The Public Accounts Committee has stressed its lack of faith in the Government’s overview of local enterprise partnerships in a critical report published today.
The report, on the Greater Cambridgeshire Greater Peterborough local enterprise partnership (GCGP LEP), concluded the Government’s claims last year that the LEP had no problems were ‘without substance’.
The report said: ‘The department’s oversight system failed to identify GCGP LEP as one which should have raised concerns.
‘The department has repeatedly given assurances to us that it has resolved issues in LEPs, but the case of GCGP LEP suggests that these assurances are without substance.
‘Moreover, the department did not flag GCGP as a LEP about which it had particular concerns, and its system of ‘annual conversations’ with LEPs is not convincingly robust.’
The committee criticised the LEP for failing to comply with the standards of accountability and transparency expected from it.
The report highlighted the committee’s concerns that the same problems could be ongoing at other LEPs given that the Government’s method for holding LEPs to account is not set in stone.
The committee urged the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to be more clear about the purpose of LEPs, given the complexity of the current local government structure within which they exist.
The report added: ‘The department’s policy review needs to make the role of LEPs absolutely clear, assess whether LEP boundaries are in the right place, evaluate their role in promoting economic growth and set out their place alongside new mayors and combined.’
The committee’s chair, Meg Hillier, said the GCGP LEP is proof of the committee’s ‘persistent concerns’ about the governance of LEPs and their accountability to the public.
She added: ‘The GCGP LEP failed to comply with the standards expected in public life. Yet there are also clear failings in oversight by central government.’
The committee also criticised the ministry’s ‘nuclear’ decision last year to withhold £37m from the GCGP LEP, adding it should have intervened in a less damaging way.
Last year, the GCGP and other LEPs were the subject of a National Audit Office (NAO) report which revealed widespread concerns.
In December, the GCGP LEP decided to give itself a ‘fresh start’ in 2018 by replacing the LEP with a new business board in April this year. The board will be directly linked to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.