Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP defends itself against criticism by MP Steve Barclay: the response covers Wisbech 2020, agri tech and a Chatteris firm moving to Alconbury
PUBLISHED: 11:46 25 January 2017 | UPDATED: 11:46 25 January 2017
The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP (GCGP) has defended itself – and its spending in Fenland – in a statement issued to counter what they feel are unfair criticisms by MP Steve Barclay.
A statement from the GCGP said that following on from a recent Wisbech 2020 Vision meeting where Steve Barclay MP raised a number of concerns about the commitment of the LEP to the Fenland area, and the list of questions from Mr Barclay that followed via his blog and on Twitter “ we wanted to clarify a few important matters.
“As we have consistently stated, we remain very active across Fenland, particularly Wisbech, at the request of partners and are fully engaged with the Wisbech 2020 work.”
THE FULL LIST OF QUESTIONS BY THE MP FOLLOW – WITH THE RESPONSES NOW PROVIDED BY THE GCGP.
Will the LEP Board at their meeting on Tuesday 17th January 2017 agree an immediate small grant to pay for rail consultants to revise the Wisbech Rail Benefits Cost Ratio?
GCGP funded consultants in 2015/16 to undertake the ‘GRIP2’ stage of investigation into Wisbech to March rail reopening. This was followed by work by Network Rail on Level Crossing costs, an updating of the consultant report and a further technical workshop led by Network Rail on alternative Level Crossing solutions.
The GCGP Board would need a proposal from delivery partners justifying funding for consultants to look again at the BCRs arising from this technical work. We currently have no proposal or costing of this work, but would be willing to look favourably provided it was clear that there are new issues to address.
As Mr Barclay’s first question suggests, further work is required to understand the scope of the project before GCGP can take a final decision.
GCGP is working to ensure that that the Ely Area Improvement work is taken forward, so that it potentially removes the additional constraint of lack of ‘train paths’ to/from Cambridge which would improve Benefits Cost Ratios (BCR) required by Government for the proposed Wisbech line.
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree to authorise the Chief Executive to request from Government part of the available £10 million allocated to fund the next phase of work (known as GRIP 3), as soon as a BCR of 1.5 or above is achieved?
Before decisions are made on the £10.5 million allocated to fund the next phase of work, GCGP needs to review the outcome of the Wisbech Access Strategy work which Cambridgeshire County Council and Fenland District Council are due to report on in June 2017, as per our agreed Growth Deal.
Government agreed an initial £1 million to progress development work on the Wisbech Access Strategy (this included £500,000 for the rail GRIP2 work). The further £10.5 million was provisionally allocated on the basis of examining a package of measures providing for housing and employment growth at Wisbech by 2021 and relieving current congestion problems:
• New bridge over River Nene and link road from bridge to A1101
• Road links to new employment area to the south of the town
• A47 junctions package (assumed to be Highways England funded)
Correspondence from Government suggests that they are prepared to be more flexible on whether this can also cover revenue work on strategic schemes. GCGP is seeking to clarify whether this also includes the revising down of agreed housing and employment outcomes by 2021 for potential longer term gains.
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree in principle to fund the next phase of work required to dual sections of the A47 with a high or very high BCR, using part of the £10 million allocated for Wisbech transport improvements?
GCGP’s Growth Deal was predicated on Highways England investing in the A47 as part of the national strategic route network. Government did not allocate funding directly to GCGP to undertake dualling work on the A47.
In April 2015, an “Initial Options Assessment for the A47 Thorney to Wisbech Walton” was completed by Cambridgeshire County Council in partnership with Fenland District Council. This high level study considered a range of options for dualling the A47 as outlined in the study, including dualling options from Thorney to Guyhirn and Guyhirn to Wisbech and for particular stretches such as Wisbech to Walton Highway, and also considered the potential impacts of a replacement roundabout at Elm High Road roundabout.
The Study concluded that dualling of the route offered poor or low value for money. The main factors affecting this are that the road is mainly operating within capacity and the construction costs for improvements are expected to be high, given the local conditions.
