Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) must be covered by the Freedom of Information Act to prevent billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being hidden from public scrutiny, the News Media Association (NMA) has said.
LEPs are expected to receive £12bn funding between 2015/16 and 2020/21 to invest in local projects and businesses but most tend to make only headline information available, the NMA said.
The association said this made it difficult for journalists and members of the public to scrutinise how investment decisions were being made.
It argued ‘powerful public organisations such as LEPs should be made subject to the local government transparency code’.
Looking at the LEPs’ websites, the NMA found that only 15 of the 39 LEPs in England and Wales published registers on board members’ interests and only seven of the LEPs’ full-year reports included ‘clear, comprehensive statements of income and expenditure including salaries’.
There were 19 LEPs that appeared to publish either no breakdown of money in or out in their annual reports or filed either dormant or highly abbreviated accounts at Companies House, the NMA said in a submission to a government consultation on local government transparency rules, which closes today.
Lucy Gill, of the NMA, said: ‘LEPs wield immense power, making investment decisions worth billions of pounds to local communities, yet journalists have enormous difficulty getting hold of even basic information about how this money is being spent.
‘As the role and resources of LEPs expands, there can no longer be any justification for excluding them from local government transparency standards and the Freedom of Information Act.’