South West enterprise partnership 'failing to deliver'
A flagship organisation charged with creating jobs and boosting the economy is failing to deliver, according to business leaders and senior political figures.
The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership has secured more than £25m of government funding in two years to drive forward private sector growth, boost employment and increase earnings.
But some £15.1m of a Growing Places Fund to unlock stalled projects in Devon and Somerset remains unallocated more than a year after the money was obtained.
The HotSW is yet to appoint a permanent chief executive after Jeremy Filmer-Bennett stepped down on health grounds in April 2012.
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Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw said the LEP, formed in April 2011, “haven’t provided the vision and drive that would constitute an effective regional growth strategy”.
Derek Phillips, South West Chamber chairman and Exeter Chamber vice president, said the LEP had made slow progress over the past two years.
He said: “Businesses in the South West are disappointed about the slowness of the LEP getting off the ground.
“We know they have been working on a shoestring budget. But there has been a disappointingly small allocation of the Growing Places Fund and we would hope they would allocate more resources soon.”
He added: “We would like to see our LEPs working together to provide a collective voice for the region.”
Last month Devon and Somerset received a £2.9m investment through the HotSW’s Rural Growth Network initiative to boost the rural economy and to create more than 700 jobs across the two counties.
Mr Bradshaw has criticised LEPs for lacking the capacity and “strategic regional punch” of the regional development agencies scrapped in March 2011.
Newton Abbot Conservative MP, Anne Marie Morris urged the HotSW to do more help local businesses receive help and support.
She added: “It is also vital that we identify projects and business suitable for investment quickly and that we get any resources we have available to them as swiftly as possible.”
David Shephard, Devon regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, blamed the government for failing to provide LEPs with enough money to help small businesses.
He said: “Small businesses are like small shoots. The Government is giving them a weak solution of water and weed killer – it’s just not helping.”
In October 2012 the HotSW announced funding awards of £6.4m to kick-start three major infrastructure projects with potential to create 6,750 jobs between them.
Tim Jones, chairman of HotSW, said: “I am totally convinced the HotSW is performing in Devon and Somerset. Those who throw stones at us don’t know about the phenomenal amount of work going on.”