A LEP in the dark

Is there a future for Local Enterprise Partnerships? Some feel they are a vital forum for business to offer priorities for jobs and skills. But Jim asks do ministers share that view.

Jim Hancock

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Do Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have a future? They were set up in 2011 as a sop when the government vandalised the regional structure for delivering economic planning and growth.

There are 5 LEPs in the North West and initially they had no public funding at all to discharge their duties of establishing sub regional economic priorities and to stimulate growth and jobs. Following the intervention of former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine, they were given money from city and growth deals, the build back better and European Union funds. However, in the devolution muddle of combined authorities and elected mayors they have struggled to stand out.

Following the budget, there is speculation about their future. Despite assurances that they are planning the “evolution not extinction” of LEPs, the fact is that the organisations have been bypassed in recent regeneration funding decisions. All the new funding pots announced in the Budget (community renewal and ownership plus the towns fund) are to be the responsibility of councils.

This comes in the wake of the creation of new skills advisory panels for employers, skill providers and local government. Also, with the scrapping of Theresa May’s industrial strategy, the local arm of that, in which LEPs played an important role, has gone as well.

Insiders are warning government that they are in danger of losing the business expertise that LEPs have built up, but they may be set to be the victims of the long tradition of indecision and half-heartedness that has characterised Whitehall’s approach to devolution and economic regeneration for decades.

Cumbria digging for victory

It is all going on in Cumbria, above and below ground.

A public inquiry is to be held into plans for a new coal mine near Whitehaven. So much for devolution. The council had approved it but under pressure from environmentalists, Ministers have intervened. The chances are the project will be rejected and hundreds of jobs will be lost in an area where employment is badly needed.

Coal is on its way out, but the steel industry needs the specialised coke this mine would produce. So, we will have to import it anyway, washing our green consciences with the thought that at least it is not being mined here. As if that will help with climate change.

Coal and steel may seem old fashioned sources of employment in this hi-tech age, but I believe we should support a presence for these traditional industries in Britain.

Above ground a consultation is underway into the future shape of local government in the county which will be closely watched in Lancashire. Outside Carlisle there are four plans to carve up the Cumbria cake, currently composed of a county council and 5 district councils. One would see the whole council as a unitary, the other three suggest two councils in various configurations including one suggestion of a Morecambe Bay authority incorporating Lancaster, Barrow and South Lakeland.

The latter would have implications in the never-ending debate about what to do about Lancashire’s 15 councils.

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