The partnerships for New Anglia (covering Norfolk and Suffolk), the Black Country and Worcestershire now join the 24 approved partnerships that were announced in October.
Eric Pickles says the three new LEPs are “vital new additions” and will help to create a fairer and more balanced economy driven by private sector strength: “Local enterprise partnerships are bringing about a new local dynamism and a real power shift away from central government and quangos towards local communities and local businesses who really understand what their economy needs to grow.”
Nevertheless, big question marks still loom over LEPs. Described as “an attempt to paper over the gap left by the Coalition’s axing of regional development agencies”, there are concerns over what statutory powers LEPs will have and how they’ll compete with other private-sector projects for central government funds.
Vince Cable has stressed that LEPs will have to fund their own day-to-day running costs. “Even with constrained budgets, LEPs will be able to provide strategic leadership and help drive sustainable private sector growth and jobs in their area,” he says. “And they’ll be able to bid for funding from the £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund.” The first round of bidding for the fund closes on January 21. All bids received will be assessed by an independent panel chaired by Lord Heseltine, with Sir Ian Wrigglesworth as his deputy.
We’ll be keeping an eye on how many bids go through. According to the FPB’s latest Economy Watch report, carried out among 358 of its members, SMEs couldn’t care less about LEPs, since most of them don’t use the public sector for business support anyway.