Fight over quango shake-up

4:23pm Thursday 23rd September 2010

By Chris Koenig »

COUNCIL leaders are battling it out over who should control the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) — which the Government would like to see replacing Regional Development Agencies.

The deadline for bids to form LEPs was last week. Now business secretary Vince Cable and Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles must ponder three proposals covering Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Keith Mitchell wants to form a so-called Oxfordshire City Region Enterprise Partnership with boundaries following those of the county.

West Berkshire District Council wants to form a Thames Valley LEP consisting of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire (except Aylesbury), Swindon and the M4 corridor, while Cherwell District Council wants to join a South East Midlands partnership as well as Oxfordshire’s.

Under Government plans, eight Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), including the South East Area Development Agency (Seeda) of which Oxfordshire is part, are to be replaced with LEPs by 2012.

Government ministers say LEPs will “transform the economic geography of the country”. They want to see equal representation of business and council leaders.

Business groups like the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the Engineering Employers Federation fear many of the proposed LEPs will be too small, but Oxfordshire County Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “There is strong evidence that Oxfordshire’s boundaries correspond closely to a functional economic area which is what LEPs are about. We have the support of our Oxfordshire MPs.

“I do not believe we have a lot in common with places like Reading or Slough. Our economy is different; our strengths and weaknesses are different.”

A statement from Cherwell District Council said it was not yet clear whether councils could be a member of two.

Christina Howell, of the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that because the Government had set such a short timescale, the chamber had simply presented a proposal for the Thames Valley as a consultation document.

She added: “However West Berkshire District Council was so sure that the Thames Valley proposal was the way forward that it submitted a bid to the Government.”

The county already has the Oxfordshire Economic Partner-ship (OEP), which is partly funded by the county council. Its chairman, David Doughty, said: “While this is being decided it is difficult for us to sign up members. But the OEP will continue.”

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