Although the report is in more detail than any investigation previously carried out by Highways England, it is broadly in line with their findings which show that the benefits to dualling this section of the A47 are to be had in future years rather than currently as the route is generally operating within capacity.
Cambridgeshire County Council continues to work with Highways England to develop improvements on the A47 in Cambridgeshire and in particular at Guyhirn Junction A47/A141 which was highlighted as a scheme in the Road Investment Strategy December 2014.
The Wisbech Access Strategy will investigate potential improvements to the A47 roundabouts on the Wisbech Bypass to see how these can be bettered to support housing and employment growth in Wisbech.
Will the LEP Board request the Chief Executive to prepare a paper reviewing whether allocating the majority of the £10 million capital on minor road schemes will deliver the strategic change Fenland requires, compared with progressing Wisbech Rail and the dualling of sections of the A47 with a view to unlocking future investment?
As set out above, GCGP will be considering the outcome of the Wisbech Access Strategy when it is completed. We understand from Fenland District Council that we can expect to put a paper to the GCGP Board in June 2017.
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree to set out what work it has funded since July 2014 to progress the sections of the A47 dualling which the Mouchel report identified as having a very high BCR above 8, or why it has not offered any funding?
GCGP has received no Growth Deal bids for funding to dual the A47. Also, as set out above the Initial Options Study concluded that dualling of sections of the A47 as listed above was poor or low value for money at this time.
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree to provide a grant and/or loan to assist Wisbech 2020 with the preparation of its bid for a Garden Town, and do so to at least the same level of grant and/or loan provided to those development bids in Downham Market, Norfolk?
GCGP has been part of the Garden Town discussions from the early stages. At the Wisbech Garden Town Steering Group on the 12th December 2016, the GCGP team member present made it clear that we would consider a proposal to contribute to strategy development work (a proposal has yet to be received).
Initial discussions have also been undertaken with a developer to unlock a stalled site.
No funding has been agreed to support bid development in Downham Market, Norfolk by the LEP.
The GCGP Board will be considering a proposal at their March Board meeting.
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree to publish, as a matter of urgency, a full list of all declarations of conflicts of interest, and declarations of corporate hospitality, made by current and former members of the Board, and the date these declarations are made?
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday further agree, that if a Board Member has or had a personal interest linked directly or indirectly to a funding decision taken by the LEP Board, they should issue a personal statement setting out a clear chronology of events, including the date on which they first became aware of any discussions relating to their personal interest?
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday issue a statement confirming whether any member of the Board has expressed a concern regarding potential conflicts of interest, the date these concerns were raised, and the action taken?
Comments have been made about the lack of scrutiny and visibility of GCGP’s decisions which are inaccurate. The LEP is accountable through a number of mechanisms including:
• Cambridgeshire County Council – the LEP’s Accountable Body. All LEPs are required to have an Accountable Body; this is usually the senior local authority in the area. The Accountable Body reviews all LEP decisions and holds all investment money. Sign off processes are in place before any GCGP Board supported projects receive funding.
• A Leaders Committee – GCGP initiated the establishment of a Leaders Committee voluntarily at its formation. This approach has since been replicated by many other LEPs across England.
The Leaders Committee gives all Leaders (whether they are a Board Member or not) the opportunity to comment and shape GCGP strategy and decisions.
• Attending individual Local Authority Scrutiny Committee meetings – GCGP representatives are requested to appear at partner Council meetings. This request is always met.
• Scrutiny by Government – The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have attended every LEP Board to provide oversight of LEP activities. We have regularly quarterly meetings with BEIS to review GCGP activities. In addition, we have an Annual Review with BEIS to monitor progress year on year.
With regards to conflicts of interest, Board Members are asked to complete an annual submission outlining their interests outside of their LEP role for audit purposes. At each Board meeting, Board Members are asked to confirm if they have any conflicts of interest relating to the items on the agenda. If any conflicts of interest are declared, they are noted clearly within the minutes and the Board Member will not participate in the decision making around these items.
We are in the process of undertaking our annual review of the GCGP Register of Interests with all Board Members and will be publishing the latest version on our website soon.
