Report suggests increased funding for LEPs can unlock local growth

‘The Next LEPs: Unlocking growth across our localities’ explores the future of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). Its findings are based on interviews with central and local government stakeholders as well as ‘interaction’ with all 39 LEPs in order to provide a framework for further financial devolution to LEPs over the next five years.

The report found that 60 per cent of stakeholders rated their LEP to be good or very good but suggests there is room for improvement, and that much of the £18.5bn allocated to LEPs since their 2010 formation has been determined by central priority.

It recommends: that the next government should strengthen LEPs by doubling the £6bn proposed by Lord Adonis in 2014; Local economic spend should be characterised by a ‘dual lock’ approach where both council leaders and the LEP have to sign off on annual budgets, so ensuring that LEPs continue to play a strategic role while maintaining local government’s democratic importance.

It also suggests abolishing the Skills Funding Agency and transferring its £4bn funding to the LEP level, as well as making £280m of annual capital spend available in order to treble the current number of University Technical Colleges by 2020.

The Localis report, authored by Richard Carr, suggests that devolution of funds and powers must be counterbalanced by greater transparency and accountability within LEPs, recommending that LEPs publish their accounts, minutes and board member email addresses.

The report also suggests the possibility of directly electing LEP chairs, and encourages LEPs to address the lack of representation from BME communities (currently 3 per cent) and women (17 per cent) on LEP boards so as to better represent their local business communities.

Launching the report, Alex Thomson, chief executive of Localis said: “The key finding is that LEPs need to remain nimble and unbureaucratic, while retaining their crucial strategic input into local economies. Our research shows that they have the potential to make a massive impact on our national economy in the next parliament if they get the devolution they’re looking for.”

Julian Huppert MP, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, said: “LEPs represent a new way of working with funding and decision-making devolved from government to local people who know their local areas best. This report examines the role they play, how they have been received and how their framework can be reformed to take them forward. It presents a strong analysis of localism in action and offers some interesting concepts for the future.”

Mike Cherry, FSB National Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses: “We welcome this report, particularly the call for small businesses to have greater representation on LEP boards. This echoes the recommendation made in FSB’s report into Local Enterprise Partnerships that called from them to have more resources but not without reform.

Greater transparency is needed to ensure they are accountable to the taxpayer.”

Read the report