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One year in, LEPs start eyeing more powers

One year in, LEPs start eyeing more powers

🕔20.Nov 2011
Victoria Square, in central Birmingham

RJF attended the Birmingham outing of the Centre for Cities series on LEPs, chaired by BIS Select Committee chairman Adrian Bailey MP alongside CfC’s Andrew Carter. Around 20 people attended, including representatives from Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire and Leiceter & Leicestershire.

Curiously, Greater Birmingham & Solihull were not among the number, but its record was vigorously endorsed by event host Mark Smith of PwC and Birmingham Chamber President Mike Ward. Hat tip too to London-based solicitors and parliamentary agents Bircham Dyson Bell which is sponsoring the series.

The session was strictly Chatham House, so no names, no pack drill on the more opinionated comments. We’re on safe ground though, we think, to highlight some key discussion points.

As CfC’s recent report noted, progress among LEPs is patchy. They’re doing different things in a variety of ways – surely right for a key policy strand of Localism. However, one question is whether the Government views LEPs simply as a club of 38 or as separate entities which need different forms and levels of engagement.

As expected, much consternation over resources and bureaucracy. Too few of one, too much of the other. The time and energy taken in responding to the latest initiative or funding scheme is standing in the way of focussing on the local economic priorities, thought some.

Black Country chair Stewart Towe was called on regularly for the inside view – and he gave many solid examples and perspectives.

The need for LEPs to have a major role in transport and skills policies to make them more business-driven is surely right. There were calls for LEP responsibility or voice in other areas too – from inward investment to sustainability.

Plenty of impressive input from Andrew Bacon, Chair of Leicester and Leicestershire. His positive approach was refreshing, given the challenges and limitations LEPs face. They have focused on facilitating relationships, notably between employers and colleges and universities.

As one LEP representative put it, a key part of their strategy is to “hunt down the money….aggregate…recycle”. The need for greater flexibility from Government was backed up by many.

As Centre for Cities highlighted in its report, empowering LEPs with the “resources, power and freedoms” to operate and dealing with “mismatches between spatial geography and the political and economic reality” are key questions facing Government and its approach to LEPs if they want to make the Partnerships the true drivers of local growth that, in turn, deliver at a nationally significant level.

As Chancellor Osborne turns to his Autumn statement (with the Government desperate to find some tools for growth that remain in sync with ‘Plan A’) and as Bailey’s Committee prepares for its next enquiry into the policy, all eyes will be on LEP’s moving from start up year 1 to a wider scope and more delivery.

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