IF Essex didn’t have anything in common with East Sussex...it does now.
The counties have joined forces – along with Kent – to form a Local Enterprise Partnership, or Lep.
It is the largest partnership of its kind in the country, but has also been described by Colchester MP Bob Russell as the most barking decision made by the Government.
The partnership, an idea put forward by the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition, is designed to create jobs, improve roads, build infrastructure and boost the economy.
But Mr Russell blasted: “Local? Brighton is 110 miles from Colchester.
“Here in north Essex, we barely recognise the south of the county, let alone the opposite bank of the Thames in Kent.
“As for East Sussex, there is zero community of interest between Britain’s oldest recorded town and Brighton, which Private Eye (the satirical magazine) calls Skidrow on Sea.”
Mr Russell has written to Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, asking him to reconsider. His letter says: “I urge you not to proceed with this nonsense. It is anything but local.
“North Essex is already very much the poor relation in the county of Essex, where infrastructure is always last and comes after consideration for mid Essex and south Essex.
“Colchester is badly neglected by County Hall. Under the proposed Local Enterprise Partnership, we would be even more isolated than is currently the case.”
Mr Russell said it would have been more sensible for Essex, or at least north Essex, to instead forge links with local authorities in Suffolk.
No Lep incorporating Suffolk has yet been approved and because Essex, Kent and East Sussex has been given the go-ahead, it seems likely Colchester and Tendring councils will be involved.
The partnership, due to begin in April 2011, will cover almost four million people, 130,000 companies and more than 1.3 million jobs.
The combined area is bigger than 13 European countries and has a combined economy of £55billion.
The new Local Enterprise Partnership will include Greater Essex, Kent and East Sussex, with councils and businesses hoping to make it an economic force.
Proposals already outlined include a lower Thames crossing and improvements to the A12.
The partnership is looking to build closer links between the region’s universities, businesses and local authorities.
Sir Mike Hodgkinson, chairman of the Essex Business Consortium, said: “The new relationship proposed by central Government offers us the freedom to focus on local priorities for the benefit of residents and businesses alike.”
Peter Martin, leader of Essex County Council, added: “This announcement gives us greater control on making sure money and support is put where it is really needed in order to generate what is best for our local areas.
“We know what is best for our businesses and residents.
“We welcome this acceptance by Whitehall that we are best placed to deliver economic growth and stability for our communities.”
The partnership will include the three county councils, along with the Southend Borough Council and Thurrock Council, as unitary authorities.
A proposal for a joint Essex and Kent Local Enterprise Partnership was submitted in September, which grew to include East Sussex.
Those involved in the partnership met at the House of Lords on Monday to discuss the options available.
The Government has championed the creation of up to 36 Local Enterprise Partnerships to replace the nine regional development agencies it axed earlier this year.
They will give “strategic direction” to local economies.
Plans put forward in the Essex and Kent bid included regenerating south Essex and north Kent, and developing major transport infrastructure in the region, such as the Dartford Crossing and the M25.
It is hoped the partnership will be able to collect and redistribute business tax revenues, which go straight to the Government at the moment.
Central government funding will not be given for administrative costs, but money for local projects will be allocated by the new bodies.
The partnerships will be run by a strategic board with members from across the authorities.