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Spending watchdog voices concern over LEP accountability

Published: Thursday, 31st March 2016

The National Audit Office has voiced concern over the transparency of Local Enterprise Partnerships and the approach used by the Department for Communities and Local Government over their governance.

In a report on LEPs, the spending watchdog also warned that the approach taken by the DCLG in overseeing Growth Deals risked future value for money.

Amyas Morse, head of the public expenditure watchdog, said: “LEPs’ role has expanded rapidly and significantly but they are not as transparent to the public as we would expect, especially given they are now responsible for significant amounts of taxpayers’ money.

“While DCLG has adopted a ‘light touch’ approach to overseeing Growth Deals, it is important that this doesn’t become ‘no touch’. The department needs to do more to assure itself that the mechanisms it is relying on ensure value for money is, in fact, effective.”

The NAO noted that with the advent of the Local Growth Fund, the amount of central government funding received by LEPs is projected to rise to £12bn between 2015-16 and 2020-21 via locally negotiated Growth Deals.

However the watchdog pointed out that the department has not set specific quantifiable objectives for what it hopes to achieve through Growth Deals. “It will be difficult to assess how they have contributed to economic growth” argued the NAO.

The report also found that LEPs themselves have serious reservations about their capacity to deliver and the increasing complexity of the local landscape. The watchdog highlighted that to oversee and deliver Growth Deal projects effectively, LEPs needed access to staff with expertise in complex areas such as forecasting, economic modelling and monitoring and evaluation.

Yet only five per cent of LEPs considered that the resources available to them were sufficient to meet the expectations placed on them by government.

View the report

Roger Milne