Enterprise zones need consideration, says LEP chairman

Christine Gaskell, chairman of the local enterprise partnership for Cheshire & Warrington, has not ruled out the board applying for enterprise zone status before the summer – and hinted that Crewe is the likely contender.

Cheshire East Council, one of three local authorities represented in the Cheshire & Warrington LEP, is currently putting together a development framework aimed at attracting investment to Crewe.

Gaskell said: "Any market distortion is more likely to be seen at a local level than with adjoining sub-regions. There is also a temptation to assume that businesses are solely attracted to a location by lower property costs – but we know this is not the case. Increasingly, businesses are looking for a skilled and reliable workforce. They also need good communication links especially to their customers and suppliers. And quality of life benefits should not be overlooked.

"Cheshire and Warrington can offer all of these – so we continue to have a competitive and compelling offer, especially to businesses in knowledge based and high value sectors. It is too early to say if we will apply [for enterprise zone status] or not but serious consideration will be given to this."

The Government is using LEPs to oversee enterprise zones as well as nominate areas for its target of 21 zones.

Gaskell, a member of the board of Bentley Motors in Crewe, was formally confirmed as chairman of the LEP only two weeks ago by the Government.

She met Business Minister Mark Prisk recently to press Cheshire and Warrington's business case.

Gaskell added: "It was a timely opportunity to be able to put our case across to the Minister. We have a clear path for growth and job creation in Cheshire and Warrington.

"Over 100 people applied from the private sector to be on the Cheshire & Warrington local enterprise partnership board so we have got to harness all that enthusiasm that has been shown and start lobbying these people for their views so they are still included within any decisions we make.

"The three local authorities involved in the LEP are promising funding but we've still got to leverage them and make sure we get more resource, access to the Government and get the Government listening."

The local enterprise partnership for Cheshire & Warrington has 14 members from both the public and private sector, including the leaders of the three local authorities for the area, sitting on its board.

Regional development agencies are closing in a year, with local enterprise partnerships set to replace them when they do.

Gaskell said: "What needs to be said is that we're not the NWDA, not structured the same, nor do we have the same funding that they had.

"If, within 18 months, we are delivering nothing then that would be the time to judge us. We have an aim of setting out four or five clear priorities over the next few meetings."

The Cheshire & Warrington local enterprise partnership is holding its next board meetings in April and May.

A total of 31 LEPs were approved across England last year, including ones for Greater Manchester, Cumbria and Liverpool city region, as well as Cheshire & Warrington.

LEPs will aim to bring civic leaders and local businesses together to stimulate local economic growth.

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