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Growth Deal funding dependent on new transparency arrangements for LEPs

New guidance intended to ensure local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) are run transparently and accountably has been published by the DCLG.

The guidance said that LEPs must review, refresh and sign off on their local assurance framework to implement the new requirements, which will be a condition of funding for future Growth Deal grant offer letters.

Growth Deal funding has grown from £1.5bn in 2010-15 to £12bn in 2015-21. However, a report from the National Audit Office, published earlier this year, warned that the DCLG’s “light touch” approach to overseeing LEPs was making it harder to assess delivery of the projects.

But the departmental guidance said that the government approach to overseeing LEPs “remains light touch” and would allow LEPs “considerable freedom”, yet would ensure that LEPs could “manage delegated funding from central government budgets effectively”.

It added that the framework must set out the LEP board membership, which should include a private sector chair, at least 50% private sector membership, and an identified board member to represent and engage with the SME business community.

In addition, it should state the partnership arrangements that allow collective decision-making between the LEP and the local authority, and the arrangements for the lawful and effective implementation and delivery of projects.

These should involve openly advertising funding opportunities including government funding, making the award through a formal agreement and monitoring progress for the lifetime of the project with a robust audit trail. Where the LEP receives government funding, it should maintain an audit trail and carry out all reasonable endeavours to fulfil its contractual obligations.

It should also set out the sub-groups, their membership requirements and roles and responsibilities, and publish statements on how it would establish diverse representation at board and sub-group level, the conduct for board members, and any arrangements for cross-LEP working.

Furthermore, the guidance notes that LEPs should allow “effective and meaningful engagement with local partners and the public” and “operate transparently”.

The assurance framework should also include arrangements for publishing the strategic economic plan and details on the progress of Growth Deals on a dedicated website; publishing papers, decisions, minutes and agendas in line with existing local authority rules and regulations; and ensuring that Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulation requests are dealt with in line with relevant legislation.

Democratic accountability for LEPs should be provided through local authority leader membership of the board. The guidance said that in places where not all councils have representatives, their representatives should be given a mandate through arrangements which enable collective engagement with all local authority leaders.

Other requirements included publishing the basis against which projects and programmes are appraised and including the methodology for assessing value for money of projects and for evaluating outcomes of projects in the assurance framework.

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