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The Power of Partnerships and the Future of LEPs

Last updated 13 April 2021
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Stacey King

Stacey King, City Manager at Cityfibre and EM3 LEP Board Director explains how the diversity, commercial acumen and cross-boundary approach of LEPs make them central to the UK's business-led recovery and growth.

I have read some of the recent commentary about LEPs. All of it feels partisan and much of it is out of touch. I want to share my view – not just because the facts are important, but because any conflict between organisations that can help the UK return to prosperity and address future challenges is counter-productive and undesirable.

At this point, I should declare an interest: I am a dedicated supporter of the private sector and totally committed to the success of businesses. I am also a LEP Board Director, but what you should read into that is not that I am a LEP insider, but that I am a businesswoman who could see that LEPs are business-led organisations which help embed a business focus in partnerships across their local economies.

There are more than fourteen hundred senior business leaders on LEP Boards and expert groups including from Siemens, Jaguar/VW, and BAE Systems, who all provide a direct route to business. LEPs also represent thousands of SMEs, whose agility, innovative and entrepreneurial focus lies at the heart of British business.

Now more than ever we need that voice of Local Enterprise Partnerships for their expression of what is important to business. Combined with their non-political stance, which stretches across boundaries and sectors, it is the LEP business voice that is shaping the ambition for what the economies of our regions could, and should, look like.

And it is LEPs’ commercial focus that is also constantly seeking fresh authoritative evidence to inform decisions about how businesses seize the opportunities of a digital and net zero future.

It is important to emphasise these strategic decisions are made by people appointed because of their expertise, knowledge and the range of experiences they bring to the table. No one is claiming LEPs have done all they need to do to improve diversity (name me an organisation which can truthfully say they have) but they have made great strides:  there is now 40% female representation on LEP boards, and a quarter of Board Chairs are women.

But diversity is not only about gender. LEPs are intrinsically partnerships. Over one hundred and eighty locally elected councillors sit on LEP Boards and bring democratic accountability to all they do. They are joined by business, education, and third sector partners who give the LEPs and their strategic decisions a rich and rounded perspective.

There is often a healthy tension between political and functional economic boundaries – that may always be there, but drawing boundaries is not nearly as important as being prepared to work across them. LEPs are used to doing this because they know businesses do it all the time.

It is unlikely LEPs would have helped create or preserve almost eighteen thousand jobs in innovation and R&D investment if they had confined themselves to working within borders and boundaries – geographic or sectoral.

In my own Enterprise M3 LEP, we have encouraged collaboration between the space and low carbon sectors to support the commercialisation of business ideas which will support the UK’s move to carbon net zero. We have also been extending our work across geographic areas. An example is the Energy South2East strategy, incorporating three LEP regions, which plans to deliver a reduction in emissions from the electricity, heat and transport sectors equivalent to taking all five million cars in the south east off the road. Our Catalyst South group of six southern LEPs works together at scale to advance recovery and renewal with a pan-regional approach.

During the pandemic LEP Growth Hubs responded rapidly to provide critical support to businesses. A significant amount of that help has been sector specific. In the last six months, LEP Growth Hubs have directly engaged and supported more than 1.6 million businesses.

As LEPs embrace a new future alongside the rest of the post-pandemic business world, I hope and expect they will continue to play a strong and powerful role primarily as a voice for business and enterprise with a track record of delivery but also as a local organisation with an ethos which recognises the power of partnership. That’s what Local Enterprise Partnerships do well.

Stacey's article appeared in the April edition of the Municipal Journal, which can be viewed here



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