'Serious questions need serious answers' say MPs after national review into concerns surrounding Peterborough's local enterprise partnership

Stephen Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire.
Stephen Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire.
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MPs have welcomed the findings of a national review into the workings of Peterborough's local enterprise partnership, but say serious questions still need answering.

The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) was the subject of an investigation by the National Audit Office after concerns were raised by North East Cambridgeshire MP Stephen Barclay.

During the investigation, which began last March, government funding of £37 million for the LEP was frozen.

The review states Mr Barclay's concerns focused on the way the LEP managed conflicts of interest, a perceived lack of transparency about the way it made decisions on investment and a perceived lack of clarity about LEP’s relationship with local developers and lobbying groups.

It says Mr Barclay's specific concern was in relation to any interest the chair of LEP, Mark Reeve, had in MM(UK) Limited’s commitment to invest in a new facility in the Alconbury Weald Enterprise Campus local enterprise zone.

It states that the LEP chair is a shareholder and chairman of the board of directors of construction company, Chalcroft Limited, which secured the contract for the design and construction of the new facility.

However, the NAO review states it found no evidence that public funds had been misused.

It states that LEP with Cambridgeshire County Council has now developed a plan to drive improvements in the governance of LEP and in the council’s oversight of the agency,

The plan includes ways to improve transparency, decision-making and value for money and sets out expected completion dates for 22 identified improvement areas.

The NAO report states: "As of September 2017 the plan shows four completed actions.

"The plan aims to make decision-making more transparent, and to improve the oversight by the accountable body."

Following the publication of the review, Mr Barclay said: "Having raised concerns in January and asked the NAO to investigate in March, and after repeated public statements by the LEP that my concerns were inaccurate and misleading, it took a further six months before the County Council and LEP put in place the necessary improvements.

"The LEP is now on its third Assurance Framework within 12 months.

He added: "The NAO further note that “GCGP LEP recognises it needs to improve its processes. GCGP LEP has revised its conflicts of interest policy and procedures”.

"As such I hope we can now move forward positively to ensure Fenland receives a better response from the LEP in the future."

North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara said: "The results of this report are shocking and validate what my colleague Stephen Barclay MP has been saying.

"There are some serious questions which need serious answers, especially as Steve has been highlighting the areas for quite a while.

"This cannot be allowed to happen again and lessons need to be learned and acted upon."

A spokesperson for the LEP said: "The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP takes all matters relating to governance and transparency very seriously, and has acted in a swift and appropriate manner to effectively implement suggested improvements to their processes well in advance of the publication of the NAO report.

"All of these issues have been comprehensively addressed by the LEP.

"Following the publication of the Mary Ney Review, which sets out additional enhancements to the governance and transparency of all LEPs, the team are reviewing the recommendations to ensure they remain fully compliant at all times.

"It is important to stress that both the NAO Report and DCLG’s initial review of the LEP, and findings shared with the LEP Board, stated that there was ‘no evidence of misuse of public funds’."

The spokesperson added: "Government has not yet unfrozen the remainder of the funds, and we are in regular communication about when this may happen.

"We do not have a fixed date as yet."

It was announced last week that the LEP chair, Mr Reeve, had decided to stand down at the next board meeting on December 19. The LEP's chief executive, Neil Darwin, resigned last April.

Related:

Cambridgeshire suffering ‘reputation damage’ says mayor as government withholds £37m growth funding for enterprise partnership

Chairman of prominent Cambridgeshire enterprise partnership announces he is to stand down