Local Enterprise Partnerships must be covered by local government transparency rules and the Freedom of Information Act “to prevent billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being hidden from public scrutiny”, media organisations have argued.
The News Media Association, which represents the industry, said LEPs were set to receive £12bn in funding between 2015-16 and 2010-21 to invest in local projects and businesses.
However, it claimed that most LEPs tended to make only headline information available, “making it difficult for journalists and members of the public to scrutinise how investment decisions are being made”.
The NMA added that an examination of the organisations’ websites had revealed that only 15 of the 39 LEPs in England and Wales published registers on board members’ interests and only seven of the LEPs’ full-year reports included clear, comprehensive statements of income and expenditure including salaries.
“There were 19 LEPs that appear to publish either no breakdown of money in or out in their annual reports or filed either dormant or highly abbreviated accounts at Companies House,” the NMA said in a submission to a government consultation on local government transparency rules.
Lucy Gill, NMA legal, policy and regulatory affairs advisor, said: “LEPs wield immense power, making investment decisions worth billions of pounds to local communities, yet journalists have enormous difficulty getting hold of even basic information about how this money is being spent.
“As the role and resources of LEPs expands, there can no longer be any justification for excluding them from local government transparency standards and the Freedom of Information Act.”
The NMA said it welcomed several proposals in the consultation which would strengthen local authorities’ transparency obligations such as plans to publish additional information in areas such as land and buildings, procurement and contracts, and full transparency on revenues received from all services.
It also called for Police and Crime Commissioners to be made subject to the Local Government Transparency Code and insisted that bodies such as the Fire and Rescue Authorities must not be removed from its scope.