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Business partners must ‘up the game’
NEW organisations set up to win private-sector jobs for the region have been told to up their game – by producing a growth plan by the end of the year.
Business Minister Michael Fallon told MPs it was time for local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to prove they were ready to help revive the economy and were not simply a desk in the town hall.
However, the minister also risked giving weight to longrunning criticism that LEPs – set up following the axing of regional development agencies – are toothless talking shops.
Giving evidence to the business select committee, Mr Fallon said: “They don’t, at the moment, have powers at all.
That’s probably the wrong way to look at it.”
Nevertheless, the minister – a former Conservative MP for Darlington – said LEPs must: Submit a growth plan to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) by the end of the year.
Find £250,000 of match funding – from public or private bodies – in order to receive BIS funding of £250,000 in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Work more closely with local further education colleges to ensure skills gaps are identified.
Mr Fallon told MPs: “Some LEPs have been around for a year and a bit now, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to require them to come up with a further plan now. I want all of them to be clear now about what their priorities are for local growth and how they see their way forward.
“They need to show the business community, and the wider community, that they are not simply a desk in the town hall, but that they have a more substantial status than that.”
Mr Fallon said he would be monitoring progress on the growth plans, adding: “We want to make sure LEPs are ready for the challenge of stimulating the growth that they want.”
And he insisted the organisations should be able to find £250,000 a year, even in the middle of an economic slump, saying: “It is not a huge amount to raise.”
Initial allocations of £125,000 – which do not require match funding – were expected to be handed over to each LEP “in the next week or so”.
Three LEPs have been created in the region – in Tees Valley, the North Eastern (including County Durham) and Yorks and North Yorkshire – led by local businesses, rather than local councils.
Yesterday, Mr Fallon appeared to exempt the Tees Valley from the call to go further and faster, heaping praise on the organisation by saying: “It existed even before we even thought of LEPs.
“It was already providing the economic development functions of the local authorities in its area, it’s very wellresourced and knows exactly what it’s doing. It fits very well into our vision of what a LEP should be.”