The Levelling-Up White Paper published yesterday marks a watershed moment for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), formally embedding them in the policy agenda for the first time, and setting the course for their future relationship with national and local government.
It is a clear affirmation of the role LEPs have played in regional economic growth and builds on their recent achievements. England’s 38 LEPs will now work with government through the LEP Network to co-design the future evolution of LEPs and the role they will play in levelling up and within local governance structures.
Welcoming the Levelling-Up White Paper yesterday (3rd February), LEP Network Chair Mark Bretton said:
“Today’s Levelling-Up White Paper marks a milestone for LEPs by embedding our role in draft policy for the first time. It is a natural evolution of the role of business in local decision making and a legacy to all the work LEPs have done so far – they are now central to the new policy agenda that government is taking forward.
“It’s clear the government recognises the vital role LEPs have played in sustaining and increasing local economic growth through the pandemic and supporting businesses throughout the country. We are now committed to working with government to embed that new role to underpin the ambitions of the Levelling-Up White Paper – with the fundamental principle that local business continues to have a place in local decision making.”
The White Paper sets out 12 quantifiable ‘national missions’ which all aim to be achieved by 2030. These ‘missions’ will be the basis of the policy objectives for levelling up, and will form the heart of the government’s agenda for the 2020s.
Chief Executive of independent think tank Localis, Jonathan Werran, said: “The news that Local Enterprise Partnerships now have the chance to evolve and adapt their functions and accountability within the devolved structures being proposed in the Levelling Up White Paper is unvarnished good news.
“During the darkest days of the 2020 lockdown, LEPs proved their worth in their ability to devise and deliver strategic oven-ready economic recovery plans – armed with unrivalled local knowledge, insight and hard data – for many local areas.
“An abiding failure of post-war economic recovery has been a harmful lack of continuity amid the constant political chopping and changing of bodies responsible for supporting local economic growth and the loss of institutional memory. As Localis has recently argued the government would need to invent something that looked, talked and acted like LEPs to deliver on Levelling Up in any case.”
The White Paper makes clear that:
- LEPs have acted as important organisational means of bringing together businesses and local leaders to drive economic growth across England.
- It is important to retain the key strengths of these local, business-oriented institutions in supporting private sector partnerships and economic clusters.
- LEPs must better integrate their services and business voice into the UK government’s new devolution plans.
- The UK government is encouraging the integration of LEPs and their business boards into MCAs, the Greater London Authority and County Deals, where these exist.
- Where a devolution deal does not yet exist, LEPs will continue to play “their vital role in supporting local businesses and the local economy.”
- Where devolution deals cover part of a LEP, this will be looked at on a case by case basis.
The UK Government recognises the convening power of these groups and is committed to working with stakeholders to strengthen and deepen partnership working to drive local growth. Initiatives such as the Western Gateway, an economic partnership of local authorities, city regions, LEPs and governments in the West of England have demonstrated the benefits that can be achieved through effective cross-border collaboration.
Director of Institute of Economic Development, Nigel Wilcock, said: “The Institute of Economic Development welcomes the news that Local Enterprise Partnerships will continue to provide a key plank in the economic development landscape.
“The Institute had called for continuity in the mechanisms that were in place to deliver the policy agenda.
“The news that LEPs are here to stay ensures that the difficult groundwork always involved in creating trusted local partnerships will not be wasted – and most importantly ensures that the Government is able to hit the ground running in terms of delivering the new priorities established by the Levelling Up White Paper."