One year into the government’s flagship policy for growth and decentralisation and the Local Enterprise Partnerships are coming under increasing scrutiny from media, politicians and economic commentators. LEPs were always going to need to demonstrate some quick wins, to show critics they could do the job, but how are they really doing?
Our short report, Cause célèbre or cause for concern?, published today shows that many LEPs still have a long way to go to become effective, strategic bodies capable of driving growth. Of the 24 approved a year ago, eight do not yet have boards recognised by government, only two have produced a long-term strategic plan and five do not have a dedicated website.
And beyond this lack of progress, there is a more fundamental problem facing many of the LEPs: their geography. Some are too small to be effective, others are too big, with boundaries that ignore the economic footprints of the cities in their area. These organisational, economic and political hurdles will make it very difficult for some LEPs to work effectively.
Policymakers at the local and national level have a crucial role to play if they want LEPs to navigate these challenges. If the government sees LEPs as an essential vehicle for growth it needs to support them. This means giving financial assistance to capable LEPs, and devolving powers over skills and transport to give them some teeth. Local authorities need to match the funding national government has provided towards administration costs, and ensure LEPs take a role in making the duty to co-operate on strategic planning work.
If the government wants LEPs to deliver the national agenda for growth, it cannot continue to treat LEPs as a blanket national growth policy. Inevitably LEPs are progressing at different speeds. Some, for example the Leeds City Region LEP, are ready and capable of taking forward strategic plans now. Others will take longer to get off the ground and others are making slow progress. The government should engage with the LEPs according to their needs, devolving powers and funding quickly to those that can manage it, and providing support, guidance and incentives to bring those lagging behind up to speed. This will help to give the LEPs a better chance of improving growth prospects for their areas.