LEPs mean opportunities and threats

THE RDAs are dead; long live the LEPs.

The Government’s plan to abolish the Regional Development Agencies and replace them with Local Enterprise Partnerships represents both an opportunity and a threat.

It is chiefly an opportunity, with local authorities and the private sector being invited to form new partnerships to take responsibility for driving forward economic development strategies which reflect a genuine community of interest.

This should represent an improvement on the existing regions, the boundaries of which were imposed by central government and in many cases, including the East of England, brought together areas with no real sense of shared identity.

And yet, the abolition of the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) is also a threat.

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The Government may have point in viewing the RDAs, such as EEDA, as an unnecessarily bureaucratic and costly way of allocating central government money to locally-based projects.

On the other hand, EEDA has developed a valuable role in identifying local needs and seeking the funding to meet them, often with a degree of success which local authorities might previously have had difficulty in matching.

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And, while some counties and districts within the same region might not have a great deal in common, there are some issues, such as transport infrastructure, which do require a regional approach.

So just what form will the new LEPs in the East of England need to take?

The word is that, typically, the Government will expect counties to work together rather than go it alone, which implies that the region may end up with perhaps three LEPs.

It also implies that counties will not be subdivided and split between different LEPs which, in the absence of a regional body, could make like even more complicated for existing cross-border partnerships such as the Haven Gateway in Suffolk and Essex.

In fact, given the size of Essex and the differences in character and focus between north and south, the plan for the new LEPs to honour county boundaries might be regarded as a significant weakness.

Were Suffolk and Norfolk, and perhaps Cambridgeshire, to form a single LEP (which might be called “East Anglia” ? now there’s a new idea), north Essex would necessarily be excluded from it despite there being a genuine community of economic interest.

It may be of relevance that the EU statistical body Eurostat already recognises a three-way sub-division of the East of England, into East Anglia (Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire), Essex (regarded as a sub-region in its own right), and Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire together.

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