By Richard Wheeler
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Council bosses are threatening to withdraw from a government-backed business group championing Norfolk and Suffolk, amid concerns it is doing nothing for their area.
Broadland District Council officials insist they plan to give the New Anglia local enterprise partnership (LEP) a “kick up the backside” as they seek assurances they are getting the best value for taxpayers’ cash.
The authority pays out £7,000-a-year in fees to the LEP, although yesterday councillors heard the lack of communication from the LEP was becoming “more than a minor irritation”.
Broadland’s Conservative cabinet is scheduled to receive a progress report from the LEP next Tuesday.
And the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee yesterday unanimously backed a motion recommending the cabinet to consider withdrawing from the LEP if their concerns are not dealt with.
Hamish Melville, Broadland business support manager, said the authority was challenging the LEP to provide updates every three months explaining their actions and activities, particularly in Broadland.
He told councillors yesterday: “Since the LEP was created in December 2010 we’ve really struggled to engage with them - we’ve been making the effort but reciprocation has been poor.
“We have challenged the LEP to come once a quarter to provide a full report. In particular, the actions and activities taking place in Broadland. At the moment, we fear nothing is happening. That’s purely the reason for the update.
“We give £7,000 a year to this organisation. I think it’s good practice we get some feedback.”
Mr Melville said he hoped next week’s cabinet meeting with the LEP would “tease” out responses to unanswered questions.
He said: “The ignorance, quite frankly, is starting to become more than a minor irritation.
“I think this is our first part of flexing that muscle. They will be challenged at cabinet and I think, frankly, if they don’t respond we should reconsider our position.”
Mr Melville, responding to questions from councillors, said there was no Broadland business boss on the LEP board and found it disappointing the group had not supported their bids for Mary Portas’s nationwide project to revive town centres.
The council officer congratulated the LEP for being chosen by the government to lead the green economy pathfinder project. But he added only two of around 60 businesses at a recent Broadland event had any knowledge of the LEP.
Mr Melville said: “We do need, as a local authority, to give them a kick up the backside and see some return on our involvement.”
The New Anglia LEP is one of 39 across England, with the aim of making it easier for economic growth to be achieved along with increasing jobs in the private sector.
LEPs were established after regional development agencies, such as the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), were abolished.
Yesterday’s motion calling on Broadland’s cabinet to consider withdrawing from the LEP was made by Liberal Democrat opposition group leader Nich Starling.
And Nigel Shaw, Conservative councillor for Thorpe St Andrew North West, said: “When this was first mentioned about the LEP a lot of us said ‘it will be a load of rubbish but it has to be better than EEDA’. All I can say now is come back EEDA, all is forgiven.”
The LEP cites energy and tourism as its two leading sectors, while the New Anglia Enterprise Zone started operating from April this year.
This is made up of six zones based in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft and targets the energy sector.
The LEP also received £18m from the government to invest in stalled infrastructure projects. This fund attracted 17 bids, five have been approved and these cover sites in Ipswich, Norwich, North Walsham, King’s Lynn and Haverhill.
Chris Starkie, programme director of the New Anglia LEP, said they were working hard to deal with the 16 local authorities covered by the group to “ensure our priorities reflect local concerns”.
He said: “That is why we are meeting regularly with officers and members from Broadland District Council to update them on our activities and support the steps they are taking to strengthen the local economy.
“We believe that the businesses and residents of Broadland have benefited from the work of the LEP far in excess of the £7,000 contribution made by the district council to the LEP.
“This has included securing more than £18m in funding for infrastructure improvements and the granting of enterprise zone status for Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft which will be worth millions of pounds in additional income to Norfolk and Suffolk, not just Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
“Broadland has featured prominently in New Anglia’s business support website which helps start-up businesses and companies access locally based support and in New Anglia’s green pathfinder project, which will help bring additional jobs in low carbon industries to our area.”