How can you can make an already outstanding Local Enterprise Partnership exceptional? This is the challenge that has fallen to our new director Rob Dunford.
Rob, newly-appointed Assistant Director for Business Delivery, plans to step up our business engagement to enable us to allocate, as efficiently and rapidly as possible, all our funding from the Government, and to help ensure infrastructure projects and the associated homes and jobs are delivered with minimal delay.
His appointment follows the Annual Performance Review – the Government’s performance assessment of all LEPs in governance, delivery and strategy. Overall, Enterprise M3 was deemed in 2018 to have “good performance, with many exceptional features” (there are four categories – ‘exceptional’, ‘good’, ‘requiring improvement’ and ‘inadequate’). No LEP was judged exceptional overall and only a small group received a good rating. Enterprise M3 received an ‘exceptional’ rating for its governance and strategy, and ‘good’ for its delivery.
In his first week on the job, Rob said: “We’re talking narrow margins when it comes to Enterprise M3. I’m not coming into a LEP that needs drastic improvement and where everything needs to be overhauled. In a way it’s more challenging as I’ve got to find places where I can make minor improvements to make delivery ‘exceptional’. I’ve got to make an impact without disrupting what’s already working.”
Rob was previously a director at Dorset LEP and his successes included allocating all Government funding to projects that effectively supported the local economy, and ensuring those projects were delivered ahead of schedule, gaining an ‘exceptional’ delivery rating for the LEP.
He said: “We were good at spending the funding as planned and delivering outcomes, there was little underspend but we had a lower budget than that of Enterprise M3. Down to good planning and a bit of luck with delivery partners, we delivered when we said we would and spent money when we said we would. Outcomes came through, and came through quickly. There was very little of the lag time that you would expect with infrastructure delivery and some projects were coming through six months early.”
At Enterprise M3, enhancing business engagement will be one of Rob’s first priorities. “We are getting on with the job of delivering our SEP but need to look at how our stakeholders are inputting into that,” he said. “We need to think about the high-level strategy and how it can be supported by our businesses and communities.
“Local Enterprise Partnerships are an intermediary between the private and public sector, and are sometimes criticised for being too public sector focussed. We need to demonstrate how our decision making is transparent and driven by the private sector, so we need to identify where our business engagement can be enhanced. This may involve more closely knitting together our Growth Hub (the LEP’s business support arm
) and core LEP activity.
“For example, when the LEP is developing strategy, we need to demonstrate we are taking into account all our stakeholders, from business groups to residents and community groups. We need to think about how we engage everyone and run a range of events, consultations and activities that will maximise opportunities to engage with businesses.”
Rob explained how at Dorset LEP, themed events centred around manufacturing and innovation proved very useful. Innovation was key as despite low unemployment, traditional manufacturing processes were a barrier to productivity. These events helped change that by raising awareness of funding opportunities to address productivity issues and supporting businesses to collaborate on bids. Rob’s next step is to work with colleagues and partners to identify whether similar events and initiatives could help Enterprise M3 and build a programme of activity aimed at supporting the priority industries outlined in the Strategic Economic Plan.
“No two LEPs are the same, so something that works well in one, may not in another. EM3 LEP has productivity well above the national average, so the challenges are different to those in Dorset. I need to get to grips with the EM3 area quickly, identify where there are challenges to maintaining and increasing productivity and work on them,” he said. “Fortunately for me, the EM3 team has already made great progress here.”
Rob has seen Enterprise M3 develop since its inception, having worked in Southampton when it was set up along with other LEPs in the region, such as Solent LEP. He continues to be greatly impressed by its board, Director Kathy Slack, the general direction the LEP is taking, and is delighted to have joined the team.
“I was impressed with the early work of Enterprise M3,” he said. “I attended a number of events run by Business South where the LEP featured. I had an opportunity to work for neighbouring Dorset LEP for four years and became involved in various initiatives alongside EM3 colleagues, notably the development of Innovation South through the Science and Innovation Audit process. This meant I came to know people from the LEP team, plus a handful of board members.
“When I was interim Director of Dorset LEP, I also got to know Director Kathy Slack much more and really admired what she and the board/team were doing in this area. The fact that Enterprise M3 is a highly productive area - well above national average - with an ambition to increase that even further was a big draw and a very different challenge to the one I was working on in Dorset. The chance to work with Kathy and the EM3 Board, which features some high calibre business leaders was a significant factor in my decision to move here.”