LEPs: a step closer to reality

Last week saw the announcement that there were 56 Local Enterprise Partnership submissions from across England. In this drive towards localism the hope is that there will be a more efficient public-private sector relationship leading to more efficient and targeted projects thus promoting further local economic growth. However, I see significant issues with not only the formation of LEPs but also with the timescale and cost.

It has been discussed on this blog that there are genuine issues with LEPS (https://commenttoday.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/localism-is-the-new-driving-force/) and that we should see the bigger picture before some rejoice at the closing of Regional Development Agencies.

Yes, 56 proposals have been submitted (far fewer than I had expected) but the quality of these proposals can be somewhat dubious. With every LEP needing a completely different set of targets/ideals/goals to another i.e. the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not work, this has led to some doubt as to what each LEP should be including in their proposal. This is not necessarily a negative thing but it does highlight the ‘back-and-forth’ nature between LEPs and central government in its formation. As a result there will be a quality spectrum of proposals as both sides learn what the other wants.

This also highlights the issue of time. It is predicted that 12-15 proposals will be accepted in the first ‘wave’ i.e. the strongest and already proven area will be granted LEP status. But where does this leave the others? How many ‘waves’ are predicted? Will this be a genuinely long process until an LEP can agree with central government as to what should be in the proposal? Or will central government try to persuade some LEPs to join with other LEPs for convenience?

If we just assume, for the moment, that all LEPs are up and running. This was done (and will be governed under) the issue of less financial support. There will be a significant reduction from the old ‘regional’ budget. Will this lead to the most efficient allocation of resources to the best projects or will some areas, who are now in total competition with their neighbours, fall by the wayside? Perhaps a cost saving measure would be to pool certain services that each LEP needs e.g. bookkeeping/accounts etc. With less money available, this pooling of services will potentially lead to a reformation of an RDA under the guise of 4-5 LEPs.

Moreover, with less financial support, there will be a potential hole in local budgets – how will this be filled? This could be filled by bonds; local authority or social impact bonds could be implemented. But how this money will be raised is an issue all LEPs need to consider.

There are still profound questions which need to be answered about the formation of the LEP. This is not to say they will and can not work. But with less finance available I can only see it being a tough road ahead if, ironically, efficiency is the goal.

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