‘Exceptional’ levels of operations are in place at Enterprise M3 LEP, and Assistant Director – Operations, Rachel Barker, is heading the drive to ensure that we maintain our excellence and never become complacent.
In a nutshell, Rachel “focuses on the smooth running of our organisation” and ensures “we are maximising our resources to benefit the economies of Surrey and Hampshire”. No easy feat when you are dealing with £250m of capital funding which is available over 2015-21. Legal agreements, contracts, due diligence, accountability and transparency are all part of the process.
Enterprise M3 operates within the Government’s National Assurance Framework which sets out its governance arrangements, policies and protocols, and the relationship with the accountable local authority including management of funding. Rachel is tasked with incorporating this into the day to day running of the organisation as well as the wider culture.
“We have a great team and exceptionally strong board members who all bring a range of varied experiences and knowledge from across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors,” she said. “We get a lot of guidance from the Government on how we are expected to operate. For us, it’s about going above and beyond that checklist and deciding how we embed that in our culture. When we looked at the Government’s best practice, we realised we were already doing it.”
One example of going above and beyond is how the LEP, which received the Government’s ‘exceptional’ rating in operations, manages the projects it is funding.
“Our experience is that large, transformational projects can sometimes get delayed,” Rachel said, “when we looked back on these delays, we realised we could often identify them at an early stage. So, we became more proactive at talking to people involved in the projects to reduce the delays. Then, we developed a pipeline of projects so if one falls behind, another will step up to take its place. Our recently launched Growth Fund Prospectus was brought in so we can call on projects to come forward and have that pipeline.”
Rachel explained that the LEP’s success was also down to its capacity to review its own operations.
“It’s about all around continuous improvement, reflecting how we could do better or do things differently. So, for example, perhaps rather than a grant, we have explored using loans to deliver some projects and nearly 20% of our funding has been used in this way. This allows for us to re-invest in other projects at a later date and maximise the impact of our funding,” she said.
The Enterprise M3 Funding Escalator is a key initiative to demonstrate that process in action. The equity and loan fund of £5.5m was set up five years ago and its success means it was expanded by a further £10m in 2018. The longer timescale has enabled the LEP to loan to one business, to allow the receipts to come back and recycle the finance to another business. To date the fund has supported nearly 40 businesses across Hampshire and Surrey.
“We need to show we are spending Government money, that we are getting the economic benefit and present the evidence to show that,” Rachel said.
Having just returned from maternity leave, and living in Hampshire, close to the Surrey border, with her two children, Rachel feels “personally involved” in Enterprise M3’s work.
She said: “The LEP is doing great things for the economy. It’s about what works locally and finding a balance. Enterprise M3 has many inter-connected towns and a large rural area, with no single predominant city, and it’s about finding what works for all these particular places. I love learning about places and understanding how a place ticks.”