Under-fire LEP will be scrapped and replaced by new business board
- Credit: Archant
An under-fire business body which gets tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash a year to boost economic growth in the region will be scrapped.
Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has faced a torrid year with allegations made by North East Cambs Conservative MP Steve Barclay about the way it is run.
His concerns centred on the chairman of the LEP, Mark Reeve, as well as conflicts of interest and transparency.
The National Audit Office raised further concerns in a report published at the end of November into the LEP and it meant the government withheld around £12m of money from the region this year.
The LEP covers Cambridgeshire, as well as part of west Norfolk and west Suffolk and is charged with creating jobs and increasing growth.
It was announced at lunchtime on Wednesday that a new 'Business Board' would replace the LEP. That should trigger the release of the cash currently being withheld by the government.
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) said the new board would be the 'main feature of a powerful new partnership between the private and public sectors'. If agreed by Government, the business board will replace the LEP from April 1 2018.
The current LEP board will resign and the new Business Board will be made up of people from sectors including digital, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture and education.
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Recruitment to the board will start straight away and councillors from local authorities across the LEP area will continue to sit alongside business leaders on the new board.
The chair will be a member of the CPCA board and current LEP staff will transfer to the Combined Authority.
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Conservative Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer said: 'Clearly the NAO report... has been a cause of concern for many. The decision by the Department for Communities and Local Government to freeze LEP funding was unprecedented and my concern has always been that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough might miss out on much needed investment as a result.'
Martin Whiteley, chief executive of the Combined Authority and interim chief executive of the LEP, said: 'These new arrangements have the potential to set the standard for Local Enterprise Partnerships across the UK.
'The creation of a new Business Board will strengthen the voice of business and will help create a more effective public and private partnership.'
But opposition councillors raised concerns about the changes.
Councillor Virginia Bucknor, an independent member of Fenland District Council, said the new arrangements raised many questions.
'What criteria will there be for people to serve on this board?' she said. 'Will a process be established so that there is some form of independent overview and scrutiny?'
James Waters, leader of Forest Heath District Council, and John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said in a joint statement: 'This is a practical measure that should see West Suffolk continue to benefit in the same way we did as being a member of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP and the extra funding this brings.
'Indeed the change could bring even more opportunities for us to work with the mayor and other councils on mutually beneficial projects. As ever we continue to do what is right for our communities and businesses.'
Labour activist Clare King of Cambridge – a former Lib Dem councillor in the city who switched to Labour after the coalition came to power - said no matter what happens 'it has to work for Cambridgeshire and of course that includes Fenland which needs huge investment.'
The New Anglia LEP, which covers the rest of Norfolk and Suffolk, is working on several schemes with its Cambridgeshire equivalent but it is not believed there will be any immediate change to these projects.
Chief executive Chris Starkie said New Anglia welcomed the government's push to strengthen LEP leadership and accountability.