Rural communities ‘left behind’ by Local Enterprise Parternships, campaigners warn

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Rural communities are being left behind by Local Enterprise Partnerships, campaign groups have warned, citing concerns over their impact on the countryside and regeneration.

There are 38 such business-led partnerships across England, working with local authorities to drive economic growth and priorities. But, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has warned, they may be “entrenching inequalities” between English regions rather than removing them, with investment three times more likely in economically buoyant areas compared to those in social need. And, as the head of devolution at the group warns it was “unable to find any examples of good practice for Yorkshire”, there are calls for rural action plans to focus on the importance of England’s countryside, alongside investment in sustainable public transport, and the introduction of robust transparency and accountability measures.

“Local enterprise partnerships are supposed to be more sensitive to the needs of rural communities, businesses and economies than the regional development agencies they replaced,” said Paul Miner, head of strategic plans and devolution at CPRE. “But our local groups are telling us that too often LEPs are remote, back developments that will happen anyway, and are not doing enough to support rural regeneration.

“Rural businesses, including small farms, account for almost a quarter of all registered businesses in England – their importance to our economy cannot be ignored any more.”

The campaign’s group’s research, published today, has focused on viewpoints of local CPRE groups with responses covering 32 out of 38 LEPs. Many are failing rural communities, the group has said, ignoring their economic potential, social and environmental needs. Just one in five LEPs were perceived as aiding the development of affordable rural housing, the research found, with 14 per cent seen to be addressing or improving rural transport. The absence of investment in rural economies, the campaign group concludes, contributes to a growing inequality.

Commenting on LEPs within the region, Mr Miner called on them to reach out and take a greater interest in rural issues. In response, a spokesman for the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, one of four LEPs in Yorkshire, said it was committed to investing in transport, skills, housing and business support to create growth in all communities.

“Three years into the Growth Deal we agreed with Government, investment has been committed to more than 100 projects across the Leeds City Region including help for small firms, provision of new homes, flood protection for our communities, improving public transport and upgrading college facilities,” he said. “Our determination to invest in those communities in most need of faster economic growth and create an economy which improves living standards for all is underlined by our development of an inclusive growth strategy.”

A government spokesman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “We want to see all our regions thrive and we are investing more than £9bn in Local Enterprise Partnerships.

“It is up to individual Partnerships to decide how to use this funding to help their whole area grow, including their rural economy.

“This government is committed to seeing the countryside thrive and we are investing £500m through our Rural Development Programme helping to generate more than 6,000 jobs in rural areas.”

The LEP Network was also approached for comment.