News publishers warn that billions in public money hidden from scrutiny via Local Enterprise Partnerships

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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, which are voluntary partnerships between local authorities and businesses, are to receive £12 billion in public funding between 2015 and 2020 to invest in local projects and businesses.

But the NMA has said most LEPs only make headline information available, making it difficult for journalists and members of the public to scrutinise how investment decisions are being made.

Only 15 of the 39 LEPs in England and Wales publish online registers on board members’ interests and only seven of the LEPs’ full-year reports included clear, comprehensive statements of income and expenditure including salaries, according to research into LEP websites by the NMA.

In a submission to a government consultation on local government transparency rules, it said there were 19 LEPs that failed to publish either a breakdown of income and expenditure in their annual reports or filed either dormant or highly abbreviated accounts at Companies House.

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 said it has welcomed several proposals in the consultation which would strengthen local authorities’ transparency obligations.

These include 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 the association added that 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.

LEPs were established in 2011 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to help determine local economic priorities and lead economic growth and job creation within local areas.

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