6. What progress he has made on local enterprise partnerships; and if he will make a statement. (66021)
Both the number and activity of local enterprise partnerships is continuing to rise. Dorset is the latest to be cleared, bringing the total to 36—or 97% of the country. Of those, 18 now have full board recognition and have begun their work.
I am sorry to ask my hon. Friend what I suspect will be perceived as an unhelpful question, but local enterprise partnerships are going to have to raise their game seriously if they are to have any traction or impact. I am sorry to have to report to him that, so far, they seem to have no traction or impact in my area of the country.
I am disappointed by my hon. Friend’s comments. I have visited 25 of the 36 LEPs and they are already setting up boards to make sure that they are ready to involve small businesses. Now they are going to be able to lead on enterprise zones, lead on the regional growth fund and make sure that we strip away some of the local regulatory problems on the ground, which I am afraid the Labour party did nothing about.
As LEPs are business-driven, they could have businesses working with local authorities and local education providers to provide a much better and more localised match of skills needs and skills provision. Will the Minister say how many LEPs are taking that responsibility on and whether any examples of best practice will be rolled out with other LEPs?
It is encouraging that almost all the LEPs that I have visited have demonstrated that they are involving FE colleges in their programmes. The hon. Gentleman is right that that is crucial. They are ideally suited to get FE colleges producing what local businesses need; that is one of the crucial projects that at least half a dozen of them have already begun.
The pan-Humber local enterprise partnership is now up and running and it has recently put in a bid for a local enterprise zone across the Humber, which will be based around the renewables sector. As a result, the area covered by that potential enterprise zone is quite large. Will the Minister give an assurance that its size—and the need for it to be of that size given that it will be structured around the renewable energy industry—will be taken into account?
Absolutely; the key issue is the added value. The case will be judged on such merit and we will not seek to preclude anything on, perhaps, spurious grounds.
According to recent OECD research, the single most important factor in regional growth is innovation, but LEPs do not even have responsibility for that, let alone any money, and it is not even mentioned in the regional growth fund criteria. The £440 million that the regional development agencies invested annually in regional innovation is gone, the Technology Strategy Board’s new strategy makes no reference to it and in any case it still does not have a budget for next year. I know that the Secretary of State enjoys chaotic Maoism, but does regional growth not merit a more coherent approach?
The hon. Lady is ignoring the fact that we have made sure that the science budget is retained and strengthened, and that we are putting £200 million into technology and innovation centres. When we look at individual schemes and the regional growth fund, we see that £2 million is being put into 3D printing, which is a vital technology for this country—we lead on it and we are investing in it.