Secrecy surrounds Black Country enterprise zone bid
A bizarre level of secrecy surrounds the Black Country's Enterprise Zone bid.
Although some details have emerged - the Government is actually being asked to approve the creation of five smallish zones across the Black Country, apparently - officially it's all being kept under wraps.
The secrecy is in stark contrast to the approach taken by other parts of the region, which have been quite happy to talk about the proposals. Birmingham's plans were published last month.
Enterprise Zones are a Government initiative announced by George Osborne in his March budget which will give employers a range of incentives, including tax breaks, to create jobs in designated zones.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which involve councils, chambers of commerce and other business organisations, have been charged with drawing up specific proposals.
In fact, the Black Country LEP and Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP were among 11 told in March that they would be allowed to set up zones in the early stages of the scheme.
This was clearly pretty good news, but it left the LEP with the task of deciding where the zone should go.
Greater Birmingham and Solihull went for a zone in Birmingham city centre, with a focus on the planned new high speed rail station by Curzon Street.
But the Black Country still isn't saying what it's planning. And a spokesman for the LEP says it won't reveal its plans until after they've been approved by the Government.
Could this have something to do with local sensitivities? Local authorities involved in the Black Country LEP include Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, and I imagine none of them want to lose out.
Meanwhile, bidding for the second round of enterprise zones is already well underway, and the deadline for submissions is June 30.
Greater Birmingham and Solihull have taken the opportunity to bid for a second enterprise zone (they're calling it an "enterprise belt").
Other bids are coming from LEPs in Coventry and Warwickshire , Stoke and Staffordshire, The Marches (Shropshire and Herefordshire) and Worcester.
Eric Pickles has today been speaking to the Institute of Directors, and urged LEPs to get their bids in before the deadline.
John Rider, Chairman of the IoD West Midlands Region, said: "Getting councils to channel their energies into building a pro-business environment that will aid a private-sector led recovery is crucial.
"Enterprise Zones will show local government across the country that de-regulating, reducing tax and investing in key infrastructure brings significant long term benefits for business and local communities alike."
According to a Government press release, Enterprise Zones will benefit from the following:
- a business rate discount worth up to £275,000 per eligible business over a five year period
- all business rates growth within the zone for a period of at least 25 years will be shared and retained by the local area, to support the Partnership's economic priorities and ensure that Enterprise Zone growth is reinvested locally
- government help to develop radically simplified planning approaches for the zone using, for example, existing local powers to grant automatic planning permission
- Government support to ensure that superfast broadband is rolled out throughout the zone, achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive regulatory environment and, if necessary, public funding.