this time.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/aug/01/local-council-plans-for-brexit-disruption-and-unrest-revealed

LEP growth: correction or a new-found realism?

It now appears from further reading that the LEP’s very ambitious growth target has been moved from 18 years to 30.

Was it originally an error to give an earlier date or have the goalposts moved? Either way, it shows some common sense.

The new hoped for economic growth rate is now 2.35% pa. This is still quite ambitious, but MIGHT be achievable given continuous best economic conditions throughout the period, whereas 4% growth was clearly totally undeliverable.

Let’s hope this new-found move towards realism will similarly find its way through into our planning structure.

However, we must note that their Strategic Economic Plan predicts 3.06% growth over the next 12 years. That’s doubling the economy in 23 years! Surely, some mistake there?

Anyway, at least the new man seems to have immediately put the 4% nonsense firmly to bed.

However, there is still another caveat: Devon and Somerset are set to have expanding populations and the assumption is that the new arrivals will all be productive – ie not a majority of “unproductive” older incomers. This is expected also to continue over that 30 year period, so the growth per capita could actually be significantly smaller.

Our LEP asked businesses about Brexit – probably not happy with answers

From the blog of East Devon Alliance DCC Councillor Martin Shaw (Seaton and Colyton):

“The Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership (LEP) has belatedly published a report (dated May 2018) on local businesses’ views of Brexit.
This table shows answers to the question, ‘What is your overall assessment at this stage of the likely impact of Brexit on your business?’

POSITIVE (1)
NEGATIVE (9)
Neutral (7)
Mixed (6)
Don’t know (6)

The LEP summarises this table as ‘Businesses’ assessment of the overall impact of Brexit at this stage is quite varied.‘

VARIED? ONE BUSINESS OUT OF 29 THINKS ITS IMPACT WILL BE POSITIVE, COMPARED TO 9 WHO THINK NEGATIVE, AND THAT IS VARIED?

Other findings:

two-thirds of businesses have done no formal planning for Brexit

uncertainty is a big concern

the biggest specific concerns are about are changes to regulatory alignment [i.e. departure from the Single Market] and the speed of customs arrangements [i.e. departure from the Customs Union]

only 1 out of 29 expects it to be positive for their sector; 9 out of 29 expect it to be negative (the rest expect it to be ‘neutral’ or ‘mixed’, or don’t know)

This report (How firms across HotSW are preparing for Brexit, Report to HotSW LEP, Devon County Council and Partners) was prepared in March and April 2018, drawing on interviews conducted in February and March 2018, so it is already seriously out of date.

In the spring, businesses could reasonably have hoped for a deal:

What do businesses think now that May’s government has caved in to Rees-Mogg and ditched plans for a customs union with the EU?

What do they think of the ‘no deal’ scenario?

How are they going to cope if they still haven’t done the formal planning?
It isn’t difficult to guess. And why has this report been so delayed? Why wasn’t it reported earlier to DCC?”

Local Economic Partnership massages local businesses’ anxieties about Brexit: just 1 business out of 29 surveyed thought it would have a ‘positive’ impact, 9 said negative, many were worried – but that is just a ‘quite varied’ assessment according to the LEP!

“Local council [and LEPs?] plans for Brexit disruption and unrest revealed”

Owl says Wonder what EDDC, DCC, Greater Exeter and our Local Enterprise Partnership have up their sleeves? Or do they have sleeves at all! Will they enlighten us?

Councils around the UK have begun preparing for possible repercussions of various forms of Brexit, ranging from potential difficulties with farming and delivering services to concerns about civil unrest.

Planning documents gathered by Sky News via freedom of information requests show a number of councils are finding it difficult to plan because they are not clear about the path the government in pursuing.

The responses, from 30 councils around the UK, follow the publication of details of Kent council’s no-deal planning, which suggests thatparts of the M20 might have to be used as a lorry park to deal with port queues until at least 2023.

Bristol council’s documents flag up a potential “top-line threat” from “social unrest or disillusionment during/after negotiations as neither leave nor remain voters feel their concerns are being met”.

One of the fullest responses came from Pembrokeshire council, which released a Brexit risk register detailing 19 ways it believes leaving the EU could affect the area.

Eighteen are seen as negative, of which seven are deemed potentially high impact, including the “ready availability of vital supplies” such as food and medicines.

The one positive impact was that Brexit may drive people to move away from the UK, which could reduce demand on council services.

A number of councils, including East Sussex, are worried about the provision of social care after Brexit because of the potential fall in the number of EU nationals working in the sector.

According to Sky, East Sussex’s report says: “There has already been a fall in the number of EU nationals taking jobs in the care sector and the county council has great concerns that the end of freedom of movement will put further pressure on the sector that is already stretched and struggling to deliver the level of care required for our ageing elderly population.”

A number of councils have expressed concern about the disappearance of various EU funding streams and whether thethe Treasury would step in to replace them.

The local authority in the Shetlands released a document saying that tariffs on lamb exports under a no-deal Brexit would mean 86% of sheep farms could expect to make losses. The current figure is about 50%.

One common complaint, according to Sky, was frustration at the lack of central government information about which plan might be pursued. Wirral council said: “Given the lack of detail from government about any proposed deal or arrangements, it is difficult to carry out an assessment that is not purely speculative at this time.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/aug/01/local-council-plans-for-brexit-disruption-and-unrest-revealed

Governance and transparency – How does our Local Enterprise Partnership measure up?

A long read, but if you worry about the unaccountability of our Local Enterprise Partnership (and you should) it is a “must read” – note the requirement for LEPs to be scrutinised by council scrutiny committees:

For good or ill the Government has chosen Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to play a key part in assisting in the delivery of government policies to support local economic growth.

