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Local Enterprise Partnerships

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 18 November 2010

3. What recent discussions he has had on the future of local enterprise partnerships; and if he will make a statement. (24723)

12. What recent discussions he has had on the future of local enterprise partnerships; and if he will make a statement. (24732)

On 28 October the Government announced that 24 of the proposed local enterprise partnerships were cleared to progress, and they are currently preparing their governance arrangements. We continue to engage with other proposed partnerships, and we will report back to the House in due course.

The local enterprise partnership for Kent covers the varying concerns of the Thames Gateway as well as disgracefully neglected coastal towns such as Dover. Will the Minister take on board the idea of more localisation in the governance of LEPs, to ensure that they focus on particular concerns?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of local businesses, and he knows, and is right to say, that the great benefit of such partnerships is that they are local and can deal with local economic priorities, rather than with the national priorities of Ministers. That is the benefit of such partnerships; that is why we are progressing with them.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer. Although I am pleased that Advantage West Midlands is being replaced by a more business-friendly, accountable and flexible LEP, can he tell us what steps he will take to ensure that the hiatus between the wind-down of the regional development agency and the ramp-up of the LEP does not adversely affect businesses in Tamworth?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the need to avoid a hiatus. That is why we are already actively engaged in enabling LEPs to begin their work long before the RDAs finally close in 2012.

As the Minister said, 24 bids were approved, but bids for many areas of the country, including for the black country, were not approved. Local enterprise partnerships will not have the same resources as the RDAs, which are currently spending about £1.5 billion a year in England. How are local enterprise partnerships supposed to help to rebalance the economy if they do not have the resources? Surely setting up these organisations and asking business to lead them is letting those business people down if the Government do not play their part and give them the resources they need to do the job.

We are in negotiations with the black country, and I hope that there will be a positive outcome, but the point of the partnerships is to remove the local barriers to growth and ensure that planning in local areas is addressed, that red tape is tackled and that local transport projects are dealt with jointly by business and civic leaders. That is what LEPs can do. It is not all about subsidies; it is about real action on the ground.

But the director general of the CBI described local economic partnerships as

“a bit of a shambles”.

Indeed, the Minister himself wrote to the Business Secretary, who is sitting next to him, to say that many LEPs were

“undermining our agenda for growth,”

and now the Business Secretary has told people in Birmingham that the abolition of RDAs is

“a little Maoist and chaotic”.

Can the Minister now tell the House: is he responsible for the Maoism or just for the chaos?

Yesterday, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister told you and the House that whatever the Business Secretary had said, it was not what he believed. I know that Ministers have just come back from China, but I thought that public humiliation for incorrect thought went out with the cultural revolution.

Nissan told the Select Committee that the now abolished grant for business investment was vital to bring new investment and highly skilled jobs to the north-east. Was Nissan not right to say:

“The UK has a clear choice of whether it chooses to fight for new business, new jobs, and rebalance the economy or allow the opportunity of this business to go elsewhere”?

Does that not show that the Government have no plan for growth?

No, it does not. We are investing £1.4 billion in the regional growth fund, £10 billion in roads, and £14 billion in the railways, and we are ensuring that Nissan and others have the support that they need. That is why I shall be meeting Nissan on Monday.