Devolution agenda torn apart by MPs


The latest in a series of damning reports on the Government’s devolution agenda has been issued by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) particularly in the firing line.

The influential MPs hit out at the 39 LEPs, stating it was ‘alarming’ that they ‘are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public’.

This is despite the business-led partnerships with councils overseeing billions of pounds of public spending under the Local Growth Fund, designed by Conservative ministers and senior figures such as Lord Heseltine.


‘The fact that 42% of LEPs do not publish a register of interests is clearly a risk to ensuring that decisions are made free from any actual or perceived conflicts of interest. The varying presentation and detail of financial information across LEPs also makes it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions or make comparisons across LEPs on how they spend public money,’ the committee said.

MPs called for a review of local capacity at LEP and combined authority level, as part of the negotiations on the next round of devolution and growth deals.

Committee members also criticised a raft of aspects of the devolution programme including accusations that ‘not all devolution deals are coherent: they lack clear objectives; and are not aligned geographically with other policies or local bodies’.

The committee's report Cities and Local Growth, added there was ‘insufficient consideration' by central government’ of scrutiny arrangements, accountability, capacity and capability needs.

The report comes after recent criticism from the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, the National Audit Office and the Institution of Civil Engineers.

‘Government should be specific and clear about what it is trying to achieve by devolving services to local areas. It should then set out how it will monitor progress against these goals,’ the PAC said.

There were also concerns over transparency in terms of funding for different areas. The report highlights the fact that per capita funding ranges from £11 a year in the Greater Manchester deal to £27 a year in the West of England deal.

It also warns the timetable to implement devolution deals in the coming months is ‘extremely challenging’ and that ‘any delay in this process … could put the proposed May 2017 elections at risk’.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: ‘Parliament and the public must be assured that devolved spending is subject to effective scrutiny and there are clear lines of accountability for delivering value for money,’ she said.

‘These vital arrangements are still very much work-in-progress and must be confirmed as a matter of urgency.’

In the 18 months to April 2016, 10 devolution deals were agreed over the transfer of powers, funding and accountability for policies and functions from central government.

The deals apply to Greater Manchester; Cornwall; Sheffield City Region; the North East; Tees Valley; Liverpool City Region; the West Midlands, East Anglia; Greater Lincolnshire, and the West of England.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: 'Today’s report misses the point of devolution, which is to end the one-size-fits-all approaches of the past and hand power from Whitehall to local people who know their areas best.

'We’ve agreed 10 landmark devolution deals covering nearly 30% of the country, with local leaders accountable to their residents including through the election of mayors to oversee the new powers.

'This is a voluntary, bottom-up process based on local proposals demonstrating strong local agreement and clear accountability.'

Mark Reeve, chair of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP said 'We welcome the PAC’s report on Cities and local growth, and we’ll be discussing its conclusions and next steps with the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that LEPs are consistently communicating the investment decisions that are so vital to local communities.

'As business driven partnerships, LEPs are judged by their success in generating local economic growth and increasing jobs. So far the 39 LEPs have generated £5 billion of private sector investment and continue to invest in local infrastructure, innovation, education and skills, transport and local growth hubs, and that will be critical in the months ahead.'

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