LEPs What are they good for?
Go on, you know the rest, you know you do!
Actually I think apologies are in order to Edwin Starr and Motown, as the original recording had a clear and unambiguous message. I am not at all sure the same can be said for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the bodies intended to replace the current Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). Although, perhaps I am being harsh on the Coalition Government as they appear to have a reasonably clear vision of where they intend to get to, if not how to get there.
Which brings us to the theme of this blog post. The intractable uncertainty over the new structures being developed to support business and meet the varying and diverse needs of different regions. The government wants to spend less money, more effectively and to do that with reference to local priorities – all laudable aims.
Here is how it seems to work. The old RDAs you have come to know and (possibly) hate will be abolished as soon as practicable and be replaced by locally proposed organisations based on alignments of interest. This could be at local authority level –county, unitary authority, borough or any combination thereof, or on partnerships that don’t necessarily align with existing geographies – it is up to the proposers how they seek to structure themselves. I can see good arguments for this – take the case of SEEDA. At even the most superficial level, I am not sure what unifies the Medway Towns and North Oxfordshire in geography, demographics, industrial structure or need. There is a case that ‘local’ requirements should drive support – similar in a way to the structures in place in Germany. Interestingly, the Government has asked that LEPs feature both public and private sector representation, with a private (not public) sector chair person.
The government wants proposals for LEPs by 6th September. Why the 6th September? Simples! They have to put the numbers and ideas in the big policy crunching machine to produce a credible plan that can go to the Treasury and be approved in time for the Comprehensive Spending Review announcements on 20th October. There is a great phrase used in US Government circles – ‘process is policy’ – rarely do you get to see it so clearly in the UK but everything is being driven by the budget reduction timetable.
Indeed, to use another US phrase – ‘follow the money!’. So, where is the money? Answer: in the ‘Regional Growth Fund’ which is being consulted on as I write with a closing date of – you guessed it, 6thSeptember. What is it? Well we don’t quite know yet, but it looks like it will be a bid led fund for LEPs and potentially others groups to replace the RDAs and their funding streams but with a focus on projects that can demonstrably create private sector jobs.
We have a mechanism – LEPs. We have money – the Regional Growth Fund. Put them together and you might just have a means of achieving the objectives set down by the coalition. The danger is as always that we get the “same old, same old” just packaged differently. In which case Mr Starr and that Detroit record label will have been spot on.
At VentureNavigator we very much agree with and support a more localised version of business support, so at this stage we are very optimistic! Let us know via the comments box what you think…