If anyone had asked me a couple of weeks ago how public money is spent locally, I would have assumed anything not handled by central government, would go to big, well known institutions like the Police and the NHS, and the rest would be sorted out by local government. That, after all, is a big part of what we vote for. We elect people to make financial decisions on behalf of our community.
Turns out I was wrong.
Rather a lot of money, including money from Europe, goes to Local Enterprise Partnerships. I’d never heard of them before, and I’m not oblivious to politics. Who gets to be in one of those, then? Who do they answer to? How are they accountable? We have The Gloucestershire Local Enterprise Partnership; that was news to me. How would a local business or enterprise go about tapping into that? I have no idea.
Here’s a bit from a recent Stroud District Green Party press release…
Martin Whiteside, the Green Party councillor on Stroud District Council’s (SDC) Environment and Planning Committee, said: 'The Local Enterprise Partnership and similar bodies springing up around the country, spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, appear to be an immaculate re-conception of the quango system. What is most sinister about them is the lack of democratic accountability and the dominant role of unelected and unaccountable business people spending our money.'
Molly Scott Cato, Leader of the Green Group on SDC, added: 'My particular concern is the Local Enterprise Partnership, which appears to have emerged from a transfiguration of the old G1st. The process by which this body has come into existence is unclear and its governance arrangements are murky. This is not acceptable for a body that will make decisions about the investment of all the national infrastructure money in our county, as well as significant European funds. In addition, money that was previously in the budget of SDC, arising from the New Homes Bonus, will now be top-sliced by this quango to the tune of 40%'
Greens will seek to improve representation and accountability of all bodies responsible for spending public money.
Pausing to pick over Molly’s words… Stroud District Council was going to get money from the New Homes Bonus, and now 40% of that pot gets creamed off by unelected people in an unaccountable organization where no one who was elected locally has any say whatsoever over how that money gets spent. The government did not even tell us in any way we might have noticed or understood, that this kind of thing would be happening. I am deeply uneasy about this and I do not think it bodes well for the future.
If you want to get a more in-depth look at the issues, hope over to Molly Scott Cato’s blog http://www.gaianeconomics.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/how-public-is-public-money_28.html