LEPs central to devolution deals, says Clark

29 Jun 15

The government will not sign any more devolution deals with councils unless there is the full backing of the local enterprise partnership, communities secretary Greg Clark has announced.

In a speech to the LEPs Network last week, Clark said local businesses needed to play a key role as power is devolved from Whitehall.

He told LEP leaders that: “These partnerships you created between local businesses and local government have been a phenomenal revolution. And this has completely changed the way investment and growth is done in this country.

“You have worked together to create economic growth and jobs and we want to see more of this. There is now much more collaboration between business and local authorities, which is vindication that the model works.”

Clark added that the areas defined by LEPs were the “true economic geography” of the nation.

“As such no devolution deal will be signed off unless it is absolutely clear Local Enterprise Partnerships will also be at the heart of arrangements.”

Meanwhile, research has highlighted a local skills gap that is threatening to hold back productivity and growth.

PwC and the Smith Institute carried out interviews with LEP chairs, chief executives and other sector experts said devolution of a larger portion of the Skills Funding Agency budget to LEPs would help equip local people with business-friendly skills.

Other themes highlighted by the research included frustration at the red tape involved in bidding for funding and divided opinion on the impact of combined authorities. There is concern that further empowerment of combined authorities could marginalise smaller LEPs. There was also little enthusiasm for new powers for LEPs unless these were matched with new resources.

Jonathan House of PwC’s government and public sector said: “LEP skills and resources remain concerns for many, alongside the need for multi-year budgets, but we cannot underestimate their influence and potential within the government’s localism agenda.

“They will play a critical role in bringing together disconnected public and private sector agencies to drive development and delivery of local ‘place’ plans.”

House predicted that greater collaboration between LEPs and across area boundaries, although this was likely to take place in federations rather than forced mergers.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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