Mark Casci: Yorkshire LEPs are doing great, why change them?

Stock - Sheffield Cityscape from Hallamshire Hospital
Stock - Sheffield Cityscape from Hallamshire Hospital
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A combination of good government and good business is the foundation upon which the economic success of Great Britain has been built.

This applies to local government as much as it does to Westminster and this week we got to see it in action in the southern part of the region.

The Sheffield City Region signed off on £10m for projects including a university research centre, a major road-widening project and the second phase of a business park.

The funding comes from the Local Growth Fund (LGF), government cash which is awarded to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) for projects that benefit the local area and economy.

A total of £3.8m in LGF funding was agreed for improvements to the A61 Sheffield inner ring road which will see a new lane added in both directions. This will allow for quicker journey times and provide the knock-on benefit of improved productivity and connectivity for the city’s workforce and transport companies.

Just days after Boeing opened its new multi-million pound factory in Sheffield there was a further boost for the city’s proud engineering sector with £600,000 agreed for Sheffield Hallam University’s National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering, a £10.6m new-build research and development facility alongside the Olympic Legacy Park in Attercliffe.

Dr Martin Howarth, director of the centre, said the cash would go towards helping to develop and implement new and enhanced facilities, processes and equipment, as well as enhancing “the development of a highly educated and knowledgeable workforce, through staff development and supporting employees with experience of leading engineering systems and processes”.

Elsewhere, Rotherham Council was granted £1.6m in LGF funding for the second phase of the Century Business Park, which will create 100 new jobs.

The pride in the cash boosts was evident with Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of the SCR LEP, calling it “a great example of how the public and private sector work together in the SCR to get things done”.

These sorts of boosts are nothing new.

The LEPs in this part of the world have been doing a good job of providing access to funding for those who need it.

Brought in to replace Regional Development Agencies following the Tory/Liberal Democrat Government they have continued to facilitate the access to funding that so many incredibly important parts of the Yorkshire economy has relied upon.

This year will see yet another shift in the landscape.

Just eight years after scrapping Yorkshire Forward and the other RDAs, Government now wishes to bring in yet another system.

The LEP concept is to be changed but rationalised, with Government clear it wishes to reduce the number of these partnerships from the current 38 in existence.

Mergers are likely, some may just disappear altogether.

It is not my wish to make an argument against the need for prudent Government spending.

However, with an economy which could be charitably described as sluggish, the need for greater investment into localised investment schemes seems greater than ever.

The level of employment, opportunity and advancement that locally made decisions have been able to put through from LEPs in all four corners of Yorkshire has been hugely impressive.

The four in operation in Yorkshire serve very different economic patches but are united in the respect that they have good leadership and a nose for decent investments.

Yorkshire is large enough to be a decent sized country if it were to go it alone (I am not advocating for ‘Yorksit’ before anyone asks).

For me, this is a clear case of something not being broken and as such it does not require fixing.

If there are to be changes made I hope that the scale of investment and expertise that they have brought to the region will be allowed to continue.