Friday, September 14, 2018

News: Battle lines drawn in SCR over LEP boundaries

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The Sheffield City Region (SCR) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is set to tell Whitehall that its current geography works, despite the Government seeking to ensure that all businesses and communities are represented by just one LEP.

Rothbiz reported last month that the Government believes that overlaps dilute accountability and responsibility. In the SCR, only three of the nine member authorities are currently only a member of one LEP.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government's "Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships" report states that, as LEPs "now oversee significant amounts of public funding and have an authoritative voice in shaping national and local policy, it is important that accountability for decisions and responsibility for investment is clear."

The report added that it was looking to remove overlaps and that close collaboration between LEPs will replace overlapping responsibilities. Proposals should "best reflect real functional economic areas, remove overlaps and, where appropriate, propose wider changes such as mergers."

Led by the private sector, LEPs are the Government's model to promote economic development. They provide the strategic leadership required to set out local economic priorities, and better reflect the natural economic geography of the areas they serve.

In response, the SCR LEP has prepared a paper, to be discussed next week, that sets out a stance to maintain the existing boundaries, adding that there should be no change in the current overlap arrangements.

Just Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster are solely in the SCR LEP area. Barnsley is also part of the Leeds City Region LEP and West Yorkshire Combined Authority. Non-constituent members of the SCR LEP - Bolsover, Chesterfield, North East Derbyshire, Derbyshire Dales and Bassetlaw - are also part of D2N2, the LEP for Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.

The waters were muddied further when Derbyshire County Council brought legal action before a proposed mayoral election and Chesterfield and Bassetlaw Councils withdrew their applications to be full members of the SCR Combined Authority.

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The LEP board paper makes the case to retain the current geography. It states: "This is founded upon the basic principle that has shaped the development of the response to date; that local leaders should make decisions regarding the future of their areas. The three key arguments being used to maintain the city region's current geography are:

- That the SCR has effective and transparent governance arrangements that are already delivering the outcomes of the Strategic Economic Plan and which align with the geography of the CA;
- That the city region is a functional economic area; and
- That the SCR is currently in a transition period and consensus has not yet been reached on the future direction amongst all partners. Therefore, now is not the time for change to the LEP."

The SCR LEP also added that it found it "highly disappointing" that the Government chose not to consult prior to the publication and adoption of the review's recommendations.

The Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) comprises the nine SCR local authority leaders and the metro mayor and its current remit is strategic economic development and transport, with the constituent leaders being accountable for where public money is being spent. Dan Jarvis was elected as the mayor of the Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority in May.

The Mayor said last month that not enough progress had been made on devolution. A lack of consensus from the leaders of South Yorkshire's four councils has denied the SCR the chance to conclude a devolution deal with the Government.

Barnsley and Doncaster have focused on a potential "One Yorkshire" devolution solution and a "two tier" solution was mooted. It would involve the SCR deal being concluded and then authorities being "allowed" to join a wider Yorkshire authority at a later date.

On this point, the draft response states: "In the absence of agreement on a way forward it is of greater importance to provide stability through the LEP, which has remained focused on delivering the vision of its Strategic Economic Plan. For this reason, it is therefore beneficial to retain the SCR LEPs current geography."

The SCR response is also backed up by evidence regarding the city region economy, transport and joint working.

The paper adds: "Businesses work across boundaries and as vehicles to support economic and productivity growth, LEPs need to respond to local economic needs. SCR overlaps with Leeds City Region LEP and D2N2 LEP. The overlaps have fostered partnership working. Having worked effectively for almost a decade, the overlaps have produced some innovative working on shared priorities and also enabled wider collaboration through the Northern Powerhouse initiative."

SCR website

Images: SCR LEP

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