A senior government adviser has suggested England’s 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which handle billions in transport cash, might benefit from elected chairs.
Speaking at an event in Westminster, Liberal Democrat peer and government cities advisor Lord Shipley OBE, said the idea was ‘extremely interesting’ and a ‘helpful principle’.
Along with Lord Heseltine, the architect of the Local Growth Fund through his No stone unturned report, Lord Shipley advises ministers on proposals brought forward by LEPs.
The peer said ‘giving votes to people in business to elect the chair of the LEP is an extremely interesting suggestion’.
‘You need details about exactly who would get the vote. The principle of having an elected chair seems like a helpful principle but of course if you do that then why don’t you elect all the business representatives of the LEP, after all, the councillors are.’
Transport Network understands a member of the North East LEP board had suggested the elected chair for their area however the idea appears to have been rejected and is ‘not being considered’ according to a spokeswoman.
The issue of LEPs’ accountability has risen in prominence in recent weeks after the Government ran foul of European rules on managing cash streams. Communities and local government select committee chair, Clive Betts, said ministers should have known that LEPs, as unelected bodies, could not receive the cash.
He accused the Government of creating ‘a mess’ after it had to concede defeat in the debate over funding devolution with the European Commission (EC).
In response to the suggestion of elected chairs for LEPs, Mr Betts said: ‘Its worth considering elected members for LEP boards, but just be careful. At the moment you have a clear accountability in terms of council leaders and councillors, do you want a competition over which mandate is the strongest? I don’t know I just think it’s an interesting discussion to be had.
‘If we find more spending powers or more tax raising powers are devolved, probably to a combination of authorities if you look at the London or the combined authority models, its how LEPs fit in with that framework that is the issue we should be looking at.
‘I think effectively LEPs will become the economic advisory arm of those combined authorities. That is the right way forward. One of the challenges is LEPs are not accountable bodies.’