Calls for county to take lead over economic future

MINISTERS must give Norfolk the keys to delivering jobs and growth by backing a bid to put the power to shape the economic agenda into the hands of the county.

MINISTERS must give Norfolk the keys to delivering jobs and growth by backing a bid to put the power to shape the economic agenda into the hands of the county.

That is the message being sent to business secretary Vince Cable and communities secretary Eric Pickles today from a coalition of leading businesses, councils, and all of the county's MPs.

They have thrown their support behind the creation of a Norfolk local enterprise partnership (LEP) which would have the muscle to deliver jobs in the area and work on key projects such as dualling of the A11, better broadband links, housing growth, investment, skills and jobs.

The proposed partnerships are the government's alternative to regional bodies such as the East of England Development Agency, which are to be scrapped as part of a drive to devolve decision making to the local level.

The past few days has seen a flurry of activity as bid teams rush to send their proposals to ministers before today's submission deadline.

Supporters of the Norfolk proposal include leading firms such as Aviva, Bernard Matthews, Bertrams, Virgin Money, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors and Shaping Norfolk's Future.

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The Partnership also includes Norfolk County Council, and six district councils, except Norwich, have also signalled support - if it gets the green light.

But the government has also received two rival bids including a CBI-backed proposal for an East Anglia LEP which would cover Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of North Essex including Colchester, which is an option favoured by Suffolk County Council, and Norwich City Council, which believes that it makes greater economic sense for large towns and cities in the region to work together. Firms such as Adnams and Anglian Water have signalled their support for that option.

In the west of the region there is also support for Greater Cambridge/Greater Peterborough bid which would take in King's Lynn, and council areas covering King's Lynn and St Edmundsbury, which has also attracted the interest of council leaders in West Norfolk. The success of the bids could hinge on how many the government is willing to sanction, with speculation that Mr Pickles' department would consider up to 50, while Mr Cable and the Treasury are looking at around half of that number, because of fears they could prove costly and the relationship with government unmanageable.

Peter Barry, Norfolk Local Enterprise Partnership Transitional Board Chair and Managing Director of Pasta Foods, said the aim of the Norfolk bid was to develop a “powerful and highly effective partnership” between the public and private sectors.

“By working hand in hand, we can realise the resources and unlock the potential of the region, break down barriers to, and promote, sustainable economic growth - with an eye towards the demands of the future,” Mr Barry said. “With the demise of the regional development agencies we have to become the catalyst for change that supports business growth in all areas of Norfolk and for all sizes of business. This means we really have to address issues of infrastructure such as road, rail, utilities, communications and broadband performance.

“I have been very encouraged by the enormous level of support from Norfolk based companies for the Norfolk based LEP proposal and I am very grateful for the work done by the Norfolk Institute of Directors, the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce and the Norfolk Federation of Small Businesses, who between them cover a membership of 6,000 businesses in the county. I am also grateful to the many individuals from businesses and local authorities that have demonstrated their support and enthusiasm.”

Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said a county LEP made more business sense.

“Businesses do not limit themselves by boundaries, but the majority of the Norfolk business community feels strongly that the structure of the new LEP needs to be along Norfolk's county boundary with strong working alliances with other areas within the East of England and beyond,” she said. “Business feels that Norfolk is a strong economic area in its own right but most important a Norfolk LEP will be able to be flexible and make fast decisions without having to be embroiled in lengthy compromise discussions with other areas especially with non-Norfolk local authorities. Business knows what it needs and this is our opportunity to change things and make them happen.”

Steve Sharratt, chairman of Space for Ideas, and a member of the East of England CBI, who is leading the East Anglia bid said that option would be better placed to help Norfolk and Suffolk gets its voice heard both nationally and internationally.

“We have a real issue with getting our voice heard and our message across and if the region fragments into small units, we will simply end up getting ignored,” Mr Sharratt said. “What the patch doesn't need is another Eeda, but there are strategic issues such as the A11, A14, Broadband, renewable energy, and inward investment and funding, that really cannot be done at a localised level.

“What it needs is a focused business driven entity that has some clear goals and programme and at the same time brings in the broad pan-regional appeal and support of East Anglia.”

Steve Bowyer, head of economic development at Opportunity Peterborough, which is co-ordinating the Greater Cambridge/Greater Peterborough option, said the LEP plans for the west provided an exciting opportunity to think beyond existing council boundariesand look at 'cross-border' options which made more sense economically.

“What we have focused on very much is the economic geography and how we can work together to achieve growth, less than very strict borders and local authority boundaries,” Mr Bowyer said. “We have got good relationships with King's Lynn, this isn't in anyway threatening, it's about what makes economic sense for all the partners and King's Lynn has been very positively engaged with the development of the LEP.”

Proposals approved by the government will then move on to form a transitional LEP Board develop the detailed structure and oversee the submission of outline bids to the Regional Growth Fund by the end of December. This will act as a 'shadow LEP' until one is formally established on 1 April 2011.