No Board Member has expressed a ‘concern’ regarding potential conflicts of interest at our meetings or to our Senior Management Team. However, Board Member Cllr Count has requested the publication of the LEP Board Members Register of Interest on our website.
We will be publishing a full register of interests of our Board Members on our website.
To date, the only “Corporate Hospitality” received by our Board Members whilst undertaking their duties as a LEP Board Member have been to attend business focused events to help raise the profile of the LEP and broaden our business engagement, such as Business Award Ceremonies or Business Representative Organisation lunches, when they have received an invite from key partners, such as local authorities, Chamber of Commerce, FSB etc...
Given the strategic importance of Agri-Tech to Fenland, will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree to issue a specific statement setting out:
a) Why Fenland failed to secure £500k to secure a Food and Drink Skills Hub that it was “promised”.
GCGP held an open competition in 2013 to establish an Agri-Tech Hub for the East. Two bids came forward, a multi-partnership bid for Soham led by NIAB and a skills-based proposal submitted by Produce World working with Fenland District Council. A full funding panel comprising sector experts was held to take a final decision on which project should proceed.
After careful consideration, the Soham scheme proceeded with unanimous support, with its clear approach to supporting the sector and business growth. The Fenland proposal, by comparison, was underdeveloped, lacked commercial engagement, and had less secure buy-in from the sector.
Despite this, GCGP committed to supporting the sector and Fenland based businesses. More detailed conversations have taken place with Produce World concerning the rejected proposal, as well as wider engagement with the Agri-Tech community in Fenland and wider GCGP area. The outcome of this work was confirmation that the sector did not require a new Skills Centre, as many felt they could offer a new programme within their own facilities. It was also felt that Fenland had capacity within existing facilities to accommodate Agri-Tech activity, such as the Boathouse in Wisbech and South Fens Business Centre in Chatteris.
The request from Agri-Tech businesses during the consultation was support in tackling Gangs and assisting vulnerable workers instead as a more pressing issue for the second. Secondly, helping attract young people into the sector by supporting a better understanding of careers available. A response by GCGP to these issues is set out below concerning Modern Slavery.
b) What proportion of the £4.5m bids approved, and those in the pipeline are in Fenland?
Across all areas in GCGP we are in conversations with local partners to promote the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative, we would agree more could be done in partnership to drive up applications from the Fenland area. To address this, the Chief Executive set up a meeting before Christmas with Cllrs Butcher, Sutton and Fenland District Council Director, Gary Garford to establish how we can proactively pick up more Fenland based applications. This meeting is scheduled for Monday 23rd January.
We have already provided £46,500 of funding to Law Fertilisers based near March to extend their current facilities to house new plant, offices and labs, as well as funding to purchase and install new plant and equipment to support their growth. This is expected to create six new jobs and protect a further 14 jobs.
In addition to this, we have two further Fenland projects working on their full funding applications after being given the approval at Pre-Qualification Questionnaire stage (the first stage of the funding process).
We continue to support as many R&D and growth projects as we can that will deliver economic benefit to both this area and to the sector. Importantly, we apply appropriate
scrutiny to all of the applications seeking grant support from the scheme. This means that, unfortunately and inevitably, not all the applications we receive would be approved.
c) Why there was a £750,000 under spend and how this was communicated, and why it is in Cambridgeshire’s interest to re-allocate it on a “location neutral” basis when Anglia LEP had no under spend?
The Agri-Tech Programme is an effective product that is meeting the needs of businesses. If they were all approved, then allocated and pipeline projects (either business growth or R&D projects) would exceed the remaining £750,000 in the Programme (of which £500,000 was anticipated for the Training Centre).
Given the views from the sector on the Training Centre above, the Board is being asked to make the full £750,000 available for pipeline projects. In fact, the Board is also being asked to extend the scheme by allocating it a further £1.5m for
the GCGP area.
The Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative currently operates jointly over two LEP areas (GCGP and New Anglia). As it is driven by business demand (local businesses apply and each application is considered on its merits by an expert Panel) both LEPs agreed that the Programme should respond to this business demand and be ‘location-neutral’ in terms of allocations.
