The Greater Lincolnshire LEP Chair Neal Juster (NJ) talks with Ruth Carver (RC), CEO about the LEP’s focus and ambitions for 2024 and beyond.

Neal took up the reins as Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln in October 2021 and became Chair of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP in March 2023.  He holds a BSc in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Computer-Aided Design.  Neal believes that the University of Lincoln plays a transformational role in bringing the necessary skills and expertise to drive economic growth locally and is vital to the success of the UK.  

Neal is interviewed by Ruth Carver, the LEP’s Chief Executive. Ruth has led the planning, development, direction, and management of the LEP’s operations for over a decade now from its inauguration through our ongoing evolution.   

RC Question: As we approach the first anniversary of your tenure as Chair of the LEP, I’d like to start by asking you to reflect on your first year in post.  

NJ Answer: Last year moved at a surprising pace, and I am very pleased to have been able to really get under the surface and support driving forward several important activities. Lincolnshire hosts a surprising number of large-scale opportunities and stands at the forefront of some very significant developments. We are important for four key reasons: security of food,  security of energy supply, security of the supply chain, and security of the country.  The LEP has been working hard to enforce those areas where this county is active in to invest and help those major sectors grow and improve, continue to help our SME’s economic recovery post COVID, and to work hard to understand internationally our importance on a global stage, to attract the right skills and increased investment.   

RC Question: This upcoming year marks a significant evolution for our LEP. The proposed Devolution Deal for Greater Lincolnshire has begun the process of integration for the LEP into a Mayoral Combined County Authority, and so we are beginning to consider some revisions to our role and functions, as we continue to function largely as before. What do you consider is the primary role of the LEP as we move through this transition? 

NJ Answer: The LEP continues to serve our businesses incredibly well and we are proud of the role all partners have collectively played in working together to deliver economic development, infrastructure, and major programmes. But we also recognise that our partnership must remain agile, effective, collaborative, and inclusive.  LEPs bring business, education, and local government together to successfully promote and co-ordinate activity on the economy, be it employment and skills, innovation, investment, or sectors. This only works because of the strong and mature partnerships in Greater Lincolnshire, and the active role all partners play collectively to promote and deliver economic opportunities and investments in our area. 

RC Question: Turning to our specific goals for this year then, what are they and why are they important?  

NJ Answer: As an exceptional enabler, the LEP’s goals are very clear. We have a significant role to play in representing the voice of business and collectively influencing across pan-regional bodies, delivering wide-reaching communications, and providing the voice of Greater Lincolnshire on the national stage.  We need to attract investment to continue to support and grow our biggest economic opportunities in our game-changing sectors. It is vital to keep delivering our Careers Hub and Skills Bootcamp programmes and providing strategic direction and an employer voice into the post 16 skills system.  Underpinning all of this is providing research, evidence, and strategy to ground the decisions made.  We can only provide leadership on economic strategy for Greater Lincolnshire and support regional decision making with accurate evidence and database. 

RC Question: What do you see as our biggest challenges? 

NJ Answer: We saw the biggest spike in interest rate rise in four decades 18 months ago which has negatively impacted the UK economy. Despite that, we’ve seen decent growth locally and we are accelerating faster than other regions.  We’ve done this by investing in the four highest growth sectors.  Because we have a larger number of SMEs, we are helping our fantastic founders and owners to innovate faster to accelerate growth, wages, productivity, and GVA. But we are still behind. If we had the same productivity of the rest of UK, our county would be a huge £5bn bigger. So, there is much to continue to drive forward. 

RC Question: It certainly remains a challenging landscape. But there is also much to be proud of.  Looking towards the future then, what are some of the activities you hope to see gaining traction this year? 

NJ Answer: In my primary role as Vice Chancellor at the University of Lincoln, I am very aware of the transformative times we are living through, and it is critical that we prepare ourselves and the next generation of our workforce to thrive in this environment.  So, I must put employment and skills firmly in this category. As well as building an academic pipeline of sector driven skills, we are currently developing a LEP-led campaign to create and increase the number of apprenticeship ambassadors to join the regional Apprenticeship Ambassador Network. Skills Bootcamps are another success story which goes from strength to strength.  These are flexible courses for adults looking for a new job, new responsibilities in their existing job, or for self-employed people to develop skills to take on new contracts, and further courses are being released across this year.  96% of those completing Skills Bootcamps in Greater Lincolnshire last year have taken on new roles or responsibilities with their employer or have gained new jobs, which is an impressive achievement. 

The Humber Freeport is another emerging success story too.  It is a strategically and economically important area critical for investment, growth, and job creation right across the Humber Estuary.  I represent the LEP on the Humber Freeport Company Board which has already agreed almost £25m of investment for projects to stimulate growth and create hundreds of jobs across the region.  Also of note are the Universities of Lincoln and Hull in partnership who have agreed to collaborate around the freeport agenda to bring essential academic and strategic input to the Humber Freeport Company.   

I’d also like to mention an important study underway to assess the scale of the decarbonisation challenge for the UK Food Valley.  Our food sector is worth £3.7bn and supports 75,000 jobs. It is five times more concentrated in the UK Food Valley and 30% of the UK’s food passes through the south of our county every day.  This very important piece of work will inform key strategic decisions for the energy and food sectors going forwards and is currently identifying energy demand and production of green energy resources within the UKFV to explore pathways for decarbonisation and opportunities for sustainable food chains and a circular economy. We hope to publish this report in the Spring. 

RC Question: I agree we have some exciting developments starting to take shape this year and want to reassure our businesses and stakeholders that we remain open for business. Collaboratively we are a powerful voice for business and investment and are focused on bringing greater economic outcomes for all. Do you have any final comments you’d like to make before we conclude?  

NJ Answer: Indeed, there is an awful lot going on. I’m not a Yellowbelly, yet here I am.  I’m fortunate to be leading two of the major players in the system which is essential for economic growth, and I can reassure readers that I am committed to bringing greater prosperity and opportunity.  My university was founded as the county felt it was essential if Lincolnshire was to be economically successful.  It is fantastic to see how aligned we are as a county on the things where we know we can make a difference.  This has impressed me the most. Through the innovation we see, we can grow our economic, cultural, and social success.  With the LEP as the foundation, we are all strategically focused to make the county even greater than we currently are.  

RC: Whilst we can’t explore everything here today, this gives our stakeholders an insight into our focus for 2024.  

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