Milton Keynes Council to take on role of accountable body for the Central Area Growth Board

Friday, May 6th, 2022 11:00am

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter

A local council is taking on “quite a workload” to be the responsible authority for a regional group aiming to bring prosperity to Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and parts of Northamptonshire, a meeting heard.

Milton Keynes Council is set to adopt the role of accountable body for the Central Area Growth Board, which consists of the six local authorities within the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

Labour council leader and Lewsey councillor Hazel Simmons told Luton Borough Council’s executive: “The group has been meeting for several years to progress the economic growth agenda for the area.

“A funding bid last year wasn’t supported. But the six local authorities want to continue to work together,” she explained.

“That’s Luton, Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire, and also includes the local enterprise partnership.

“So the terms of reference in this report have been produced. Each local authority is being asked to put them through its formal process to ratify.

“It’s proposed Milton Keynes Council has the role of accountable body for the growth board, which isn’t legally constituted as a separate entity and as such cannot enter into contracts, hold funds or employ staff. Therefore, Milton Keynes will perform this function.

“There’s no intention to set up a formal joint committee. So the growth board will have no formal decision-making powers.

“But it will complete the tasks set out in the terms of reference, referring back to the constituent authorities for decision-making as has happened before.”

Labour Lewsey councillor Aslam Khan asked why Milton Keynes Council was proposed. Councillor Simmons, who chairs the executive, replied: “We’re quite comfortable Milton Keynes are taking on this. It’s quite a workload. When they offered, I think we bit their hand off.”

Councillor Khan said: “So there won’t be any disadvantage moving forward?” She added: “No, it’s just a formal job they do really.”

The group of six unitary authorities form a strategically important location in the Ox-Cam Arc, according to a report to the committee.

“The board members worked closely together last summer to develop a growth prospectus, setting out a range of regeneration and infrastructure projects for the government to invest in under its levelling up and climate change agendas,” said the report.

“This prospectus was produced in recognition that the central area was the only one in the Ox-Cam Arc which hadn’t received a formal growth deal from the government.

“Unfortunately, this prospectus was not progressed by the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

“Despite this disappointment, the growth board leaders continue to believe there’s merit in working together to support the wider economic growth of the region.

“Some updated terms of reference and standing orders have been produced for the six local authorities to review and formally ratify.

“The work of the growth board will be funded by a financial contribution from each member, starting from this financial year at £5,000,” added the report.

“It aims to promote closer collaboration and strategic leadership on regional economic growth, spatial planning and wider environmental matters, as well as attracting inward investment, improving infrastructure and supporting sustainable communities.”

The executive approved the revised terms of reference which set out how the constituent councils will jointly promote the central area.