Regional policy collaboration growing

The region's five local enterprise partnerships, established in the wake of the North West Development Agency, are sharing research and lobbying government together on selected issues in an attempt to regain a powerful regional voice.

The LEPs have agreed joint activity on promoting advanced manufacturing and the nuclear industry, 'recognising the strengths in the North West that were not always recognised by government', according to Greater Manchester LEP board minutes from the meeting in June.

The LEPs have also started a pilot research project, on youth unemployment, and have agreed to share standard economic data to build a picture of the regional economy. The youth unemployment report is due to be produced shortly for the Regional Leaders Board, the group of local authority and business leaders which succeeded 4NW and the North West Regional Assembly. The Regional Leaders Board meets quarterly and is administered on a skeleton staff from St Helens Council, where council chief executive Carole Hudson is secretary of the Regional Leaders Board. 4NW was disbanded in 2010 as part of the public sector cuts.

The five LEPs – Cheshire & Warrington, Lancashire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region – have also agreed to develop intelligence needed to bid for local control of post-2013 European aid programmes.

European funding is an obvious area for region-wide working. The North West European Strategy Group, established in 2011 and chaired by Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, had agreed eight priorities for future investment with the Regional Leaders Board.

Bernstein wants 'future collaboration on European funding [to] be done via a bottom-up approach around issues where it made sense to collaborate such as transport, science and innovation'.

For the 2014-2020 European Regional Development Fund programme, the five sub-region LEPs are working on a set of common principles and priorities and a lobbying plan to pursue with government and Europe.

There is a fear the ERDF programme could be managed more from London or Brussels in the future. Management has been on a regional basis in the past and discussions with the European Commission are ongoing about the shape of ERDF after 2013.

Bernstein is likely to promote an 'integrated territorial investment' route for managing EU funds post 2013, where European cash matches existing local authority and LEP priorities.

A regional bid is also being compiled for a large broadband project funded by ERDF, believed to be for £40m. There is currently £100m of unspent ERDF money that must be allocated by the end of 2013.

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