No “credible” alternative? Leeds and Partners win £2m contract to sort region’s investment woes

lapThey’ll be rejoicing down on Albion St this week after it was announced that Leeds and Partners have won a £2.25m uncontested contract to deliver the city region out of the inward investment doldrums.

Set up in April last year to raise the city’s profile and bring new businesses in, the private company financed by Leeds City Council is now going to be spreading its net wider, handling inward investment over the next three years for the whole city region – from York to Hebden, Skipton to Barnsley and all points in between.

What are they going to have to deliver for this £2.25m, most of which is being advanced by Leeds City Council?

Well, a report on the contract is pretty short on detail, mostly because they’re still in negotiations. All we know so far is that Leeds and Partners are going to have to attract 60 new businesses to the region and create 1,500 new jobs. That’s one new business every three weeks for three years.

No contest

lcrWhy was the contract uncontested?, I hear you ask. Don’t public bodies have to put this sort of work with private companies out to tender?

Not in this case. Here are the reasons given in the report:

* a full, open and competitive tendering process would be costly and time-consuming … delaying the delivery of the new service via a full procurement process would result in the city region falling further behind other competitor city regions in its ability to secure new business investment

* it is unlikely that any organisation would be as well placed as Leeds and Partners to deliver the service and a full procurement process could result in only one credible response (bold highlights by me)

Leeds City Council’s leaders are set to rubber-stamp the arrangement and the £1.7m advance at a meeting on Wednesday. Details here.

Leeds and Partners will be carrying out the work for the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a collection of councils and business leaders set up to promote growth in the region. Leeds acts as the organisation’s “accountable financial body”.

The LEP’s board previously agreed that Leeds and Partners be “commissioned” to deliver the new service, the report says.

Funnily enough, the current chair of the LEP board that commissioned the service from Leeds and Partners is also the deputy chair of … Leeds and Partners! Neat.

Credible?

Booklet

Booklet

I don’t want to come across as niggly, but apart from one glossy, “interactive” booklet (full of gobbledygook about Leeds being a “magnetic city where people make the difference”) and a touchy-feely movie in the same vibe, what are they basing this Leeds and Partners’ credibility on?

As far as I’m aware no business has decided to move to Leeds yet as a direct result of the new Leeds and Partners’ inward investment strategy (though, to be fair, 18 months isn’t a long time).

Let’s just hope they’re not basing the credibility on our web presence as a city fit to invest in … 

Remember some 20 months ago when we last looked at how well Leeds and Partners (then known as Marketing Leeds) were selling our great city on the web? And found them seriously wanting?

Well, things haven’t improved that much.

Yesterday – 18 months after Leeds and Partners were set up – I pretended again that I was an investor looking to locate in the city of Leeds. It’s still not a happy experience.

I typed “invest in Leeds” into Google and the first site I came across was Locate in Leeds, Leeds and Partners’ “inward investment service”. Which is as it should be. 

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Except that … I opened it up and …

The “latest news” is from March this year (the only story in 2013), the last tweet is from June, the page on the city’s flagship enterprise zone was last updated in September 2012 etc etc etc …  

It has the look and feel of a ghost ship that’s been abandoned by its crew and left to drift in becalmed waters.

Abandoned by its crew? Of the two named Leeds and Partners contacts given on the site, one, the “inward investment officer”, left in July after only eight months working with the company. No-one has bothered to update the site.

And then there’s this notice that’s been languishing on the Leeds and Partners home page for what feels like ages.

"Leeds and Partners will soon be refreshing our website" - Pardon?

Pardon?

Check out the Manchester investment site to see how a serious organisation does this kind of thing.

And then tell me we’ve just taken on the only credible organisation that’s capable of doing the same for us.

In a city and region like ours that’s packed with web and marketing talent?

Or maybe official Leeds just doesn’t do the interweb.

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4 Responses to No “credible” alternative? Leeds and Partners win £2m contract to sort region’s investment woes

  1. botzarelli says:

    The decision not to go out to tender is capable of challenge though. All that is needed is to find a plausible alternative organisation, particularly one which would have liked to have bid. It needs to be more than merely hypothetical though (there was a case a few years ago where education campaigners had sought to challenge the establishment of an academy sponsored by University College London on the basis that the selection of a sponsor should have been opened to competition).

    • botzarelli: there’s no suggestion that they haven’t done this by the book. they posted their decision to not go out to tender in the European gazette and no-one responded.

      They do admit, however, that “there remains a slight risk that an organisation may still challenge the decision to directly commission Leeds and Partners”.

      Can’t see it happening myself, though, for the reasons you’ve outlined.

      • botzarelli says:

        It seems unsatisfactory in the context but is actually the sort of confident use of the public procurement regime which ought to be encouraged over the risk averse approach so often used by public bodies.

  2. Pingback: Leeds today: hedges, trains, trolleys, sports fields, stripes, strategy, bar, photos and North. | Beyond Guardian Leeds

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