QUESTIONS are to be asked about the way an organisation that distributes tens of millions of pounds of government money to projects around Coventry and Warwickshire operates.
Stratford District Council leader, Cllr Chris Saint, said this week that he wanted to clarify the decision-making process of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) which, since 2014, has been given £131million by the government.
It comes after the public-private sector organisation announced unexpectedly that it was withdrawing £200,000 of funding for a major regeneration project in Stratford district.
Cllr Saint, who sits on the LEP board, said he also intends to ask questions at the next board meeting in November.
“There are one or two issues about how decisions are made, and this council is going to open up a dialogue with the LEP about their decision-making. We will not let this go,” he said.
“Most public authorities have clear procedures about how they make their decisions and we think there are some shortcomings with the LEP.”
When asked about whether Stratford had, so far, been short-changed by the LEP in favour of other areas of the region, Cllr Saint added: “We don’t think they have been particularly generous.”
Back in 2016 the LEP also refused the district council’s bid for £500,000 towards the cost of a detailed study, known as a GRIP4, into the possible reopening of the Stratford-Honeybourne railway line.
And earlier this year the LEP rejected a bid by Warwickshire County Council for £2.7million to help fund a scheme intended to ease congestion on Birmingham Road in Stratford.
But the call for more transparency from the LEP was triggered by its decision last week to withdraw the £200,000 that it had allocated in 2016 to help prepare part of Priory Square in Studley for redevelopment, citing a lack of progress of the project.
And in a statement it claimed that the decision to do so was ‘endorsed unanimously’ by its board at a meeting last Monday, a meeting that was attended by Cllr Saint.
But Cllr Saint has denied any suggestion that he voted in favour of the decision, claiming the board were simply asked to note the decision that had already been made by the LEP’s three-man programme delivery board.
That board is made up of its chairman, Jonathan Browning, deputy chairman, Nick Abell, and chief executive, Martin Yardley — none of whom are elected politicians.
And Cllr Saint accused them of “pulling the rug” from under the Studley scheme, which he said had stalled partly due to technical issues with the land, some of which would have been remedied by the LEP money.
“I found out about it last Monday. I was simply told ‘it’s gone, we’ve decided it’s gone’. The statement from the LEP implies that I voted for it [withdrawing the grant], I will deny that.
“I don’t know that the meeting was even being asked to endorse that decision that had already been made by the programme board. All I was agreeing to was to note the decision of the programme board.
“I think they have been a bit disingenuous in saying that it was endorsed, I decided to take no action at the meeting because I believed it was a done deal.”
He added: “I was aggrieved about the rail [money]. We think there is a growing need for this study to be done and felt it was appropriate for the Growth Fund, but we were dealt a fait accompli when it was declined.
“The same happened with Priory Square in Studley, and we feel that more dialogue is required.”
A spokesman for the CWLEP said Growth Deal projects were outlined to the board at every meeting, when they are fully discussed and commented upon, which is what happened in this case.
Referring to the Studley decision, he said the board papers, which were circulated to all directors, asked the board to ‘note the positive progress overall on Growth Deal projects’ and ‘endorse the Programme Delivery Board Actions to move the programme forward where there have been issues and/or delays’, adding that LEP representatives met Stratford District Council officers in the week before the board meeting , so they could brief Cllr Saint.
A statement added: “Currently there is no clear project proposal from Stratford District Council which will deliver against the CWLEP’s agreed expectations for this [Studley] project and no clear requirement for Local Growth Deal funds to make this site viable.
“If a suitable development was to come forward for the site, the CWLEP would then judge it against those criteria.
“That decision was discussed at the CWLEP board meeting on Monday and endorsed unanimously. The leader of Stratford District Council, who is a CWLEP board director, was present at that meeting.”