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GBSLEP: Recycling or Innovating?

GBSLEP: Recycling or Innovating?

🕔13.Feb 2014

LEP WeekRegular Chamberlain Files visitor and former civil servant John D Turner takes a harder look at the numbers and challenges the job creation and Board representation figures for GBSLEP.

I read with interest Paul Dale’s piece Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Are LEPs getting the job done.  Whilst I might differ with Paul on one or two points of detail, I wholly agree with the conclusions of his article.  I want to expand upon some of the points Paul made and make some further observations.

Paul referred specifically to Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and its aim to create 100,000 new private sector jobs by 2020.  Let me put that figure into perspective, it works out at 14.8% of the number of people employed in the private sector across the whole of GBSLEP as at 2012, some 675,612 in full and part time jobs.

The number of people working in and directly employed by the public sector is reducing, a trend which is expected to continue for a while yet.  Consequently, the net 100,000 jobs as a percentage of the total number of people employed in the GBSLEP area falls to 11.78%, but the percentages are misleading to some extent.  GBSLEP is looking to increase the total across both sectors from 848,000 to 948,000.  To cope with churn in the labour market it will need to create more than 100,000 new jobs in six years at the same time that direct public sector employment is contracting.  A tall order at any point in the economic cycle.

I have serious concerns about the plans being drawn up by GBSLEP, starting with the composition of its Board.  I worked for the East Birmingham and North Solihull Regeneration Zone which was a cross sector partnership, the Board of which reflected that partnership with members drawn from its constituent sector stakeholders, including the voluntary and community sector and representatives of the small and medium size enterprises within the Zone.

There are no VCS representatives on the GBSLEP Board.  The sector is a sizeable employer in its own right and has a major role to play in tackling economic exclusion.  There are no one from bodies linking people with jobs and none from organisations delivering related training, other than a representative from the further education sector.

There are nine private sector members on the GBSLEP Board, only two of whom are directly representative of SMEs; one running a food manufacturing company and the other an accountancy firm.  The total number of private sector businesses within the GBSLEP area was 52,860 as at 2011.  46,755 of those businesses employed nine or less people; 5,005 employed between 10 or 49 people and 900 employed between 50 and 249.  Only 200 businesses employed more than 250 people. Were we to use these figures as a guide, then there would be eight SME representatives on the Board and one representing larger businesses.  On a related matter, it is expected that significant jobs growth now and in the future will come from the SME sector, not from larger businesses.

We have heard a lot of late about the low profile of women on public bodies in particular.  There are twelve people making up the GBSLEP Board; one out of the nine private sector members is female and none of the seven local authority members is female.  Further and higher education is represented by one female apiece.  I am not sure that a Board composed of the ‘Great and Good’ is what we need to drive forward GBSLEP.

I have looked at the plans being drawn up by the GBSLEP and much of what I read seems to be a recycling of past strategy documents.  One of the exciting aspects of working with EBNSRZ was our rejection of accepted wisdom, unless it was backed up by hard evidence.  If the old nostrums were so successful, why did we need Regional Development Agencies and now their successors?  I fear that doing more of the same is not the answer.  We hear a lot about the need to innovate if we are to compete.  The same applies to economic and social regeneration.

John D Turner is an ex-civil servant of 27 years experience.  He worked for most of his career at the Department for Work and Pensions (and its previous incarnations) in the employment area.  He also worked briefly for Advantage West Midlands and was seconded to the East Birmingham and North Solihull Regeneration Zone, a wholly owned subsidiary of AWM, for over six years as Employment Development Manager.

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