There are 38 LEPs in England. Through the Local Growth Fund, the government has committed £12 billion to local areas between 2015 and 2021; £9.1 billion of this is through Growth Deals with LEPs. The government also sees LEPs as key to its new industrial strategy. But performance has varied as acknowledged in the government’s publication of July 2018 “Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships”.

Amongst other things this paper announced that all the recommendations of last year’s Mary Ney review (see below), and this year’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on Governance and Departmental oversight of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough (GCGP) LEP, would be accepted.

Now is the moment to review these three publications which, taken together, amount to a scathing criticism of the way LEP governance arrangements, and government oversight of them, have, to date, been working.

PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/896/896.pd

In 2016 the PAC reported on the governance of LEPs and made clear recommendations for improvement which were accepted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. [Footnote: East Devon Alliance submitted evidence to this inquiry].

Despite this, things are going seriously wrong and, in the words of the PAC: “the Department needs to get its act together and assure taxpayers that it is monitoring how LEPs spend taxpayers’ money and how it evaluates results.

In the case of CGGP (Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership) the LEP could not respond satisfactorily to allegations of conflicts of interest, levelled by an MP. The governance arrangements were not up to standard. There were no comprehensive conflicts of interest policies nor an up to date register of interests for board members. In addition, the LEP was not acting transparently.

In March 2017, the Department applied the nuclear option and withheld the release of money to the LEP. Then, in December 2017, the LEP went into voluntary liquidation, following the Chair’s resignation the previous month.

Key findings by the PAC were that GCGP LEP did not comply with expected standards in public life, particularly in terms of accountability and transparency. Also that the Department’s oversight system failed to identify that GCGP LEP as one which should have raised concerns. Furthermore, that the Department has a long way to go before it can be sure that all LEPs have implemented Mary Ney’s review properly.

MARY NEY REVIEW

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-local-enterprise-partnership-governance-and-transparency

Which leads us to: the “Review of Local Enterprise Partnership Governance and Transparency”, Led by Mary Ney, Non-Executive Director, DCLG Board, October 2017. This is an internal departmental review but nevertheless surprisingly thorough.

The review makes 17 recommendations (all now formally accepted) covering the following topics: Culture & Accountability; Structure & Decision-Making; Conflicts of Interest; Complaints; Section 151 [financial accounting] Officer Oversight; Transparency; Government Oversight & Enforcement. Just a few of these 17 recommendations of particular importance are highlighted out below.

Many LEPs have codes of conduct reflecting the requirements of company board directors and do not sufficiently embrace the dimension of public sector accountability. This is inadequate as it does not reflect the dual dimension (i.e. public and private) of the role of board members.

The code of conduct, which all board members and staff sign up to, should explicitly require the Nolan Principles of public life to be adopted as the basis for this code. E.g. the notion of integrity whereby holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

Key features of decision-making to ensure good governance and probity should include:

• a clear strategic vision and priorities set by the Board which has been subject to wide consultation against which all decisions must be judged;
• open advertising of funding opportunities;
• a sub-committee or panel with the task of assessing bids/decisions
• independent due diligence and assessment of the business case and value for money;
• specific arrangements for decisions to be signed off by a panel comprising board members from the local authority, in some cases including a power of veto;
• Section 151 officer line of sight on all decisions and ability to provide financial advice;
• use of scrutiny arrangements to monitor decision-making and the achievements of the LEP.

Conflict of Interest declarations must include employment, directorships, significant shareholdings, land and property, related party transactions, membership of organisations, gifts and hospitality, sponsorships. Interests of household members to also be considered.

LEPs to include in their local statements how scenarios of potential conflicts of interest of local councillors, private sector and other board members will be managed whilst ensuring input from their areas of expertise in developing strategies and decision-making, without impacting on good governance.

LEPs will need to publish a whistleblowing policy.

As part of transparency, in addition to the obvious things such as agendas and minutes, LEPs should maintain on their websites a published rolling schedule of the projects funded giving a brief description, names of key recipients of funds/ contractors and amounts by year.

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE – STRENGHTENED LEPs

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/728058/Strengthened_Local_Enterprise_Partnerships.pdf

In accepting these recommendations the government in its “strengthened LEP” paper does add a few points of clarification which are worth noting.

Readers may recall our LEP, Heart of the South West (HotSW), proposing in its 2015 prospectus “towards a devolution deal” to deliver, amongst other things, a world-class integrated health and care system within our communities. A prospectus produced without any public consultation. Well, the government has taken on board a further PAC criticism that it has not been clear about the current role, function, and purpose of LEPs.

The government now says it will set all Local Enterprise Partnerships a single mission to deliver Local Industrial Strategies to promote productivity.

Each Local Enterprise Partnership’s overall performance will be held to account through measures agreed in their delivery plans. The Government will work with Local Enterprise Partnerships to ensure that they have these plans in place by April 2019.

In addition, Government will commission an annual economic outlook to measure and publish economic performance across all Local Enterprise Partnerships and benchmark performance of individual Local Enterprise Partnerships. In the light of HotSW aim of a 4% annual growth rate and record-breaking productivity growth, starting this year, this might prove to be an interesting exercise.

Other points on topics such as increasing diversity of board members are covered in the previous Watch blog:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/07/27/government-proposes-shake-up-of-local-enterprise-partnerships/

MEANWHILE

The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into Effectiveness of local authority overview and scrutiny committees was also investigating LEPs and made this recommendation in December 2017 [East Devon Alliance submitted evidence to this inquiry as well]:

“The Government to make clear how LEPs are to have democratic, and publicly visible, oversight. We recommend that upper tier councils, and combined authorities where appropriate, should be able to monitor the performance and effectiveness of LEPs through their scrutiny committees. In line with other public bodies, scrutiny committees should be able to require LEPs to provide information and attend committee meetings as required.”

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/369/369.pdf