Government plan to create jobs and boost economy in Plymouth "not fit for purpose"
A FLAGSHIP government plan to create jobs and boost the economy in Plymouth and the wider area is "not fit for purpose" according to the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.
The Labour big-hitter said the local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), which replaced the scrapped Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) lacked 'clout', and were "too fragmented". Since being set up LEPs have only received a small amount of start-up funding from central government, and have had to bid for cash to support projects rather than have dedicated budgets.
Mr Balls committed Labour to "build on, not rip up" a radical blueprint drawn up for the Government by former Tory Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine to boost struggling local economies.
This would see a beefed up role for the Heart of the South West LEP - covering Plymouth, Devon, Torbay, and Somerset - which would also be in line for a share of Whitehall funding to help kick-start the economy.
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The Coalition ditched the RDAs arguing they reflected administrative boundaries rather than "genuine economic areas".
But Mr Balls told regional newspaper journalists at Westminster that the move had left a "massive gap" in attracting inward investment and planning major projects.
He said: "I am not going to say the RDAs did that job universally well, but people would say they played a role which is not currently being played."
The Labour MP added: "I think the story of the last two years is that the Treasury bounced the Department for Business and (Lib Dem Business Secretary) Vince Cable into abolishing the RDAs because they really didn't do any good, and if you just got government out of the way it would make things better.
"Over the last two years, Vince Cable has come to see what a deeply foolish and destructive thing that was. And that's essentially what Heseltine says."
Mr Balls went on: "The problem we have got is what has been put in its place – the Local Enterprise Partnerships – they are not at the moment really fit for purpose. They're too fragmented. There's much too much variation in their quality. And most importantly they don't really have clout."
A spokesman for Heart of the South West LEP said: "The Heart of the South West is a partnership across a new footprint which brings together four local authorities with the private sector and education institutions.
"Like any new partnership, there are challenges helping the new structure to bed in, but there are opportunities too to reassess our thinking and ways of achieving growth."
"The key issue is that LEPs need time to bed in, to achieve support and deliver against our plans."