Let LEPs get on with a job we’re doing well

By Mark Bretton | 07 September 2021

Disease and cancer have been with us for decades with what feels like little chance of eliminating them. Yet, here in Hertfordshire, some of the greatest advances in modern genetics and cell therapy are helping confine them to history. The Cell and Gene Bio Catapult and Catalyst in Stevenage are growing a UK capability of global significance.  A key catalyst for this development?  The Local Enterprise Partnership.

In the South West they are making huge advances in sustainable air travel with the first test flight of a hybrid electric aircraft as part of the 2ZERO Programme, helping the UK towards its 2050 Net Zero target. One of the key catalysts for this ground-breaking innovation? Again, it’s the LEP and there are stories like this across all 38 LEP areas.

We have created a national asset by bringing local businesspeople together to work alongside the public sector, third sector/social enterprise and academia.  This has developed a unique capability that can deliver hundreds of similar advances countrywide.  With the Levelling Up White Paper and Comprehensive Spending Review imminent, this is a capability not to be lost.

LEPs played a critical part in supporting business throughout the pandemic, launching over 100 locally tailored SME support initiatives.  Almost 2m businesses turned to their LEPs within the first six months of the pandemic alone.  We also helped many businesses understand the changes post-Brexit.  LEPs have nurtured local partnerships, brokered deals, driven innovation through our forensic understanding of our local economies and helped make the UK a compelling place for local and inward investment.

LEPs are great catalysts for change, identifying and exploiting business opportunities, genuinely levelling up local communities, collaborating across geographic borders to great effect. We provide an exceptional brokering capability that convenes at pace in pursuit of common goals, unlocking crucial developments that others have been unable to deliver. Business led, with a business philosophy, these partnerships have remained focused on getting the job done and have an amazing track record of complex programme delivery.

Our commitment to the cause is total; over 2000 business leaders, supported by our wider teams are giving our time because we care what happens in our communities.  This is evident by the way the LEP community embraced the review, ensuring our evolved role has maximum impact whilst respecting government policy changes.  The design work we have co-produced with officials is outstanding.

As we build our national recovery, it would be a travesty to lose this capability just when local communities and businesses need it most, generating vital private sector investment, bringing partners to the table, working across boundaries and supporting business in future opportunities.

We’ve focused on five high impact areas:

1.        Enabling business to invest in Net Zero technologies and practices;

2.        Collaborating with universities on innovation, R&D and productivity;

3.        Delivering tailored business support;

4.        Stimulating transformational local investment; and

5.        Ensuring local skills reflect the needs of local economies.

Looking to the future, local institutions will need to respond to their local needs.  Levelling up means different things in different places and realising global opportunities relies on local areas recognising and optimising local strengths.  As the CEO of Localis Jonathan Werran recently stated:

‘…. if they didn’t exist already, senior Officials and Ministers would be busy inventing them.’

Along with most of the local authorities and all our partners, we want to ensure that local businesses continue to have a clear strategic voice and access to high quality, locally tailored support services. LEPs are currently under our second review in three years and we have the chance to lace our evolved role into the design and execution of government policy.  Now is the time to grasp the nettle, finalise our role, secure a long lasting funding settlement and get on with the job we all know needs doing and doing well.

Mark Bretton is chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership Network

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