Humber and Lincolnshire LEPs given ultimatum: 'Sort out dispute or lose access to funding'
Ursula Lidbetter, chairman of Greater Lincolnshire LEP, has been told to sort out the boundary dispute with the Humber LEP.
By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 20 Dec 2018
The Humber versus Lincolnshire debate is being played out again – and it has come to a head. Parliamentary correspondent Patrick Daly reports.
In or out? No, it isn’t a question about membership of the European Union.
This time it is about another group, also better known by its acronym – the LEP.
As reported in August, the government shake-up of how regional funding will be distributed after Brexit will end the ability for councils to be represented by more than one local enterprise partnership (LEPs).
At present, LEPs bring businesses and politicians together to work for public and private investment in a set geographic area.
North East Lincolnshire Council and North Lincolnshire Council have been represented, since LEPs were formed in 2010, by both the Humber LEP and the Greater Lincolnshire LEP.
All those involved tend to agree that the double-team act has worked well – the councils turn to the Humber LEP when it comes to heavy industry and logistics matters, while working with the Greater Lincolnshire LEP on seafood processing, farming and other agricultural issues.
But with the Treasury looking to beef-up the role LEPs play when it changes how regional funding is allocated after Brexit, ministers are looking to end any geographical overlaps.
Councillor Rob Waltham, leader of North Lincolnshire Council, has been lobbying ministers behind the scenes on the overlap issue
The government wants it so councils can only be granted money by one LEP in future to ensure areas do not doubly benefit from the redistribution of the incoming money – cash that was once handed out by Brussels.
In most areas of the country, any overlaps have been swiftly resolved – but in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, two counties which have not always seen eye-to-eye, a solution has proved more difficult.
The Humber LEP is currently made up of Hull City Council, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, North East Lincolnshire Council and North Lincolnshire Council. Three of those – Hull, the East Riding and NELC – have expressed their support for keeping the Humber configuration together.
North Lincolnshire Council, on the other hand, has privately warned ministers, if forced to choose, it wants to go south and remain in the Greater Lincolnshire LEP.
Even that formation would not quite satisfy the Scunthorpe-run council, however – council leader, Councillor Rob Waltham, has been lobbying government ministers in an attempt to keep the status quo.
The Conservative group leader has met with both communities secretary James Brokenshire and Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry to argue for special dispensation for the south bank councils.
Mr Waltham, along with Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers, met Mr Brokenshire on December 5 in Westminster to discuss the LEP wrangle, along with other matters.
Martin Vickers, MP for Cleethorpes, also met with communities secretary James Brokenshire recently (Image: Rick Byrne)
“We stressed to the secretary of state that the two LEPS are working well with the local authorities and together,” said Mr Vickers, a Tory MP.
“Because of the historic problems with division between the Humber and Lincolnshire, we said it was better to let sleeping dogs lie.
“He [Mr Brokenshire] pointed out that the Treasury is not happy with any overlap because of the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund coming in to replace European funding. They say any overlap would blur the boundaries when it comes to funding Lincolnshire.”
When North Lincolnshire Council lobbied Mr Berry at a separate meeting, the response was said to have been similar – the junior minister too repeated the government line that there could be no overlaps.
Lord Christopher Haskins, chairman of the Humber LEP, has been part of similar meetings, according to the minutes of the LEP’s November board meeting, and was given the same reply.
“Ministers reiterated that government wanted overlaps removed,” he told board members on November 9.
Councils do not have the final say in which LEP they are represented by – the make-up needs to be agreed by the two LEPs.
Lord Christopher Haskins, chairman of the Humber LEP
Out of 38 LEPs in England, only three of them are yet to resolve their boundary overlap issues – the other two are Sheffield and the West Midlands. The thinking among some in the Humber is, if the government has refused to back down on the rules for Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street, one of the darlings of the party at the moment, then it is unlikely to bend for northern Lincolnshire.
In fact, a source close to the negotiations said ministers have become frustrated with the stalemate between the Humber and Greater Lincolnshire LEPs. The message to the pair has been that either they sort the dispute out among themselves, or else the government could step in and do it for them – although such a drastic move is thought to be a last resort.
There is a feeling that there could be repercussions for allowing the impasse to continue. Concerns were raised at the last Humber LEP board meeting that “government could direct funding away from areas of need within the Humber” if the matter of the boundaries was left unresolved.
Mr Brokenshire has written to both LEPs to confirm “access to funding in the future”, including the future Brexit money, was reliant on a resolution being found.
All sides have stayed tight-lipped throughout the talks, which have largely taken place behind closed doors. The Humber LEP, the Greater Lincolnshire LEP and North Lincolnshire Council all declined to comment on the on-going negotiations.
North East Lincolnshire Council was vague with its own response, with Councillor Ray Oxby, Labour leader of the council saying: “We remain focused on ensuring that the outcome of the LEP review promotes and enhances the best interests of North East Lincolnshire.”
Communities secretary James Brokenshire has told the LEPs funding could be restricted if the overlap dispute is not sorted
Those from Grimsby Town Hall have spoken more openly about their preference at private meetings, however. NELC told members of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP board on September 21 that, while it “recognised the functional economic geography of Greater Lincolnshire”, it “preferred to operate within a Humber model”.
Despite the difference of opinions, all involved are resolute that, whatever the outcome, the LEPs must continue to work closely together. Those behind the scenes are keen to create an east coast collaboration between the three LEPs – the Humber, Greater Lincolnshire and the York and North Yorkshire group – to lobby for the wider region’s interests.
Kishor Tailor, chief executive of the Humber LEP, told the last board meeting links could be “strengthened” in areas such as food and drink, agriculture, rural matters and tourism in future.
Cabinet minister Mr Brokenshire’s team said he would not comment on a private meeting and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government declined to comment.
That silence from the Secretary of State and his department will give neither side much hope that an exemption is in the offing. A decision will be needed on the LEPs' boundary dispute and, if the region’s reputation is to be kept intact, it will need to be made soon.