All posts tagged 'LEP'

The LEP hot potato

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, November 2 2010

I’m sure the mother of Geoff Miles, owner of Maidstone Studios and chairman of Kent Economic Board, is a lovely lady.

That her son would rather have a cup of tea with her than be part of a talking shop is either a tribute to her, or a stark warning to councillors. Probably the latter.

These Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) sound a bit dry but have turned into a hot potato. They are being given the power, if not the cash, to shape economic priorities across Kent, Essex and East Sussex. The Government sees them as a shrewd move, ridding the scene of New Labour’s regional development agencies, cutting costs, and devolving influence as part of the “big” society.

They are supposed to be business-led, but business will have to work hard to ensure they are. Councils are used to meetings and, despite spending cuts, usually have resources to set up new organisations. Businesses are run by busy people trying to survive recession.

But the early signs in Kent are hopeful. Business representative groups support the enlarged LEP, business people with strategic awareness are also on board. The challenge will be to get smaller and medium enterprises to engage.

That voice was missing in Committee Room 4A in the House of Commons yesterday. (1) The room was packed with council and business chiefs from across the three counties and resonated with warm words, especially from Greg Clark, Tunbridge Wells MP and minister for communities and local government.

Our LEP was “in the vanguard, set the bar, had the opportunity for real economic empowerment.” All good stuff. But the reality is it will have less money and has not yet worked out the rules by which it will play the game. Board members have to be appointed, support staff engaged and priorities determined.

There is plenty of boring but critical governance work to do before the real work can begin. And it is also important to keep Medway and 12 districts sweet. They did not really want a three-county LEP but must now live with it. They need to formally sign up to the new LEP.

After all, it’s the only game in town and there’s no point in whingeing that the Government has chosen the “wrong sort of LEP.” Run well, with imagination and creativity, it has huge potential. It needs to notch up early wins to confound sceptics and show it can deliver.

Business must engage. And if all goes as well as the optimistic scenario outlined in the Lords, businesses and residents could reap benefits in terms of more jobs and greater prosperity. Then they will be glad they took that LEP of faith.

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Categories: Business

Pickles gets his way but what happened to localism?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 29 2010

Eric Pickles has got his way. The communities secretary has given the nod to a Kent-Essex-East Sussex Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) that will succeed the South East England Development Agency, one of the regional quangos that has become a totemic symbol for the coalition of all that was nasty and wrong about the Labour government's obsession with regional government.

It is not what Kent MPs wanted and it is certainly not what Medway council wanted and whisper it quietly, it is not really what KCC wanted but at the eleventh-hour went for it after Mr Pickles made it plain to County Hall that was what he'd like to see.

There are a few points worth making. In interfering with the discussions around what shape the new LEP should take and by advocating an Essex-Kent LEP, Mr Pickles has apparently forgotten that his watchword since becoming the local government minister has been localism and a determination to allow local councils to decide what was best for their area when it came to jobs and investment.

Can it really be only a month ago that Mr Pickles addressed the Conservative party conference and declared: "For the first time, in a long time, local government has the chance to make real decisions. Goodbye to Labour's regional government?" Yes, it can.

He's not the first minister to make such promises about devolving power and decision-making but he must be the first to ride roughshod over his credo quite so early in their career. His decision to approve a LEP that was his idea in the first place has already raised a few eyebrows - and the deputy Conservative leader of Medway council has described the whole process as a joke.

And what is so different about the LEP than its predecessor, Seeda. True it is a touch smaller but it still brings together three fairly disparate and diverse counties with arguably as many differences in terms of jobs and investment as similarities. It may not have a moniker as a regional body but you can't help thinking that it looks like one, feels like one and probably is one.

Still, we'll have to see how it works out. I've no idea whether it will prove successful or not. It may be that the LEP delivers on all the rather grand promises and expectations that it has articulated. But the process has been messy and unnecessarily acrimonious and generated considerable mistrust. Medway, which has scarcely  suppressed its irritation at County Hall, is certainly miffed about the whole thing and KCC have some patching up to do to repair a relationship that has been badly strained..

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I've lost track of the number of times this week that I've spoken to various politicians about austerity cuts to be told they are "disappointed but not surprised." I'm waiting keenly for one to tell me they are surprised but not disappointed. But I fear I will be,er, disappointed.

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Categories: Local Politics | Medway | Politics | Public Sector

Kent Conservative MPs sound off to Pickles over Kent-Essex alliance

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, October 5 2010

It seems plans to create an alliance between Kent and Essex to drive forward investment and boost jobs have not gone down well with Kent's Conservative backbenchers.

MPs voice doubts over "Kessex" bid>>>

The alliance has been proposed by KCC and Essex county council as the preferred option for the body - known as a Local Enterprise Partnership - that should replace the soon-to-be-scrapped Regional Development Agencies.

But the idea is not being supported by Kent MPs, who have sent a letter to communities secretary Eric Pickles saying it is not in the interests of Kent's businesses and they would prefer a LEP covering Kent and Medway - which was actually favoured by KCC.

The letter states: “As Kent Members of Parliament we believe any reform relating to its overall strategy and infrastructure should be in the interest of Kent and Medway’s economic stability and prosperity. We are therefore very concerned the proposal to create a super-LEP across Kent and Greater Essex is contrary to that belief. We feel the proposed LEP is not representative of the various micro-economies that exist throughout Kent, each with their own distinct characteristics and requirements that we feel will not receive the tailored attention they require.”

It goes on: “We believe the intention of creating a super-LEP to save central government money in the short term will in fact harm the people and businesses of Kent in the long term.”

This is a little embarrassing for KCC's Conservative administration, which initially had supported the idea of a LEP for Kent and Medway but appears to have gone in the direction of a Kent-Essex bid after Eric Pickles - an Essex MP - advanced the idea of teaming up with its counterpart over the Thames.

It's also a shot across Mr Pickles' ample bows. I gather MPs were unhappy that he hadn't involved them in the earlier discussions about the idea. There are also concerns that in getting rid of one regional body, the government is simply substituting another where the common interests are not that obvious.

Unsurpisingly, Medway council - which has advanced the Kent-Medway option - has scarcely contained its delight at the MPs' backing for its plan. Over to Mr Pickles...

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Not all Kent MPs have headed to Birmingham for the party conference. Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson and Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch have stayed in their constituencies.

Gordon tells me he feels his time will be better used tackling constituency issues.  "My constituents recognise that my first priority is to them and I put them first."  He's got four visits  to schools lined up for the week.

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I reckon George Osborne has got himself in unnecessary difficulty over child benefit. The excuse that it will be impossible to administer a system to distinguish between a couple who stand to lose £1,752 if the father earns more than £43,875 while a couple between them earning £87,778 will lose nothing is particularly weak. Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch has already expressed reservations, saying that while she agrees with the principle, she has "enormous sympathy" with those that consider the proposals as set out are anomolous and potentially unfair. 

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Categories: KCC | Local Politics | National Politics | Politics

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