BUSINESS leaders could have less say on regions' economic development with their powers being handed to elected politicians, if the communities secretary has his way.

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, spoke at a conference of England’s county council leaders this week, expressing an intention to scrap Local Enterprise Partnerships.

The move would be part of a Levelling-Up White Paper set to be published later this year. The Secretary of State’s decisions including the reorganisation of Cumbria’s local government, all with devolution in mind.

Devolution is the handing down of more powers to locally elected leaders.

In a speech to the County Councils Network Conference, Mr Gove said he would prefer economic development to be in the hands of elected leaders: "My preference is that powers, including economic development powers, are best exercised alongside other powers that rest in the hands of democratically elected accountable leaders."

Allerdale Borough Council leader Mike Johnson, who is on the Cumbria LEP board, said: "There has been a suggestion that when we get the unitary authorities, if we're successful in getting a combined authority mayor the mayor would take the responsibility of what the LEP would be."

Cllr Johnson said: "Have LEPs had their day? Have they served their purpose and laid a foundation?"

Lord [Richard] Inglewood, chairman of Cumbria LEP, said: "The point is, if you have a business body they know more about business than ordinary run-of-the -mill politicians in general."

Plans to scrap the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships in local politics would mean their responsibility to look out for the best interests of the business community would be devolved to elected leaders.

But Lord Inglewood said: "There is a better chance of it working properly if we have business people involved in the process. You've got to balance the democratic aspects of it with the technical aspects of it."

Cumbria LEP currently provides a voice for business, often pressing the UK Government to deliver on promises and speaking out when they feel it is not doing enough.

Lord Inglewood said: "We happen to be very under-resourced compared to any other organisation in the public sector. Certainly sometimes we think the Government isn't doing the right thing for Cumbria, we wouldn't just sit there and do nothing."

Cumbria LEP remains politically neutral and has taken no stance on local government reform.

But Lord Inglewood said: "If we in Cumbria are to get the best for the county, we have all got to work together."

Mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie supported Mr Gove's plans to scrap the Local Enterprise Partnerships.

He said: "I'm not a supporter of the LEP. I think it should be scrapped as part of the local government reform. The LEPs would be right on the top of my list.

"I've had a long-held view that the unnecessary bureaucracy is getting in the way of progress.

"My view is an LEP should support enterprise and be an enabler, but in my experience they can make things more difficult."