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Think tank calls for Local Enterprise Partnerships to be given greater powers

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) need a fresh policy framework to ensure they have the powers and resources they need to succeed, a new report by the Smith Institute has said.

The report by Labour MP John Healy and consultant Les Newby for the Smith Institute reviewed the experiences of the now abolished Regional Development Agencies and of LEPs, which have operated since 2010, to help make LEP's "fit for the future". 

The report calls for a "radical" devolution of powers and funds to LEPs (97-page / 1.16MB PDF) to deal with the UK's widening economic divide. It recommends that local authorities, particularly combined local authorities should have joint sign-off on their LEP's single economic strategy. It said this would be the "dual key to unlock single pot funds to implement the strategy". 

The report said that LEPs could be given mirroring joint sign-off on spatial strategies or alternatively could be given statutory consultee status with added powers to challenge aspects of an area's spatial plans. 

The report recommended that the amount of LEPs should be reduced to create a smaller number of larger and more effective LEPs. It said that this process should build on the foundation of larger and city-region LEPs and be focused around one or more major centres. 

The government should issue a "simple, high-level statement" setting out the core remit of LEPs, the report said. The statement should clarify the purpose and functions of LEPs but should leave details and priorities for the LEPs to determine, it said. 

The report also recommended that LEPs should be given independent single pot resources enabling them to deliver in the long term. "With sharpened purpose, accountability and geography, LEPs and combined authorities would be in a position to drive future economic development," it said. 

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls and Labour peer Lord Adonis said in the foreword to the report that the study provided a "bedrock of evidence" to help inform new, stronger  local growth partnerships. 

"We will only be able to develop the middle-income jobs we need to tackle the cost-of-living crisis if our cities and towns are more effective engines of growth. To achieve this we need stronger local government supported by more effective central government, both working in stronger partnership with the business and education communities," they said. 

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