LEPs: Changing the game at local level

Next week £2bn of Local Growth Funding will be allocated to the best bids from the 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships across the UK. 

LEPs analysis

Some will be more successful than others and walk away with the cash to really transform their ocal regions and lever in businesses and private sector funding. Others will do less well.

[see feature The next big leap for LEPs and the cover feature in the June issue of Infrastructure Intelligence]


So what makes a LEP successful?

Infrastructure Intelligence spoke to members of three of the recognised high performers to find out:

  • rh: Robert Hough, chairman of Liverpool City Region LEP,
  • cw: Chris Webster, director of Greater Solihull and Birmingham LEP and
  • gf: Geoff French, chairman of M3 Enterprise LEP

Local Enterprise Partnerships in general

Q: To many in the business community the LEP process is something of a mystery. Is that fair comment?

cw: Business communities are confused, different LEPs operate on different bases, Government encourages this to promote innovation. It is my experience that business expects benefits to be handed on a plate and far too many in our industry take a very short term view 

cw: Chris Webster, chief executive of Miller Construction, is director for construction and property at the Greater Solihull and Birmingham Local Enterprise Partnership (GSBLEP). 

GSBLEP submitted its Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) to government in April as part of the Growth Deal for the region and outlined 52 priority projects worth a total of £508M over five years and seeks funding of £86.3M for 2015/16.

GSBLEP estimates that its projects will create 41,000 new jobs by 2022, provide 14,315 new homes and almost 2M sqft of commercial floorspace across Birmingham, Solihull, Wyre Forest, Redditch, Tamworth, Bromsgrove, East Staffordshire, Lichfield and Cannock Chase.

gf: Yes, this is fair comment. A good number of businesses have seen opportunities and have got involved but many more have not (yet).

rh: Each LEP is very different because they need to reflect their local economy and local business base. Also, many LEPs are new – established after June 2010. Our LEP however has existed for 20 years (as The Mersey Partnership). The reality is that the policy agenda that LEPs cover will range from place to place and be complex – and there are lots of businesses out there (37,000 on our patch) so inevitably some will find a LEP a bit of a mystery. Our aim is to be there when they need us.

Q: There is potentially funding worth £50M a year for LEPs from this round of bidding. Has the process attracted the appropriate level of interest from the public and private sector? 

cw: Our LEP is very aware of the funding available and very keen to bid,
I would however say from my perspective Government seems intent on announcing various different funding schemes and then making the rules too complicated to actual make the funding stream deliver. Business is both sceptical and lazy about chasing the funds, I guess the two are related. It amazes me that we don’t get chased by more for use of our funds.

gf: Yes.

rh: Government has committed to £2bn of funding available for LEPs to bid but mainly from transport funding pots which inevitably mean the ‘project’ will be sponsored by the public sector. However, we made sure the schemes were ones that will enable growth and over 60 private sector companies provided bespoke letters of support to our Growth Fund submission. We are seeking £250m over a 6 year period.

Q: How could the local business community and SMEs in particular engage more effectively with their LEPs? 

cw: LEPs need to articulate better the short term benefits such as access to business support and funding, and business needs to appreciate the need to help with medium to long term benefits. 

gf: In a perfect world they’d do this through the Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI etc. As we live in an imperfect world we also give businesses of all sizes direct access to the LEP.

gw: Geoff French, former Scott Wilson chairman and current president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, is the chairman of the M3 Enterprise Local Enterprise Partnership which covers the M3 corridor through Hampshire and Surrey.

In March M3 Enterprise submitted its SEP, Growth Deal and Delivery Plan to Government setting out a £340M proposal for Local Growth Funds backed by £392M of local funding which together would, it estimates, leverage in some £3bn from the private sector.

Its plan came after over a year’s work to develop a strategy and approach to accelerated the provision of 11,500 new homes, 30,700 new jobs and £757M of direct GVA.

rh: An SME business is focused on running its business. When it wantts some support – we can help.  How we are looking to effectively connect with SMEs is through a new product called which will allow a business, when it needs, to enter what support it needs and our system will help find that assistance.

Q: How have you approached the process of engaging the local community in your strategic economic plan and local growth deal? 

cw: We have had many different forums, website, workshops, formal meetings but too often these get drowned in the detail. 

gf: The Strategic Economic Growth Plan and Local Growth Deal didn’t just land “fully formed”,  they have resulted from a process of emerging ideas that have been publicised on our website and with as wide a range of public, private and third sector groups as possible.

rh: We use a network of network approach (lots of workshops for representatives of different groups) and also two major consultation events.

