When the government announced the abolition of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) I was asked by a local journalist if I was already dancing on the bonfire. It was a little premature as, unfortunately, RDAs will still be with us until April 2012. I had hoped they were going to be abolished next year, as leaving them there until 2012 is rather like letting an animal die a slow death, but at least they are on the way out. Three cheers to that!
When the government then announced RDAs would be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), my heart sank. This sounded like another excuse to form many local quangos around the country. Unfortunately, this is still a possibility, and it all depends on who is your local council leader.
It was reported in the Hull Daily Mail yesterday, Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council are going to form a LEP, rather than have a body covering both banks of the Humber. After speaking to the leader of Hull City Council, Carl Minns, I am reassured to hear the proposed LEP will not have a set budget, will not have additional staff, will not have new offices (existing space will be utilised), and above all will be fully accountable to both councils. He reminded me, as if I didn’t need reminding, there was no money for all of these ‘extras’, although it is good to have these assurances on the record.
This is the good news, but unfortunately not all council leaders believe in prudence and accountability. The following is from the official news feed of Leeds City Council, and you will see how the Leeds City Region LEP is going to take shape:
Leeds City Region Partnership brings together the 11 local authorities of Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield, York and North Yorkshire to work across administrative boundaries to promote economic growth and a better quality of life for our communities. With close to 3m people, a resident workforce of 1.3m, over 100,000 businesses and an economy worth over £50bn each year, Leeds City Region is the largest city region outside London.
Isn’t the point of LEPs in the title; local? Doesn’t this rather sound like an RDA with a different source for funding it? It does to me, and I have heard on the grapevine it will have its own staff and offices, and I would bet the shirt off my back that accountability to local businesses and residents will take a back seat to the bureaucracy this LEP will create. When it comes to attracting investment to the area, how will smaller council areas fare, compared to places like Leeds and Bradford? Those two councils will no doubt contribute larger amounts of cash than their smaller partners.
Two of the biggest criticisms I have heard about Yorkshire Forward is its bureaucracy and its failings in helping small businesses. How is this going to change? It’s not, and that is the problem. At least with the proposed LEP in East Yorkshire, there is a chance of bringing inward investment benefitting Hull and surrounding areas, with the minimum of red tape. This is a model I had hoped other councils would take a lead from, rather than more grandiose schemes, which we thought were going to be a thing of the past.