The Programme relies on businesses wanting to invest in growth or R&D projects, which may not come forward uniformly across the different Local Authority areas.
Growing Places Funding and Growth Deal Funding
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree to issue a statement listing all the projects it has funded to date, the amount of capital or loan allocated, the date on which the investment decision as taken, and the district in which the recipient is based?
The LEP currently showcases their projects and successes via it’s Achievements Map – an interactive map found on their website at: http://www.gcgp.co.uk/yourlep/successes-to-date/
The map shows the wide variety of projects we have supported across our area, and people can click on the icons (and zoom in) to find out more about each individual project.
For ease of reading, we have also attached a list of projects funded by the LEP and their geographic location as Appendix One.
Will the LEP Board agree on Tuesday to set out the project revenue from business rates it expect to receive from the current Enterprise Zones, and how much of this future revenue has been allocated to specific schemes?
Government legislation for Enterprise Zones enables businesses moving into any Enterprise Zone in the country up to 100% business rates discount for up to five years (up to the State Aid limit and capped at £55,000 per annum).
It is important to note that all negotiations and packages for companies moving to either Alconbury Weald Enterprise Campus or Cambridge Compass Enterprise Zone are made by their owners/developers and not by the LEP.
These are private, corporate arrangements made between the company and developers/ owners, and not managed or funded by the LEP.
In the MMUK case, GCGP were only advised of the company’s relocation once Urban&Civic, Alconbury’s owners, had completed the deal to move to
the Enterprise Zone.
It is not a matter of policy, as Mr Barclay asserts, that the LEP has targeted businesses within a 30 mile radius of the Enterprise Zone to encourage them to move there, not least because the LEP has carried out no direct marketing for Alconbury Weald Enterprise Campus. A Memorandum of Understanding is also in place between the LEP and Urban&Civic which sets out key principles to avoid local displacement and “rate-hopping” companies moving to the site, and a Steering Group, which includes representatives from Cambridgeshire County Council, is in place to assess Enterprise Zone activity.
With regards to allocations already made from Enterprise Zone Revenue Income, up to £50 million has been committed towards the upgrading of the A14. This commitment was made after Government agreed to fund £1.4bn of the £1.5bn development costs, if £100 million could be raised locally to fund scheme delivery. As the A14 had been flagged by businesses as the key priority for the LEP to tackle, the LEP Board agreed to contribute up to £50m from future Enterprise Zone receipts
from Alconbury Weald Enterprise Campus, with no more than 30% of the receipts in any year going towards the repayment, with payments not commencing until work on the A14 is completed.
Initial appraisals of the projected Business Rates receipts from Alconbury Weald Enterprise Campus showed up to £177 million in total over a period of 25 years.
The forecast return to the area from the Cambridge Compass Enterprise Zone (set up this financial year) is £65 million over 25 years, of which approximately £30 million will be available for the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP to invest in the area. The LEP has not pre-committed these potential Business Rates receipts yet.
With regards to the placement of the Enterprise Zones to date. We note the suggestion that GCGP only invests in ‘rich’ areas.
Evidence within this response will demonstrate the funding received in Fenland and a comparison with other districts.
The Government’s approach to Enterprise Zones has been competition based. We therefore had to present and evidence a stronger proposal than other parts of the country.
Alconbury Weald was presented in Wave 1 and proved a strong approach compared to other national proposals. Wave 2 was based on a similar competition. During the process, we were advised on three clear determining criteria. These being:
• Small rural sites
• Sites that were ready to deliver
• Sites that the market would respond to quickly
The LEP sought proposals from each local authority and then commissioned Carter Jonas to carry out an independent review of the commercial detail of each site. The proposal from Fenland did not meet the required tests under points 2 and 3 that Government would look at. GCGP therefore presented a case for the strongest sites based on a clear strategy of delivering more of Cambridge’s growth in a wider geography. This process will be incremental, but does form part of a wider strategy to draw growth into the wider area that can be evidenced as currently not coming to the UK if it cannot relocate to the centre of Cambridge or the Science Parks.
