LEP boundaries should be reshaped alongside county boundaries

The County Councils Network (CCN) has said that Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) boundaries must be reviewed and re-shaped so they align with county council boundaries to improve ‘localised’ industrial strategies.

Capitalising on the Industrial Strategy, published by the CCN and Grant Thornton UK LLP, said that the government’s LEP review provides an opportunity to make the case for positive change. It reported that 85 per cent of counties have a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ relationship with their LEP, but 84 per cent also believe LEP boundaries should be re-shaped to be co-terminous with counties. Only six counties share a co-terminous boundary with their LEP.

For the remaining 31 counties in England, this means working alongside several different LEPs, or working with a LEP that covers a whole region. The CCN and Grant Thornton argue that this creates confusion for local business, occasionally leading to competing and differing priorities over investment and growth initiatives.

County leaders also stated that 50 per cent agreed LEPs are ‘democratically unaccountable’, with 26 per cent answering ‘neutral’. Furthermore, 58 per cent believe that LEPs duplicate the role of the county council, and only seven per cent believe that the remit of LEPs in economic growth should be strengthened.

The report argues that Brexit offers the opportunity for counties to ‘reset the dial’ on their ambitions, but this must be backed by infrastructure investment and devolved powers, to grow local economies and attract inward investment.

Philip Atkins, vice-chairman of the CCN, said: “Counties know their local economies intimately and are responsible for the things that matter to business – infrastructure, skills and transport – and they are large enough to do business nationally: they should be asked to spearhead economic growth alongside local business leaders on LEPs. However, these councillors are clear: if we are to seize the moment and take back control of our economic futures through successful localised industrial strategies, LEP boundaries should be reviewed, and they should be shaped by local areas.

“Reducing the complexity of LEP geographies will be good for business and good for local economies; simplifying overlapping boundaries which creates confusion, and in some cases, makes joint investment and targeted investment harder, with differing LEPs naturally having differing priorities and different needs. That is why I work with many LEPs both in and around Staffordshire, and enjoy good relationships with them. I think everyone would be in agreement that the system could be made simpler, however. Redrawing LEP boundaries and wider system reform, coupled with a wider rural focus in government domestic and Brexit policy, will allow counties to capitalise on the ‘place-based’ ethos of the industrial strategy.”

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