It is not hard to find evidence of MPs who do not understand the realities of life in their own constituencies, but in this case a much deeper issue lies behind the comments. A month ago MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson took part in a debate on Local Growth Deals. What he had to say betrayed a significant lack of understanding in how the Government has tied up local communities in red tape, preventing local agencies from helping people to find work. Before I report on Stewarts own comments a bit of background.
Local Growth Deals are the opportunities for Local Economic Partnerships to receive public money. LEPs are business led partnerships made up of businesses leaders and Councillors. The Government inherited a comprehensive set of business led regional partnerships made up of business leaders and Councillors along with voluntary sector agencies that were helping to strengthen local communities. These Regional Development Agencies were criticised by the coalition for being costly to run, primarily because of the way in which the previous Conservative Government had established them. These RDAs used Government money to commission local business led partnerships called Economic Partnerships. These EPs were based on the Upper Tier Local Authority area, such as Counties. Some of these EPs worked very well and some were hopeless. The coalition scrapped the RDAs, along with the funding for the Economic Partnerships and asked these same Upper Tier Local Authorities to come up with proposals for LEPs, but made it clear that each LEP would need to be larger in scale than to include one County area. There are two LEPs covering Sussex. South East LEP covers East Sussex, Kent and Essex, Capital to Coast covers West Sussex, Surrey, Brighton & Hove and parts of East Sussex. In reality these are regional bodies, but the Government doesn’t like to speak about regions for reasons of Party Politics. The fact that no one sailing from Harwich would consider Newhaven to be a ‘local’ Port in a Storm is the price we pay for this Political Pride. Along the way we have all but lost the Voluntary Sector involvement in this work, even though LEPs like the RDAs before them are tasked with helping people into work, including those who need substantial support to take these steps. This loss of the Voluntary Sector is a major failure of this strategy and most LEPs are now trying to correct the failure of thinking by our coalition Ministers.
Back to Mr Jackson who is also concerned about people who have been out of work for long periods to be assisted into the jobs that do exist. He raised the issue of how the LEPs could work with the Governments Department for Work and Pensions.
Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I warmly welcome the Minister’s statement, in particular on transport improvements on the A47 in north-east Peterborough and on the food manufacturing centre of excellence at Peterborough regional college. The imperative for this Government investment should be its impact on the labour market, so will the Minister give an undertaking to encourage LEPs to work collaboratively—for example, with the Department for Work and Pensions to have an impact on unemployment among young people, particularly those not in education, employment or training?
Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would like to extend more broadly the next phase of negotiations and discussions, so that where local authorities and businesses can make a real difference to some of our intractable social problems they will be given the chance to show that they can do that.
Stewart thinks that LEPs needed to be encouraged to work with the DWP but sadly he seems oblivious to the real barriers with this sort of linkage. The real problem is that the DWP like many other Government agencies does not have the freedom to work in creative ways with local partnerships. As an example our local Job Centres in Sussex like elsewhere are sometimes in the wrong place. With limited transport links in rural Sussex and in some cases job seekers even in urban centres who do not have the confidence to travel into the parts of our towns where the Job Centre is based, we need to find ways of taking the Job Centre out to where the job seekers are. This is often where the Voluntary Sector comes into its own. A number of creative ideas have been discussed and even trialled. However this comes unstuck when local charities ask Job Centres to make a contribution to the rent and power for being based in these outreach locations. The DWP do not allow Job Centres to pay for accommodation outside of their own offices. It is this red tape and short termism in Central Government Departments that needs to be addressed by people like Stewart Jackson, not yet more edicts telling local partnerships who they should work with! If this freedom to pay rents was provided, more people could be assisted to find work outside of our large towns and even within them.