Kent businesses set for ‘louder voice’ as government reviews role of economic champions
PUBLISHED: 12:07 17 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:07 17 August 2017
South East Local Enterprise Partnership has argued the case for large investment projects such as the Lower Thames Crossing
Kent businesses could have a bigger say in identifying economic priorities around the county as the government reviews the work of bodies established to drive growth in the area.
The role of dozens of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), including SELEP in the south east, is being discussed by ministers this summer, with chiefs hoping it will result in increased responsibilities and power for firms.
The success of SELEP - set up in 2011 to help lead job creation, enable house building and promote a stronger skills agenda for the region’s combined economy - has seen business have a genuine seat at the table in discussions over multi-million and sometimes multi-billion pound developments.
Indeed, arguing the case for a £6bn Lower Thames Crossing east of Gravesend - a proposal which still proves controversial in some areas of the county - is championed by the partnership as one of its great triumphs in recent years.
It is understood plans on the future of the roles of LEPs will go out for consultation later this year.
Jake Berry, minister for local growth at the Department of Communities & Local Government described LEPs as an essential part of government’s plan for driving local growth and the recently-agreed Industrial Strategy, spearheaded by secretary of state and Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark.
Mr Berry added: “This review reflects our ambition to strengthen the role of LEPs during this parliament.
“It is testament to our belief in your institutions and the tangible difference that you have been making on the ground. LEPs will continue to be critical to our future economic success.”
SELEP chairman Christian Brodie said: “The time is right, given Brexit and the government’s emerging Industrial Strategy, to properly recognise the important role of LEPs and the future opportunity created by our inclusive public-private partnerships in supporting businesses and communities in our areas.
“Promoting business growth, improving skills, strengthening our key trade links to the rest of the UK and keeping international markets open for business are at the heart of what SELEP is focused on achieving.
“To do this it is important that SELEP and all of our partners in our robust federal model continue to present a strong aggregate voice to government.
“The review coincides with us updating our Strategic Economic Plan to make sure it presents the strongest possible case for our share of future government funding.”
SELEP has recently been given the green light by government for the investment of a further £102.6m in employment and skills, new transport and infrastructure to support business growth, which will unlock £141m of private investment, and will create or safeguard 33,000 jobs and allow the development of 6,000 new homes.
Its managing director, Adam Bryan, added: “The last six years has seen SELEP go from strength to strength, with the public sector working closer than ever with the private sector to deliver on the needs of residents and businesses.
“We are fully signed up to the government’s Industrial Strategy, and are well placed to deliver on its vision.
“The current refresh of our Strategic Economic Plan aligned with government thinking stands testament to this.
“The south east, with its track record of economic success, cannot be taken for granted and government must continue to support our investment needs to enable us and the rest of UK PLC to thrive.”
Other key investment projects supported by SELEP’s Local Growth Fund include safeguarding international rail services at Ashford through a £9.8m cash injection into new signalling and £3.5m towards Strood Civic Centre Flood Mitigation works, improving flood defences to enable work on a prime development site on the River Medway.
Bosses also insist they are continuing to lobby the government to ensure the Lower Thames Crossing is delivered “as quickly as possible”.