There are, as this piece is written, now thirty-three Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) blessed by Whitehall and starting out their work to promote economic growth in their local communities. LEPs are bringing local authorities into active engagement with local businesses, education providers and the third sector in new ways.
The absence of direct funding for day-to-day running costs, let alone capital and revenue projects, means that the LEPs will function in a very different way to the regional development agencies (RDAs) in the past. As the RDAs wind down, some LEPs are hoping that their local authority members will acquire RDA-held strategic property assets for the future delivery of some development projects, and even take on RDA staff. Many LEPs are operating at present with the "loan" of key personnel, seconded for several days a month, to establish the new LEPs' activities. The initial LEP capacity fund will not stretch as far as the calls on it from LEPs, to develop action plans and priorities, so the recent announcement of an LEP start-up fund of £5million will be welcomed by many. LEPs need to show that they are capable of being self-sustaining in the near future and, indeed, that they are capable of delivering the ambitions of their prospectuses submitted to central government.
The most pressing current task for LEPs, after forming their boards and holding initial meetings, will be looking closely at their submissions for Enterprise Zones (EZs), with bids to Communities and Local Government due in shortly and 10 more EZs to be announced later in the year following the first 11 announced on Budget day. The business rates income which can be retained from an EZ for investment in the wider LEP area will be a much sought after goal for successful bids.
From now on in, LEPs must show real commitment to their local communities and get off to the best start possible, if they are to maximise their chances of success. Until they are well established, LEPs will need a great deal of support from their local authority constituent bodies - it seems so important to ensure that they thrive and grow to drive economic growth for their local areas. So today, why not ask yourself "How is your LEP?" And, not what it can do for you, so much as what you can do for it.