Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are keen to take on more transport powers while being reluctant to enter the planning arena, according to a new report.
Published today by PwC and the Smith Institute, Delivering Growth: Where next for LEPs looks at the progress made by LEPs around the country and is based on interviews with chairs, chief executives and board members.
The report reveals LEPs are keen to take on more transport powers however the majority view among LEP chairs is a reluctance to take on extra planning responsibility - one even referred to it as 'toxic' - as it would involve an unwanted change in legal status.
In terms of collaboration LEPs felt they could be useful in brokering transport arrangements and the report cites examples of them working together on transport plans, including the six West Midland LEPs, which have agreed areas of improvement in transport necessary to support economic plans and the South West LEPs, which are working together on transport improvements.
The research suggests some LEP bosses are concerned that empowered combined authorities might sideline smaller LEPs, with opinion ‘divided’ over the impact of combined authorities in general.
The report concludes: ‘At the very least combined authorities are likely to become more assertive in their leadership role in respect of local government development. This may lead to a distinct and overt two tier LEP system, with the city region LEP operating on a much larger scale with bigger budgets and more capacity to bid for funds.’
On funding the report found: ‘Most LEPs felt that the emphasis should be on local/sub-regional funds in key sectors like life sciences and transport, rather than making LEPs fit government funding silos. It was also felt that better value for money could be achieved if more LEPs pooled resources on infrastructure projects.
'Analysis of the allocation to LEPs of the Local Growth Fund (2015-16) shows that the majority is capital spend with roughly 56% going to transport projects - of which nearly half were road improvements,’ the report states
Jonathan House from PwC’s Government and Public Sector practice, said: ‘LEP skills and resources remain concerns for many, alongside the need for multi-year budgets, but we cannot underestimate their influence and potential within the government’s localism agenda.
‘They will play a critical role in bringing together disconnected public and private sector agencies to drive development and delivery of local ‘place’ plans.
‘In that respect, arguably some LEPs are under-powered and under resourced for the tasks they face, yet all have the networks, local know-how and business links to have an impact.
‘We are likely to see more collaborative working across LEP boundaries, possibly in LEP federations, rather than forced mergers between them,’ added Mr House.