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'Chambers shouldn't boss LEPs'

Paul Carter
Paul Carter

by business editor Trevor Sturgess

Business groups have reacted angrily to the government's decision to allow the British Chambers of Commerce to "boss" local enterprise partnerships.

LEPs replace regional development agencies and unite business and civic chiefs in drawing up priorities for transport and other economic improvements.

However, their budgets will be much lower and bids will depend on demand, and the size of the Regional Growth Fund.

Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, said the BCC would bring together a new, national LEP network that would keep businesses at their heart.

David Frost, BCC's high-profile director-general, will chair the network. Two Kent chambers Invicta and Channel are accredited BCC members.

Mr Pickles said: "British Chambers of Commerce came forward with a very strong proposal and with its existing business network across the country it is really well placed to anchor business at the centre of new local enterprise."

But Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council who spearheaded the Kent, Essex and East Sussex LEP, said: "I don't want the BCC to tell the LEP what to do."

Miles Templeman, director-general of the Institute of Directors and chairman of Shepherd Neame, the Kent-based brewer and pub owner, denounced the move.

"We are surprised and disappointed that the Government has appointed the BCC to head this £300,000 quango with no consultation or discussion with other business groups.

"We question seriously the need to spend £300,000 of taxpayers' money on a body whose purpose is to lobby national government on behalf of LEPs.

"No case has been made to us for this arrangement."

Roger House, chairman of the Federation of Small Business in Kent and Medway, was incensed that no other organizations appeared to have been invited to undertake the new role and called for members to protest.

"We are urging small firms to write to their local councillors and MPs to express their concern that the quango will be led by just one organisation.

"A collaborative approach would have been the sensible option, to ensure that partnerships work to their full potential."

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