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‘Wholly unacceptable’ that central gov does not have clear answer to benefits of LEPs

The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGP LEP) is the latest example of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) devolving powers to LEPs in a manner “characterised by both complexity and confusion.”

The comments come from the Public Accounts Committee, which says that the MHCLG must “get its act together” and offer assurance that it monitors how LEPs spend taxpayers’ money.

In 2016, the committee reported on the governance of LEPs, and made clear recommendations for improvements, which the ministry accepted.

Last year reviews of the partnership by the ministry and the National Audit Office were prompted after concerns were raised about the way it manages conflicts of interest, a perceived lack of transparency in how it made decisions on investment, and a perceived lack of clarity in its relationship with local developers and lobbying groups.

The committee found that GCGP LEP did not comply with the expected standards in public life, in particularly in terms of its accountability and transparency, although the ministry was able to offer assurances to the committee that there had been no misuse of public funds in this instance.

But the committee warned that this was “due more to luck than effective oversight given that there appear to have been no effective mechanisms in place for identifying conflicts of interest.”

The committee went on to say that it wanted its “displeasure at the conduct of the former chair of GCGP LEP when giving evidence” on record, adding that he “showed a lack of remorse about the outcome for GCGP LEP, and was evasive when questioned about his potential conflict of interest.”

It warned that this attitude underlines the need for the ministry to “get a grip” on its oversight of LEPs, and that it needs to quickly implement the recommendations of Mary Ney’s review of LEP governance and transparency.

Committee chair, Meg Hillier, said: “This troubling case only serves to underline our persistent concerns about the governance of LEPs, their transparency and their accountability to the taxpayer.

“The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership failed to comply with the standards expected in public life.

“Yet there are also clear failings in oversight by central government.”

She added: “Central government must move swiftly to ensure the recommendations of the Ney review are fully implemented and we expect to see evidence that this has happened.

“But it must also do a far better job of explaining the objectives and anticipated benefits of these local partnerships to local people.”

Hillier concluded: “It is wholly unacceptable that central government does not have a clear, up-to-date answer to that question.”

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