With regards to future Enterprise Zones, GCGP has been proactively looking at Enterprise Zones across the Greater Peterborough area. Advice from CLG and BEIS was clear, we had to wait for the Devolution Deal to be signed off and then receive confirmation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s office before commencing work on a further set of Enterprise Zones.
Colleagues at Fenland District Council have been involved in this discussion and will be attending a meeting on 6th February to discuss potential sites. GCGP has suggested sites in Wisbech and Chatteris to Council colleagues. It will remain a decision for Fenland District Council which sites will put submitted to Government from the local area.
Fenland has previously had an opportunity to bid for Food Enterprise Zones. The Government stipulated one condition that any site designated would need to adopt a Local Development Order to help accelerate delivery, which would help relax planning in certain cases. In Fenland District Council’s submission to GCGP it was clearly stated that the Council could not accept a Local Development Order and could manage the Zone through existing planning policies. This proposal was rejected by Government. All successful Food Enterprise Zones accepted a Local Development
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree to consult with councils and the public in Cambridgeshire regarding the alignment of the LEP area with the new Combined Authority?
Local Economic Partnerships were set up as ‘economic sub regions’ with the Minister at the time Eric Pickles keen to avoid ‘administrative boundaries’. The geography of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP was determined at inception by its local authority partners. The geography recognises the real economic geography of our area and covers 15 local authorities.
The links between Fenland, West Norfolk and South Holland are clear with mutual relationship between businesses, workforce and issues facing each economy. We therefore do not see the geography of GCGP as an issue.
Will the LEP Board on Tuesday agree to issue a statement clarifying why a £300,000 skills hub to help tackle modern slavery was not located in Fenland, given the area’s national leadership on this issue?
This proposal has been brought to GCGP by the Fresh Produce Consortium, which is a national body which happens to be based in Peterborough. There is no plan to set up a physical building as a Hub for this work, the funds will deliver training support to businesses and we anticipate a significant number of these will be from Fenland.
The programme has yet to commence, however the Gangmaster Licensing Authority has been secured as the lead delivery partner. The Authority has been an instrumental partner in the Operation Pheasant.
The Authority, supported by the Fresh Produce Consortium, is seeking to improve business owners understanding of the issue, therein being completely compatible with Operation Pheasant. We would ensure connections to additional Operation Pheasant partners once the scheme is established.
Will the LEP Board agree on Tuesday to review their current business engagement with firms in Chatteris, in particular ERMS UK and Metalcraft, and how this might be improved?
The LEP was proactive in meeting with ERMS, who had not heard of the LEP previously. Our Chief Executive attended two meetings with Ian Smith, ERMS Managing Director, to discuss options for the MMUK site. Advice was given to talk to Property Agents, and details of a Property Agent that could support ERMS with advice and expertise were provided.
Similarly, connections were made to a Business Development Consultant as ERMS had indicated an interest in moving into some of the vacant space. We have checked with both contacts that were provided to ERMS, neither were progressed by ERMS.
We understand the MMUK will be retaining a presence on the site and we would be pleased to engage Ian Smith again.
Stainless Metalcraft presented a funding request for £3m of improvements to their site in Chatteris to the LEP. The LEP held conversations around how State Aid issues could be appropriately handled, two options presented were:
i) Set up a Skills base for all local businesses in the Chatteris area – thereby avoiding State Aid issues, this was not supported by Stainless Metalcraft.
ii) Accept a loan on preferential terms – again to avoid State Aid issues, this again was not supported.
State Aid is a European ruling that is imposed and monitored by Government. The ruling allows grants of up to £140,000 for general improvements to a business. This is due to Ant Competitiveness laws at European Level. We cannot provide any direct funding to businesses that contravenes the financial limit.
A meeting was arranged before Christmas to meet with Stainless Metalcraft on Thursday 19th January 2017 to continue this dialogue further.
The LEP does not feel it needs to change its approach to business engagement. We have good connections to business, which are generally only restricted by our limited capacity. We work closely with local authorities, business representative and membership organisations, and MPs across the GCGP area, where this works effectively.
We do rely on referrals from partners to highlight the key opportunities and areas for development in their locality, and this could be strengthened in Fenland.