5:25pm Thursday 28th October 2010
OXFORDSHIRE has won the battle to have its own standalone ‘Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)’, which will replace the South East England Development Agency Seeda by 2012.
Council leader Keith Mitchell masterminded the successful bid for an Oxfordshire ‘City Region’ enterprise partnership with boundaries following those of the county.
He said: “It was against the odds because the Government thought these things ought to be across county boundaries, but we had the support from businesses and all the district councils, plus the two universities.” The chief executives of BMW and Oxford Instruments also backed the bid, he said.
He added: “How much it brings us we don’t know. There’s no money around so it is not going to bring great wealth.”
Iain Nicholson, a director of the Oxfordshire Town Chambers Network, said: “After years being seen in government as part of Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire or the Thames Valley, this is a brilliant opportunity for Oxfordshire business to help shape its own destiny.
“Now begins the huge task of turning the Oxfordshire LEP vision into a practical reality that delivers.”
West Berkshire District Council had wanted to form a Thames Valley LEP consisting of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire (except Aylesbury), Swindon and the M4 corridor, but the Government has approved a Thames Valley Berkshire LEP and a separate Oxfordshire one, leaving holes in the map for Buckinghamshire and around Woking.
Failed bidders are being advised on how to submit fresh plans.
Government ministers say LEPs will “transform the economic geography of the country”. They want to see equal representation of business and council leaders.
Oxfordshire was one of 24 local enterprise partnerships given the green light this week. Business secretary Vince Cable confirmed that the emerging council and business-led local enterprise partnerships will receive no funding for administration costs from the Government. However, there will be a £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund, The abolition of Seeda by March 2012 is expected to cause 90 job losses, and will have a knock-on effect as economic growth projects lose funding. Its budget for 2010/11 was £120m, including nearly £40m of EU funding.
The Oxfordshire Economic Partnership (OEP) will no longer be funded by the county council, but chief executive David Doughty said the organisation would continue, backed by a core membership of about 30 firms.
He said: “I still think the OEP has a role in representing business. There are so many businesses in the county and they can’t all sit round the table with the LEP.
“We have just got some European funding for a health project and and we are looking for other similar projects. We also want to be a lobbying organisation to ensure the LEP fully represents the needs of businesses in the county.”
Mr Mitchell, who is on Seeda’s board, said support for farmers was likely to suffer next year, but he hoped that rural broadband pilots previously supported by Seeda could be taken up by local business partnerships.
He added that Seeda had been very good at promoting the South East to foreign investors and companies wanting to move in — a role due to be taken over by the Government.
“My fear is that the Government will send it to the North East and other areas which need regeneration. We will have to have our antennae to the ground to make sure we don’t miss out.”