A MINISTER has stepped in to prevent York leaving an economic partnership with North and East Yorkshire in a move the city argues could force it to bid against itself for Government cash, the Yorkshire Post has learned.
York is currently a member of two local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), bodies which were set up to bring councils and business together to grow their local economies and are fast becoming the Government’s preferred way to hand out funding in areas such as transport and skills.
The city argues that as LEPs start to take on more complex powers it makes sense to become a member of just one. Last month it signalled its intention to leave the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP and focus on the Leeds City Region LEP.
Now, Local Government Minister Mark Prisk has told City of York Council it does not have the power to make that decision.
Earlier this week, the Government announced LEPs will have the chance to bid for money for their areas from a £10bn pot following recommendations from former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine on how to kickstart local growth.
Council leader James Alexander said: “After the Heseltine report, being in two local enterprise partnerships means a council will have to compete against itself for the same funds to help boost the economy. Furthermore it is an economic fact that the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership has an economy the size of Belgium and has given priority to transport.
“Access to large transport capital schemes is exactly what is needed to upgrade York’s road infrastructure to boost economic growth. The York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership does not have such a significant economy and is not prioritising transport at all.
“I would like to have discussed the matter more with businesses in York, but the chair of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership asked me not to discuss the matter with anyone publicly and I honoured this request.”
The council is expected to tell the Government that remaining part of two partnerships will add bureaucracy and make it harder to get match-funding for money secured from Whitehall.
It will also suggest the Minister’s actions contradict the Government’s call for local decision-making.
However, the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP welcomed Mr Prisk’s intervention, arguing that business organisations in York have been dismayed by the council’s decision.
It insists the two LEPs have different economic priorities and will co-operate to make sure York secures benefits from being part of both organisations.
Chairman Barry Dodd said: “We welcome the clarity of the response from government. The York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP geography was agreed because it made sense from a business perspective.
“Of course Leeds City Region is important, but to the many small businesses in York the relationship with North and East Yorkshire is as important, if not more, important.
“We need to focus on the customer, and for us the customer is the businesses of York. The unsolicited letters of support we have received from the business community is testament to this. I am already in active discussion with Leeds City Region around collaboration on York.
“This is the right result for the businesses of York. The city can benefit from infrastructure investments through the Leeds City Region, whilst we will ensure the many great small businesses in the area continue to receive the support they need to grow.”