Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Will Cornwall's LEP fail first openness and transparency test?

The new Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership seems set to fail its first big test of openness, transparency and involvement. It appears that a decision to bid for an Enterprise Zone based on Newquay Airport is likely to go ahead without other potential bidders getting a hearing.

The Cornwall LEP was something that all parties across Cornwall agreed to in concept, but the implementation of the new body has been fraught with difficulties. First of all the initial Chair, Sir John Banham, "chose not to apply for the permanent job" (some might say he was sacked) after producing a manifesto for the LEP which had no support from the Council.

In addition, the process for appointing the Board members still has not been finalised despite a pledge from Tory Council Leader Alec Robertson that everything would be sorted by the end of April.

And finally the involvement of a broad section of Cornish business seems to be in doubt with many firms questioning why they were excluded and their views not taken into account.

The first big task for the LEP is to bid for an Enterprise Zone for Cornwall. These Government-backed initiatives are meant to encourage new firms to start up with rate relief, reduced planning burdens and other incentives. With the LEP not yet in operation, Cornwall Council had to take the first step of submitting an 'expression of interest' in having an Enterprise Zone for Cornwall.

As I have blogged before, I think that the EZ should be sited in East Cornwall - an area which always seems to miss out on investment and has benefited far less from structural funding like Objective One and Convergence than other areas. Given our location on the A30 and with the best connections to markets in England and the continent, I put forward the idea that Launceston would be the ideal site. All five Launceston councillors, plus the Chair of the Chamber of Commerce and of the Town Council have backed the bid and I wrote to Carolyn Rule, Cabinet Member for the Economy and Regeneration, asking for a meeting with herself and the new Chair of the LEP, Chris Pomfret, to make our case.

Whilst I have had no reply at all from Carolyn, Council Leader Alec Robertson has now sent an email to all councillors saying that the bid is likely to be based around Newquay Airport - incidentally on land which is owned by Cornwall Council.

Alec wrote:

"early indications are that an EZ which includes the development site around Newquay Airport could be Cornwall’s best chance of demonstrating how an EZ would create jobs, drive growth and support the wider economy in Cornwall on a scale necessary to win a national competition"

I'm not saying that a Newquay Airport bid would be a bad thing. But it seems entirely wrong to be going ahead with this without giving other potential bids the chance to make their case. Newquay may be good, but other sites could be better. If Cornwall is to be successful we should have the best bid and the best chance to get this is through an open and transparent selection procedure. Other possible areas including Saltash, Liskeard and Penryn will, no doubt, be equally disappointed. It's not just bad manners, but it reinforces the centralised approach to economic development in Cornwall.

So it looks as though the new LEP has flunked the chance to be open, transparent and consultative in its first major task. It seems that the culture of County Hall will prevail with this new body and that's definitely a step in the wrong direction.

1 comment:

richard said...

Newquay airport will attract organic growth - history shows that there is little incentive needed for airports to developn into commecicl operations (especially Newquay..with no residential issues). As an example look at the history of Shannon aiport.

If the EZ designation is just used to back obvious winners will it provide additionality? No.

It is out of order of order the council leader to use the media to influence a decision that is to be taken by a yet to be convened LEP board. This behaviour only serves to turn off the business community and they will be reluctant to engage.

Alec Robertson must stand by his promise of cross party representation on the LEP board. If not there will be a strong rebuke by the private sector with most organisations worried about their association with any one paerticular political party(most are apolitical and it is written in their constitutions) Besides a promise is a promise !!