THE Essex-Kent Local Enterprise Partnership has been joined by a third region, East Sussex.

The enlargement puts Essex at the core of a commercial unit bigger than the economies of some nation states.

The partnership area now embraces 167,155 VAT-registered businesses with an annual turnover of approximately £25billion.

The board held its first official meeting last month, as it looks to shape future policy.

Board member, Lord Brett McLean, told the 44 delegates: “The partnership is now a fact of life for Essex, Kent and East Sussex. We have to make it work.”

It was set up after the abolition of regional development agencies by the Government.

The now defunct Eastern Region Development Agency dispensed around £90million a year of Government-allocated funds to businesses in Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Herts.

The partnership has no Government budget, nor public service staff, but is made up of local business and council representatives.

It will have to lobby the Government for funds or concessions, and on issues such as the exclusion of the region from the National Insurance holiday.

Iain Wicks, chairman of the Essex Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Omission from the scheme means local start-up businesses are paying up to an extra £10,000 to employ staff compared to firms elsewhere in the UK.”

The partnership is chaired by Essex businessman George Kieffer, who is also chairman of Haven Gateway Partnership, which promotes economic opportunities in East of England port areas.