Chiefs told
of need to
be more

Yorkshire MPs are warning local enterprise partnerships may have to become more open and accountable if they are handed sweeping new powers over public spending by the Chancellor next week.

LEPs have self-appointed boards which meet in private and are not subject to freedom of information laws, only publishing minutes of their meetings several weeks or months afterwards on their websites.

Bosses insist it is vital they meet in private, as they are frequently discussing confidential business ventures and opportunities which would not be possible with Press and public in attendance.

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But Sheffield MP Clive Betts, who chairs the Commons Local Government Committee, said accountability will become a “concern” as the roles of LEPs grow.

“You are spending public money, and accountability is important,” he said. “They are not elected. They are not subject to FoI [Freedom of Information] and real transparency. That would be a worry to me.

“I don’t think it’s proper to look at giving LEPs millions of pounds to spend without that sort of accountability.”

Fellow Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield sits on the Commons business committee, which recently published a report calling for more openness within LEPs.

“There is clearly an accountability issue,” he said. “If they are to be given a significant role in the allocation and delivery of substantial public funds, then there do need to be clear lines of accountability.”

Most LEP leaders accept the bodies may have to change, but draw the line at opening their meetings up to the Press.

James Farrar, chief executive of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP, said: “The board meetings are not open to the public and I think it’s really important that that remains the case.

“The minutes are available to the public, but there are things we discuss which are absolutely confidential. LEPs are acting as a conduit between public and private sector, and a lot of the discussions we are having are around private sector investments and how we can leverage those.”

Sheffield city region LEP chairman James Newman said private meetings “allow a free airing of views and debate”.