Make LEPs the ‘engines of economic change’ – Heseltine

LOCAL Enterprise Partnerships would become the engines of regional economic growth under a wide ranging review of powers recommended by former Home Secretary Lord Heseltine.

Lord Heseltine will outline the changes in a speech at Birmingham Town Hall today. The city has been chosen because of its collaboration in the new review.

The review recommends a major devolving of powers from Whitehall to the regions with a call to central government to move £49bn to help stimulate growth for local businesses.

The review concludes that LEPs, while showing initial promise, simply do not have the resources necessary to bring about the desired economic change.

Lord Heseltine said £250,000 of public underspend should be allocated to each LEP in each of the years 2013/14 and 2014/15 to enable them to implement economic growth strategies.

The former Deputy Prime Minister said he believed some might be very surprised by the results this could achieve.

The review identifies how the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP area might have benefited had funding been released earlier.

It claims transport and infrastructure projects would have benefited considerably with schemes like the New Street Gateway already being operational. This in turn would allow the area to maximise the potential from major investments such as high speed rail.

A focus on high growth sectors such as life sciences and automotive would also have been fast-tracked, while the £125m Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain initiative, currently being administered out of Birmingham is held up as an exemplar capable of delivering positive change.

The report states that with their newly expanded role LEPs should have the tools to deliver change. It claims so far, they have had to rely largely on their own resources but this is insufficient.

“LEPs should therefore be given additional funding, specifically to develop their new strategic plans,” it states.

The review also recommends expanding the powers of the chambers of commerce to help them implement change, while local authorities would also take on an enhanced role with a statutory economic development function.

Lord Heseltine’s report, commissioned by the Government, is being seen as a major critique of the Government’s growth strategy. In it he says, “continuing as we are is not an acceptable option”, adding “the message I keep hearing is that the UK does not have a strategy for growth and wealth creation”.

He also calls for local government reform, suggesting that legislation preventing councils becoming unitary authorities should be repealed.