Partnership may boost economy

COUNCILS and business from South Yorkshire, north Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire have signed up to a partnership which could lead economic regeneration in the region.

A blueprint has been drawn up for a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to cover the Sheffield city region to replace the current regional development agency Yorkshire Forward.

Leeds-based Yorkshire Forward is to be scrapped by the coalition Government and business Ministers have called on local authorities and enterprise to work together to fill the gap.

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The Sheffield city region includes all four South Yorkshire boroughs, as well as Chesterfield, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire, Derbyshire Dales and Bassetlaw district councils.

It also receives input from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire county councils, the Peak District National Park Authority and private business groups like chambers of commerce.

If the Sheffield city region LEP is given approval by the Government, it will be made up of a 15-strong board which will include seven representatives from both the private and public sectors.

The final member of the board will be a vice-chancellor from one of Sheffield's universities. A chairman will be appointed from the private sector to oversee the 15 members' work.

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Sheffield Council leader Coun Paul Scriven said he was supporting the plan and added: "The Local Enterprise Partnership would herald a new era in moving the city area forward.

"Local business is at the heart of the Local Enterprise Partnership. This will not be about inviting business into existing public sector structures, as has been the case in the past.

"It will be a true partnership, a new agenda for action that is designed with business and led by business.

"It is vital that we redress the balance of public versus private, we need more private-sector jobs and growth for the future. We can only do this by working with the private sector, steering the region's priorities together."

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LEPs will be able to bid for funds through the Government's Regional Growth Fund. The fund is worth 1bn for the whole of England and will cover the years 2011/12 and 2012-13.

Ministers have said cash must be spent on initiatives which encourage private sector enterprise and capacity, particularly in areas currently dependent on public sector jobs.

Local politicians from outside South Yorkshire said they would welcome the opportunity to work with their neighbours rather than to the strict boundaries laid out by the RDAs. Coun Ray Russell, leader of Chesterfield Council, which is currently covered by the East Midlands Development Agency said: "The LEP provides a sprinkling of common sense through a totally different way of working.

"We feel naturally connected economically to the Sheffield city region. For far too long decisions have been made at regional level, we have found that this has held us back on some projects.

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"Sheffield has strong links to Derbyshire and the Peak Park and we want to maximise these links to produce the optimum economic benefits for local people."

James Newman, Sheffield's Master Cutler, chaired a meeting of more than 80 business leaders from the city region and said all of them were prepared to sign up to the LEP concept.

He said the private sector was ready to work with local authorities on action and investment to strengthen economic growth and rebalance the economy to increase private-sector investment and local jobs.