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SMEs should have greater say in devolution of England, say EEF

Small businesses need to have a bigger voice in England’s devolution plans given that they have the most to gain from the process, according to UK manufacturing body, EEF.

The UK’s largest sectoral employers’ organisation believes giving more powers to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will support growth in the private sector through investment and job creation; enabling the localism the Government is desperately trying to achieve in this term.

However, ahead of the debate on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill this week, EEF published a paper describing relations between businesses and local authorities ‘weak’ and claimed the former is being left behind in devolution plans.

It’s especially concerning for smaller companies who historically have been the most disengaged with the devolution process.

EEF is calling on local authorities to prioritise the devolution of transport in their negotiations with Government. The ability to gain investment in transport will boost productivity, deliver financial returns and rebuild the trust of local businesses across the country.

Terry Scuoler, chief executive, EEF, said: “The devolution of power to local areas in England must not be seen as an end in itself but a process aimed at tailoring local business environments to make them better places for business growth.

“Ultimately, local decision-makers and businesses will need a sustained dialogue on how they can make their local areas places in which businesses can prosper.

“To date, however, business has felt disengaged from the process of devolution. For it in England to succeed, business must be fully signed up as partners in the negotiation and delivery of devolution deals.

“This must include a key role for LEPs and a focus on areas where tangible outcomes can be delivered in the near term, especially in transport infrastructure.”

The EEF also claims there is a confusion around the reasons local authorities are asking for devolution from Westminster, suggesting it could be more to do with power and control than regional economic growth.

Additionally, there are fears that local authorities have a limited capacity to deliver and EEF fears this could result in higher costs and duplicated efforts for local businesses; most notably in areas involving apprenticeships, adult skills and innovation.

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