Q: Clearly there are high performing LEPs and others are on a learning curve. What do you think delivers a high performing LEP? 

cw: All LEPs are on a learning curve, they were established without clear roles or even mandates. The smart ones get this, others have just got stuck in the local government bureaucracy.

gf: Consultation and cooperation with others in all sectors.

rh: Key things to have: The right capability to do what you want to do; Being focused – we are focused on our key sectors and having the right capability sets to support those sectors; Being private sector led but understanding how to change public sector ways of working

Q: Given the role that LEPs can play in drawing in private sector funding and creating lasting relationships in the business community, do the LEPs have the right skills on board? 

cw: As LEPs mature they begin to realise the skill and resource levels required. I suspect many involved initially were just more of the same involved in local politics. We have a strong chair and board in GBSLEP. We have more recently got funding to more adequately resource the programmes we are running but we all need to be careful we are not duplicating what already exists. 

rh: Robert Hough is chairman of the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and was chairman of the Northwest Regional Development Agency from 2009 until 2012.

Liverpool City Region submitted its Strategic Economic Plan to government in March themed around key strategic projects including a new freight and logistics hub, improvement in the City Centre, access to the Port of Liverpool, funding to create a low carbon region plus a new city region capital investment fund to co-invest in key capital schemes that will deliver jobs.

gf: Yes – although every board could be strengthened by more good people.

rh: Some will but some may not.  We can only speak for our model but it works like this: We have a private sector led committee for each key sector – for example, our SuperPORT is chaired by the global logistics director of Unipart and the vice-chair is the commercial director of Stobarts; we employ a sector manager who operationalises what the committee say; we have two ‘Panel’ meetings a year – all businesses in the sector attend. Ultimately, we add value to their business – that’s why they engage.

Strategic Economic Plan

Q: Engaging local public and private stakeholders is clearly critical. What advice do you have to make this process work more effectively? 

cw: Everyone gets confused by too many initiatives and acronyms. We need to simplify terminology and clarify the timetable of potential funds and likelihood of success. Application requirements for many of these funds seems to be too complicated and at times made up as we go along.

gf: Engage as much as possible, we have established a Joint Leaders Board to bring the public sector together, we have had many meetings with the private and third sector but they are more difficult to corral.

Q: Some areas will potentially receive major economic stimulus via national projects such as HS2. Does that present an advantage or disadvantage?

cw: Major programmes such as HS2 are a huge benefit. There will often be a mixed view across the LEP on such issues so you can’t keep everyone happy and compromise can easily dilute the potential upside for the region.

gf: Neither

rh: We see this as an advantage but also a challenge. We want a high speed route all the way to Liverpool and are actively pursuing such – but we are planning strategic economic plan projects for the next  five years. Our challenge therefore is to create a socket into which we can plug high speed rail in the future.

Q: To what extent can the work of LEPs and their strategic economic planning assist the planning of nationally important schemes? 

cw: A major part of the LEP role is to pull people together in the region both cross party and cross function to try to generate a common regional view. Such an approach is essential for any region to make valued contributions to national strategic thinking

gf: Groups of LEPs already come together to consider issues of sub-regional significance – it is these groupings that can identify and lobby for nationally important schemes.

rh: That’s a challenge for Government – unfortunately, departmental silos are still the biggest barrier to coordinated delivery.

Q: What makes your plan work – what marks it out as aspirational? 

cw: You need some deliverables that can be seen by others. The two major deliverables for my portfolio are the Enterprise Zone – which includes considerable support to the Paradise Circus project – and a project we have underway to establish common approach where possible to planning and a consistent understanding of the housing needs in the area.

gf: Achieving more, and in a more coordinated way than would have been the case without the LEP. The aspiration comes as much from the freedoms and flexibilities we have requested as from the projects we have identified.

rh: Our plan is 100% market focused. We are seeking £52M in transport infrastructure to enable key sites to be developed as part of our ‘freight and logistics hub’ supporting SuperPORT. We are seeking to enable these sites because we are seeing the market change – the opening of a widened Panama Canal combined with the £340M Liverpool2 Project already underway – means Liverpool once again becomes the logical port of call for trade from the Western Coast of both North and South America while also opening up an alternative trade route to China.  The industry is changing and we are anticipating that change and enabling it.

Local Growth Deal

Q: Local Enterprise Partnerships rely on engaging the local business community. To what extents do some regions across the UK with established business communities have an inherent advantage? 

cw: We all have local business communities and some of those are very diverse in many ways. The LEP provides an opportunity to breakdown historical barriers, bring different business communities together on the back of a better understanding of what is best for the region.

gf: Every region across the UK has established business communities, it’s just how well those communities really represent the businesses in their area – it’s about trying to get to those businesses not previously involved.

Q: Gaining consensus across the multiple local authorities and stakeholders is a challenge. What advice do you offer? 

cw: Business needs to understand what is the benefit and when can this be delivered. Short medium or long term is often the best criteria to judge the right audience.

gf: Recognise it is a challenge and face up to it, do more consultation/engagement rather than less. 

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