NAO questions accountability of LEPs

The National Audit Office (NAO) has questioned the lack of accountability for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), claiming that they are ‘not as transparent to the public as we would expect’.

The government has encouraged the establishments of LEPs, which are private sector led partnerships that influence local growth priorities.

However, the NAO has cautioned that, as the role and remit of LEPs continues to grow, a lack of oversight could ‘risk future value for money’.

The amount of central government funding received by LEPs is set to rise by £12 billion by 2020/21 through the Local Growth Fund, and a new report from the NAO suggests that LEPs themselves have reservations about their capacity to deliver the expected growth within their regions.

A survey found that only five per cent of LEPs considered that the resources available to them were sufficient to meet the expectations placed on them by government, while 69 per cent of LEPs reported that they did not have sufficient staff and 28 per cent did not think that their staff were sufficiently skilled.

Additionally, the NAO has cautioned that there is also pressure on LEPs to spend their funding in the year it is allocated, which creates the risk that projects more suited to long term economic development will not be properly funded.

The report accepts that the Department for Communities and Local Government has worked to promote standards of governance and transparency in LEPs, but the NAO claims to have found considerable gaps in LEPs compliance with the Departments requirements and suggests a lack of specific quantifiable objectives for LEPs means it will be difficult to assess their contributions to economic growth.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “LEPs’ role has expanded rapidly and significantly but they are not as transparent to the public as we would expect, especially given they are now responsible for significant amounts of taxpayers’ money. While the Department has adopted a ‘light touch’ approach to overseeing Growth Deals, it is important that this doesn’t become ‘no touch’. The Department needs to do more to assure itself that the mechanisms it is relying on ensure value for money are, in fact, effective.”