I have come out hard against the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership over its treatment of our pioneering new Herefordshire University project, NMITE.
The issues are of fundamental importance, and I feel I owe Hereford Times readers an explanation.
In March 2017 the Government awarded £10M to NMITE, the funding to be passed through the Marches LEP, alongside £15M from the Department of Education.
The £10M was then haircut by £2M to £8M. The LEP money had to be invested by April 2021, and would revert back to the LEP if that deadline was likely to be missed.
Given NMITE's huge growth potential for the Marches, you might have thought this would create a huge incentive for the LEP to get the money out and invested as soon as possible. But it did not.
By January 2019 it was clear that the LEP was moving very slowly. Accordingly the Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Greg Clark, wrote a letter to the LEP making clear that the Government would not seek to hold him and the LEP to account if the project did not succeed, and that they should push ahead rapidly with the funding.
By July, progress was still painfully slow. Accordingly a senior official at BEIS then had to write a follow-up letter to the accounting officer responsible for the paperwork, making the same points clearly and with some vigour.
In August, a Phase 1 agreement for £2.3 million was finally agreed. But this still left Phase 2, with a value of £5.7 million.
I had been pressing the LEP from late 2018 to get on with the process. In May 2019, given all the delays, I proposed that the funding be removed from the LEP and provided from central government to NMITE. This proposal was ignored; the delays continued until the end of 2019.
NMITE has built a dynamic and highly entrepreneurial team. But you can imagine the pain and waste of time they experienced in having to deal with all this paperwork and delay, while attempting nothing less than to set up the first full-scale new university in this country for 40 years. That is why I felt I had to intervene.
It would be a gracious and fitting gesture now if the LEP now adds back the lost £2M haircut, so that NMITE can receive the original £10M awarded.