LEPs: time and money

Previous articles on this blog have highlighted the fundamental questions yet to be answered about the RDA replacements, LEPs. The Liberal Democrat party conference in Liverpool was the venue for more ‘information’ (read bombshell) regarding their formation.

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for BIS, announced that only around 10 to 15 LEP submissions were satisfactory enough to be considered for approval; around 20%. The transition period between RDA wind-down and LEP emergence is getting shorter by the day and the success rate appears to be far slower than initially expected. But should we be surprised by this?

Firstly, LEP submissions had to be completed and submitted within around two months. The time it takes to identify partner authorities and set out a clear economic framework can be long, let alone fitting it within this timeframe.

Secondly, under the championed heading of ‘localism’, central state gave LEPs a blank canvas as to what to include in the submission. While each area/LEP will have very different aspects it needs to target, it has left more inexperienced groups lagging behind. Taking this into account, 20% appears quite high.

Cable also stated that many submissions were from regions who were “hopelessly fragmented” i.e. complex in their geographical make-up. Isn’t this exactly the issue of effectively sub-grouping the RDAs? Surely we should either have local authorities OR RDAs – forcing some authorities together (as they would not be able to be an LEP by themselves) means you will get many LEP submissions which do not hit the target. With RDAs, the pooling of different geographical areas worked as it was on a larger scale.

Localism needs time. Localism needs finance.

It was also announced by Sir Ian Wrigglesworth at a Centre for Cities event that the modest finance pot, the Regional Growth Fund, of £1bn over two years will not be used in the formation of LEPs. Now £500m pa is a nominal amount in the first instance; who or what will fund the running of LEPs?

The entire process seems rushed (which it has to be, now) and under-funded (which, given the cut-backs, it has to be); why eradicate the RDAs so quickly?

The only thing worse for deprived areas than wasted money is a malaise and confusion in future financing – LEPs are headed this way. Again, the rhetoric of localism is not necessarily incorrect but the constricting timeframe and finance casts doubt over its viability.

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