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South East LEP calls for devolved funding pot

By Vivienne Russell | 25 February 2013

One of the largest Local Enterprise Partnerships in England has urged the Treasury to give it control of a single funding pot for investment in skills, housing and regeneration.

In a letter to Chancellor George Osborne, seen by Public Finance, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership called for Whitehall to work with it to design and implement a five-year funding pot.

John Spence, the chair of the partnership, said money should be devolved to the partnership without an internal ring fence, giving local areas total control.

The letter cites Lord Heseltine’s regional growth review, No stone unturned, published last year. This called for the creation of a single cash pot, which could be worth up to £49bn, bringing together disparate funding streams from across government and without ring fences.

Heseltine suggested LEPs bid for a share of the funds on a competitive basis, with the pot covering a minimum five-year period. In the December Autumn Statement, Osborne made a commitment to explore this single pot idea.

But the South East LEP wants the chancellor to go further, devolving control of the pot straight to the local level and bypassing the need for a competitive bidding process.

The partnership, which covers East Sussex, Essex, Kent, Medway, Southend and Thurrock, said that ‘as a minimum’ the pot should merge funding from four existing central government programmes. This should include the money currently spent by Whitehall agencies on apprenticeships and adult skills, major road schemes, affordable housing and welfare to work, including the localisation of funding for the Work Programme.

The size of the funding pot devolved to each LEP should reflect each partnership’s plans, as well as the size of each area.

The benefits of this approach would include greater collaboration between business, local authorities, LEPs and other partners, Spence said.

A single pot would also unlock wider economic growth, he added. ‘The single pot could help unlock growth across Thames Gateway, in our seaside and market towns, our rural and urban areas, delivering a powerful economic return for the South East LEP area and the UK as a whole.’

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