Bosses at Solent enterprise partnership hit back at "jobs flop" claims

Andover Advertiser: Anne-Marie Mountfield, chief executive of the Solent local enterprise partnership Anne-Marie Mountfield, chief executive of the Solent local enterprise partnership

BOSSES at Hampshire’s ‘enterprise zone’ have hit back at claims by a committee of MPs that the scheme is a jobs flop.

The 24 zones across England – including one at Lee-on-the-Solent – have delivered just 4,649 posts so far, not the 54,000 promised by ministers, a target set for March next year.

The department for communities and local government (DCLG) has now slashed that jobs forecast, to between 6,000 and 18,000.

A report, by the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), has described that record as “particularly underwhelming”.

And it reveals that Government officials have blamed local leaders for the badly missed target, accusing them of making “wildly optimistic” jobs claims.

But Anne-Marie Mountifield, chief executive of the Solent local enterprise partnership (LEP), insisted its plans were “being delivered on schedule”.

A£12m “skills centre” will open in September, to train more than 900 people, and a £15m infrastructure package will create 25,000 sq ft of business space.

There was “strong interest” in all the 22 plots that were ready for development, with 70 per cent of them “under negotiation”.

Ms Mountifield said: “Our target is to create 3,500 jobs at the site by 2026 and, in the shorter term, 650 jobs by 2015.

“We are well on track to hit the 650 job mark in 2015 and remain fully confident of achieving our overall target of 3,500 jobs.

“The second phase of investment will begin shortly, with a £7m investment package to unlock the waterfront area of the site scheduled to start later this year.”

But Margaret Hodge, the PAC’s Labour chairwoman, said: “The results claimed for jobs created in enterprise zones are particularly underwhelming.”

The report hints at a war of words behind the scenes over how the jobs prediction could have been so badly wrong.

It says “The department acknowledged that the original estimate was wildly optimistic “The department told us that the original estimate of 54,000 came from information reported by local enterprise partnerships and that the department should have challenged the numbers.”

Enterprise zones offer tax incentives and have simplified planning rules, as well as superfast broadband, in a bid to attract businesses.

The Government was criticised when it refused any upfront cash – claiming only generous tax breaks were required – but eventually handed out £59m.

The Solent zone is on a former airfield at the old HMS Daedalus site, one of the largest brownfield sites in the region when it was announced in 2011.

The report also lays bare the dramatic slump in total funding for local economic growth, from £2.2bn in 2009-2010 to just £330m in 2012-13 – a sum due to bounce back to £2bn in 2014-15.

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