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Local Enterprise Partnerships

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2016

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 14 and 21 together.

Local enterprise partnerships do extremely important work as voluntary partnerships, bringing together business insight, local authorities and universities to shape and support local growth, not least through growth deals that are funding more than 800 projects across England.

We are, in fact, grouping this question with Question 18. Ministers have to keep their eye on the Order Paper. The numbers change over a period, for reasons that I think will be fairly obvious to the Minister.

There are 30,000 more businesses with high-speed broadband in the black country as a result of the leadership of the Black Country local enterprise partnership. Does the Minister agree that the Black Country LEP has been an excellent example of bringing together the private and public sector to drive growth, improve skills and build the infrastructure that the black country economy needs?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that to the attention of the House; it sounds like a fantastic deal that will unlock many opportunities for people and businesses in the black country. I hear great things about the LEP and the chairmanship of Stewart Towe, and through my hon. Friend, who I know has been a tireless champion of the LEP, I pass on the congratulations of the Government.

At a time when LEPs have been having a hard time in the media, is the Minister aware that my constituency is well served by two excellent LEPs: the New Anglia LEP and the Greater Cambridgeshire Greater Peterborough LEP? What wider role does he envisage for LEPs, and will he consider expanding the growing business fund?

I thank my hon. Friend for standing up for his LEPs at a difficult time for them as a result of the allegations made. I assure him that LEPs are at the heart of the process of feeding into the industrial strategy; we are absolutely clear that that industrial strategy needs to reflect deep understanding of the different challenges and opportunities each area faces, which is why the Secretary of State has allocated ministerial champions to each LEP.

I will be very brief, Mr Speaker.

Some newspapers have exposed shocking examples of what I can only describe as crony capitalism in some of our LEPs. For example, the former elected mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, received more than £50,000 for his own brewing firms while on the LEP board, which kept no minutes; perhaps the Minister is impressed to find right-wing politicians who can organise a booze-up in a brewery. Given that the Government are putting nearly £2 billion into LEPs through the autumn statement, can he tell us what they are doing to enforce basic standards of accountability?

As was said the other day, never trust Labour Members when they say they are going to be brief.

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point about LEPs. This is taxpayers’ money and, as he would expect, we take extremely seriously any allegations about it being spent inappropriately, particularly when there are allegations of conflicts of interest. We are reassured by the prompt and robust response of LEPs to the individual allegations, including the one in Bristol, but we continue to press and make the point very strongly that we expect full compliance with the requirements of the strengthened national assurance framework.