Time for LEPs to deliver
IT is just over a year since the Government gave notice it was abolishing regional development agencies and asking local authorities and business leaders to form local economic partnerships to help drive the growth of the private sector.
Much attention has focused on their lack of financial resources compared to their RDA predecessors, the lack of clarity about the authority they will wield and the extent to which business is truly engaged.
But considering the chaotic way the idea was launched by Government, immense credit is due to those behind Yorkshire’s LEPs.
From nothing, four bodies have been created with significant private sector representation and local authority support. They have established the key driving forces in their local economies and identified areas for action. Despite fears about the damage RDA abolition might do to the Yorkshire ‘brand’ so far they have prioritised cooperation over competition. While tensions have emerged between towns and cities within LEPs, they have so far been contained.
The allocation of money from the Government’s LEP start-up fund, the confirmation of the first enterprise zones and the imminent conclusion of the second round of the regional growth fund represent a significant moment for LEPs. They are moving from bodies that plan and theorise to bodies that do and business will want to see signs they can now turn talk into action.
Now is the moment when LEPs must start to demonstrate they can make a difference. Their limited resources means their financial punch will never be as heavy as their RDA predecessors but however narrow the focus of their plans and however limited in scale, LEPs must start to show they can help real businesses to grow.
The next 12 months will either establish LEPs as a credible feature of the regional economic landscape or damn them as an empty Government gesture.