Sheffield LEP boss accused of '˜not doing enough' to promote region

Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of the local enterprise partnership. Picture: Andrew RoeSir Nigel Knowles, chair of the local enterprise partnership. Picture: Andrew Roe
Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of the local enterprise partnership. Picture: Andrew Roe
The chairman of a top organisation tasked with attracting investment and jobs into South Yorkshire has been accused of not doing enough to promote the area in the last year.

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts has launched an extraordinary broadside against Sir Nigel Knowles, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), accusing him not being visible enough in dealing with the public and private sector in order to best advocate for the region effectively, saying “we have heard nothing from you for an awful long time”.

Mr Betts made his criticism in an official letter, seen by The Yorkshire Post, which was copied in to the rest of Sheffield’s MPs as well as Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis and other key public and private sector leaders.

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However Sir Nigel, former chairman of global law firm DLA Piper, brushed off the claims, pointing out that during his tenure the LEP had been rated as either good or outstanding on its performance by the Government and had outperformed all its targets.

Sir Nigel also pointed to a raft of measures he had undertaken during his tenure, ranging from meetings with Downing Street and the successful Horasis China conference, and accused Mr Betts in turn of not being receptive to approaches he had made to garner his advice or support on the work he had done.

In his letter Mr Betts spelled out Government guidelines on how a LEP chair is supposed to operate and wrote: “I really do not think that is the impression that either the public or the private sector has of your activities in the last 12 months.

I am sorry to be so blunt but that is what people are saying to me and I just think I have a duty as an elected representative to pass it on.”

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Mr Betts also devotes a passage of his letter to defending what he called the “boundaries” of the Sheffield City Region, and warned about people and places south of Sheffield becoming “separated” from what was happening in the rest of the region.

Clive Betts MPClive Betts MP
Clive Betts MP

Mr Betts went on to offer to meet with Sir Nigel following the summer break to discuss the matter further.

In response Sir Nigel penned his own letter, in which he praised his relationship with Mr Jarvis but lamented the “repeated efforts” he had made to meet with Mr Betts, saying he had not found him “receptive to these approaches”.

Acknowledging his being based in London, Sir Nigel said this gave “a different dynamic to some other LEPs” and called it a “conscious and bold decision to implement this model of a non-executive strategic leader, supported by a vice chair and portfolio responsibility model of governance”.

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“It rightly reflected the challenge that we do not as a region have a strong business voice nationally or internationally,” he added.

Sir Nigel went on to express disappointment that the devolution deal signed in Sheffield in October 2015 had yet to be implemented nearly three years later, something he attributed to failure of local political leadership.

He added that the spirit of the 2015 deal had showed Sheffield was able to “put aside differences and parochialism” and was able to “ see the bigger picture of an economy that doesn’t stop at administrative boundaries.”

He pledged to work with Mr Jarvis to help support his efforts to unlock a devolution deal for the region.