NMA: LEPs Must be Opened Up to Public Scrutiny

Local Enterprise Partnerships must be covered by local government transparency rules and the Freedom of Information Act to prevent billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being hidden from public scrutiny, the News Media Association has said today.

LEPs are to receive £12 billion in funding between 2015-16 and 2010-21 to invest in local projects and businesses but most LEPs tend to make only headline information available, making it difficult for journalists and members of the public to scrutinise how investment decisions are being made.

Looking at the LEPs’ websites, the NMA found that only 15 of the 39 LEPs in England and Wales publish registers on board members’ interests and only seven of the LEPs’ full-year reports included clear, comprehensive statements of income and expenditure including salaries.

There were 19 LEPs that appear to publish either no breakdown of money in or out in their annual reports or filed either dormant or highly abbreviated accounts at Companies House, the NMA said in a submission to a government consultation on local government transparency rules.

Lucy Gill, NMA legal, policy and regulatory affairs advisor, said: “LEPs wield immense power, making investment decisions worth billions of pounds to local communities, yet journalists have enormous difficulty getting hold of even basic information about how this money is being spent.

“As the role and resources of LEPs expands, there can no longer be any justification for excluding them from local government transparency standards and the Freedom of Information Act.”

The NMA has welcomed several proposals in the consultation which would strengthen local authorities’ transparency obligations such as plans to publish additional information in areas such as land and buildings, procurement and contracts, and full transparency on revenues received from all services.

But powerful public organisations such as LEPs and Police and Crime Commissioners should be made subject to the Local Government Transparency Code and bodies such as the Fire and Rescue Authorities must not be removed from its scope, the NMA added.