Fringe Box



Letter: LEP Move Shows SCC Still Wants to Absorb District & Borough Councils

Published on: 13 Mar, 2024
Updated on: 13 Mar, 2024

From: Bernard Quoroll

former local authority CEO

In response to: Local Enterprise Partnership Functions Transferred to Surrey County Council

Jim Allen is right to say in his comment on the above article that by taking over the LEP’s mantle, Surrey County Council is strengthening its case to absorb all the districts and boroughs into a single unitary authority. There are other signs that SCC has not given up on that ambition and this falls nicely within that agenda.

LEPs were successors to Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) which were originally set up as private sector-led partnerships, chaired usually by a distinguished entrepreneur and including local authorities as members but only as minor players. Local authorities regarded them as unaccountable (which meant that they often resented being minor players) but they had no choice but to play along.

Governments also found that the TEC boards were not as manageable as they would have liked. Entrepreneurs have a nasty habit of being impatient with bureaucracy and not being amenable to “guidance from the centre”. So they were first reinvented as LEPs and now they are going altogether.

The new arrangements suit central and local government much better. But there are bigger questions to ask. The first is how well-equipped local government is to lead on local economic development and why is it better to plan on a county rather than a regional basis?

The second is how well will they be funded, given the trend since 2010 of massive reductions in local expenditure and the abolition of Regional Development Agencies. The third is what does this announcement mean for a wider national and local industrial and economic development strategy? What is the plan?

Step even further back and ask yourself what do these backroom deals, conducted in such a stealthy manner and announced as if they are the solution to all the world’s problems, tell us about the state of our democracy and its ability to serve local and national needs?

I believe they tell us that there is no coherent plan and that what planning there is, is piecemeal. The best way to plan is to first learn from previous experience, consult widely and check whether past initiatives have actually worked, not just announce a new initiative without doing the preparation.

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