When well connected MPs ask the Government questions to which they should know the answer or which they could find out relatively easily, there is usually a hidden matter to be aware of. On Thursday Nicholas Soames, MP for mid Sussex asked a couple of questions that should not be ignored. Quite what his motive is, is unclear, but the fact he has highlighted the issues concerned is a matter that should not be ignored.
On the 22nd June 2010 the new coalition Government held its first budget and one of the announcements made by the new Chancellor was that they would invite local government to establish a new form of partnership with businesses. This was not a new concept. Such partnerships had been in existence since the days of the Thatcher Government when one of the conditions of a form of Government spending known as Single Regeneration Budgets or SRB was that the local council in question should create a partnership with businesses to ensure that the Government spending was not simply left in the hand of local Councillors to deal with as they wished. Then in the dying days of the Major Government and continued into the new Blair Government, Regional Development Agencies were created to carry out regeneration and economic development at a wider geographical level. These bodies were business led and whilst local government was part of the mix, they were smaller voices than many in local government wished. 1999 the Blair Government found a solution which was the creation of a regional governmental structure which included all local authorities in a given area, plus business voices and those of the voluntary sector, which is how I became involved. In June 2010 all of this was swept away and the new Local Enterprise Partnerships were conceived and in October 2010 the first were born. After 2 years of trying to achieve outcomes without any public funding, the Government finally listened to the Architect of the RDAs, Michael Heseltine and agreed to start directing public funds through the Local Economic Partnerships (or LEPs). That is the current state of play across most of the UK.
The LEP which impacts most of Sussex (all of West Sussex, Brighton and Hove and Lewes District in East Sussex), large parts of Surrey, and Croydon is called Coast to Capital. It is this body which spend large sums of public money which formed the basis for Nicholas Soames question.
His question was “To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, what the means of accountability are to central government of the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership.”
A junior Minister called Andrew Percy MP responded with “Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are accountable to local areas through their lead local authority, known as the accountable body. In the case of Coast to Capital LEP this is West Sussex County Council. Government has a robust system of assurance in place for LEPs set out in the National Assurance Framework, published here. This document sets out the requirement for LEPs to have in place the necessary systems and processes to manage delegated funding from central government budgets effectively. The accountable local authority is required to write to my department’s permanent secretary each year to confirm that their LEP is compliant with the rules set out in the National Assurance Framework.”
This did not quite satisfy Nicholas Soames who then asked “To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, when he last met the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership.”
Which Andrew Percy responded with “The Secretary of State has not met the Chairman or Chief Executive of the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership.”
So there we have it, Coast to Capital LEP spends large sums of our money, it is accountable to a County Council in the area which Nicholas Soames lives, yet he has to ask the Government questions, rather than his local Councillor. However no one in West Sussex County Council would expect to speak to those of us living in Brighton. Perhaps just as bad as that, the Chairman and CEO of Coast to Capital have not yet met with the Minister to whom they are also responsible. This seems rather disturbing, and in some senses is surely the sort of concern that the Brexiteers expressed over the EU, even though all of us have several MEPs to turn to, along with our MPs when it came to Government and EU decision making.