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Government demands LEP shake-up but offers extra funding

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John Mortimer at 10 Downing StreetJohn Mortimer at 10 Downing StreetExtra funding is to be made available to the UK's 38 local enterprise partnerships in a bid to 'supercharge' economic growth and drive forward local business investment – a move welcomed by Swindon & Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Government outlined reforms to the leadership, governance and accountability of LEPs in its Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships Review, which was published this week.

The review proposes changes to boost the performance of LEPs, increase diversity, and ensure boards operate in an open and transparent way. These include:

  • Up to £20m of additional funding between 2018 to 2019 and 2019 to 2020 to support the implementation of these changes and embed evidence in Local Industrial Strategies.
  • A mandate for LEPs to submit proposals for revised geographies which best reflect real functional economic areas, remove overlaps and, where appropriate, propose wider changes such as mergers.
  • Supporting LEPs to consult widely and transparently on appointing new chairs and improve board diversity.
  • A requirement for women to make up at least one third of LEP boards by 2020 with the expectation of equal representation by 2023 – Swindon & Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership currently has 14 board members, three of whom are women.

Publication of the review follows the Prime Minister’s first Council of LEP Chairs held in June. SWLEP chairman John Mortimer attended the 10 Downing Street meeting on behalf of LEPs nationally with significant rural economies.

“I welcome the conclusions and recommendations of the government’s Review of Local Enterprise Partnerships, which will enable us to build on our ambitious programme for long-term economic growth; creating jobs, growth and investment across Swindon and Wiltshire," he said.

"Our strong partnerships of private and public sector leaders and track record of delivery, mean we have an exciting opportunity to help the government build an economy that benefits everyone, no matter where they live.”

The review was widely welcomed, with Mike Spicer, director of research and economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, saying: “Companies have long wanted LEPs to have clearer structures and greater accountability to the local private sector.

"Properly seen through, a number of the decisions made by ministers could help to improve the relationship between local firms and the partnerships that are tasked with prioritising how public money is invested in the local economy.

“Success, for local business communities, will be measured by whether companies feel that they have a strong voice in setting long-term strategy for their area, a say in prioritising resources, and ultimately, whether LEPs deliver tangible improvements to the local business environment.

"They will also want to be sure that LEPs are truly strategic in their approach – and avoid crowding out private sector activity, which has been a significant problem in some areas in the past.

“At their core, LEPs exist to ensure that the public and private sectors come together to develop a long-term plan, allocate funding, and get the fundamentals right for local businesses to grow.

"They must not be distracted from this core purpose, either by local politics or by Whitehall process overload.”

Meanwhile Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director at the CBI, said: "Local Enterprise Partnerships have an integral role in lifting productivity across the English regions, so it’s essential that they are equipped to deliver, address the right economic footprint and work collaboratively.

“Businesses across England will welcome the Government’s aim to have all local industrial strategies agreed by 2020. The Government and LEPs now need to put their foot on the gas to roll out local industrial strategies throughout the UK, so no region gets left behind.

“Business input is critical in providing good local leadership – we welcome the emphasis from the Government on attracting high-quality business leaders from a diverse range of backgrounds for chair roles.

"Business-led local industrial strategies have the potential to drive up economic growth, help create more jobs and improve people’s lives.”