Dual county LEP bid gaining momentum

A SUBSTANTIAL regional employer has put its weight behind a proposal to create a Norfolk-Suffolk enterprise partnership to attract inward investment and drive the counties’ economies forward.

Communications giant BT has backed a bid for a dual county Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) saying it can “see the logic in a partnership embracing both counties”.

Two rival bids – one for Norfolk and Suffolk and one for Norfolk alone – emerged after the two counties were left out in the cold last week after a string of LEPs, which will take over when regional development agencies are abolished over the next two years, were given the green light by the coalition Government.

The two counties failed to make it in to the first wave of LEPs after an East Anglia bid, including Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire was rejected, and a Norfolk bid was knocked back. Meanwhile, a Kent, Greater Essex & East Sussex bid was given the go-ahead, as was a bid for Greater Cambridge and Peterborough.

There are fears that unless the two counties “get their act together” they could be left behind as the 24 regional LEPs already in the process of forming begin to vie for a share of a �1.4bn regional growth fund.

Norwich City Council has strongly backed the two counties bid, while Norfolk County Council has so far continued to back the Norfolk LEP, After the announcements last week, Norfolk County Council deputy leader Ian Mackie said he felt a Norfolk and Norwich LEP was “within our grasp”.

But behind the scenes, negotiations are ongoing, and sources close to leading business voices and the two county councils in Norfolk and Suffolk are said to be “optimistic” of a positive outcome for the joint county bid by the end of this week.

Most Read

The BT backing is sure to add weight to the Suffolk-Norfolk bid, which has been gaining momentum since it became clear that the Government was not minded to support an East Anglia-wide option.

According to a BT economic impact report published last year, BT employs around 11,500 people in the East of England alone, including 782 in Norfolk and 3,437 in Suffolk, and supports just over 47,000 jobs in the region.

In employment terms, its impact is equivalent to the region’s entire financial sector.

BT regional partnership director Annette Thorpe has written to Celia Hodson, chief executive of Choose Suffolk, one of the organisations backing the bid, to express support.

She said that subject to a structure which featured an equal balance of business and local government presence, the company would “welcome and support” a LEP encompassing Norfolk and Suffolk.

“Over recent weeks BT, at a national and local level, has watched with interest the evolving relationships between the aspiring LEP’s across the English regions,” she said.

“I wrote to Jeremy Pembroke (leader of Suffolk County Council) in September, expressing BT’s views that an East Anglian LEP could fit a model which we would support, in providing strong business leadership and wide geographical coverage for the general economy of the area.

“Whilst it was disappointing that the original submission did not receive approval from the adjudicating bodies, we welcome the subsequent conversations which have been taking place between Norfolk and Suffolk.

“We see the logic in a partnership embracing both counties, and potentially, adjacent economic clusters.

“We feel a LEP of this scale would make better use of, and have better access to, skilled but scarce business resources,” her letter added.