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Whitehall slammed for not ensuring LEPs deliver value for money

The government has been strongly criticised for not having enough measures in place to ensure local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) are delivering value for money.

A new report by the National Audit Office warns the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has made ‘no effort’ to evaluate the value for money of the £12bn allocated to LEPs between 2016 and 2021 and ‘nor does it have robust plans to do’.

The report adds that the Whitehall department must act if it wants to have ‘any hope of learning the lessons of what works locally’ for future schemes, including the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

There are currently 38 LEPs in England, each operating across more than one local authority.

According to the watchdog, the government has committed £12bn to local areas in England between 2015-16 and 2020-21.

Of this, £9.1.bn has already been allocated through growth deals negotiated between central government and individual LEPs.

But the report also notes that as LEPs are not statutory bodies, the MHCLG does not have the power to intervene in the same way it does with failing local authorities.

Although it adds that the department withheld core funding in full from two LEPs in 2018-19, and staggered the release of payments to another two until they made progress in order to ‘correct governance failings and underperformance’.

‘The department expects LEPs to correct any shortfalls in the conduct of any of its board members. It has set out other mechanisms to intervene where it has detected ongoing failure,’ the report states.

‘This includes ministers writing to the LEP board to express a loss of confidence in its leadership. These interventions are weaker than those available to the Department in the case of failing local authorities.’

In response to the NAO report, an MHCLG spokesperson said: ‘Local enterprise partnerships play a vital role in supporting the Government’s ambition to rebalance the economy so it works for everyone.

‘The NAO report recognises the positive work carried out by LEPs, supported by MHCLG, to ensure robust governance and financial transparency arrangements are in place.

‘We continue to work with LEPs across England to further improve these standards and ensure value for money in local growth spending,’ the spokesman added.

Photo by Stevepb (Pixabay)

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