New board planned to ensure business influence after Hertfordshire LEP functions move to council

It comes as government LEP funding is set to cease
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PLANS have been drawn-up to integrate the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) into Hertfordshire County Council as government funding for LEPs ceases.

A new Hertfordshire Economic Board aims to influence the functions of the Hertfordshire LEP, which has brought together representatives from business, local authorities and further education, for a number of years.

And it is said to have ‘played an instrumental role in accelerating economic growth in the county’ – securing millions of pounds of investment.

Hertfordshire County Council will create a new Economic Board.Hertfordshire County Council will create a new Economic Board.
Hertfordshire County Council will create a new Economic Board.

But from April government funding of LEPs across the country will cease.

According to plans, outlined to a meeting of the sustainable economic growth cabinet panel on Wednesday, integration will include the creation of a new business advisory body.

The new body – to be known as the Hertfordshire Economic Board – would include democratically elected leaders, as well as business and ‘sector’ leaders.

And it would – say council officers – ensure business representatives continue to have a significant influence in the conduct of the former LEP functions.

At the meeting of the cabinet panel, Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Zukowskj suggested that a business advisory panel – where business leaders were not in the room as decision makers – would make the business community more remote from the decision making process.

“If you want to have proper business input you need the business people to be in the room with the decision makers.

“If they are not in the room with the decision makers they will feel that it is not the right place to be. And in my view they are likely to start to drift away.”

And that was echoed by Labour Cllr Baroness Taylor who suggested that if businesses didn’t see it as a decision-making role, they would be less likely to participate.

The alternative to an advisory board would have been to co-opt business leaders onto a formal committee of the council.

But councillors were told it would not be legally permissible to co-opt non-elected members with voting rights.

They were also told there were fears this would create a two-tier committee – because only the elected members would get to vote.

“In many ways I feel that that could be a disincentive for business leaders to become involved in this new arrangement going forwards,” said deputy chief executive of the county council Scott Crudgington.

Mr Crudgington said current members of the LEP board had been ‘fully consulted’ on the plan.

And he told the panel they had seemed less concerned with the ‘status of local government constructs of how we administer things’.

He also commented they were most interested in their voice and proposals being heard and ultimately that turning into action on the ground through investment.

Meanwhile executive director for growth and environment, Mark Doran, said that plans for the advisory board – where all members were equal – would create more harmonious discussion.

And he stressed that the people making the decisions such as himself and leader of the council Cllr Richard Roberts would be in the room – decision-making in real time.