Speaking in a Westminster Hall Debate about ‘The Status of Local Enterprise Partnerships’, on Wednesday (16 March), the Minister made clear that the government “want to continue to have LEPs: for that convening role, the private sector expertise, and the ability to broker lots of different local stakeholders and drive forward a wider strategic vision for the area.”
Thanks to Sally-Ann Hart MP (Hastings and Rye) who led the debate, the first Parliamentary discussion on LEPs since the Levelling-Up White Paper prompted a number of wide-ranging comments among MPs who all pointed to the clear value LEPs were adding to their local area:
- In the Thames Valley region they “do a great deal of work” to bring together businesses, local government, the third sector and higher education so that they work collectively not just for our region but for UK plc. (Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP)
- Tribute was paid to the work of the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP in supporting suppliers of the electric vehicle supply chain, and how the LEP has supported 5,500 businesses. Pointing out that “the great strength of LEPs” is “that they bring private sector expertise into an area that was originally only for the public sector”. (Mark Pawsey MP)
- “The contribution that LEPs make to the prosperity of the nation is invaluable. The Buckinghamshire LEP has played a vital role in determining local economic priorities and driving job creation, workforce skills and growth. It is quite a startling statistic that 55% of all new commercial and industrial employment space in the county of Buckinghamshire over the past five years has been delivered on the local enterprise partnership-managed enterprise zone”. (Greg Smith MP)
- “I work closely with the GFirst LEP in Gloucestershire….It is packed full of a diverse range of skills and made up of local businesses across Gloucestershire. I find that it shares my attitude that, in Stroud, it is getting things done that matters to people. (Siobhan Baillie MP)
- “I have personally had a good relationship with SEMLEP…LEPs often operate on a larger scale than a local authority, but are obviously smaller and nimbler than central Government. They therefore have an important part to play in the delivery of our local growth and investment plans”. (Andrew Lewer MP)
- “Many of her (Sally-Ann Hart MP) points about the role of LEPs in skills, business development and attracting inward investment were well made, but I particularly liked her point about their power in terms of convening. That is one value that has been harder to quantify, but it is absolutely important”. (Alex Norris MP)
In his response to the debate, Levelling-Up Minister Neil O’Brien underlined a number of points on the future of LEPs:
- “Through the White Paper, LEPs now have certainty about their overall role in the future and how they will fit together with mayoral combined authorities. LEPs will continue to exist where there are no MCAs; where MCAs exist, they can be folded in as the business sounding board where they are co-terminus. Where there is a part-in and part-out LEP, we will respond to whatever the desires of local partners are.
- “They will also shortly have the funding certainty that a number of Members have asked about, because we will be writing to them very shortly”.
- “LEPs will continue to have a crucial role outside the areas where there are not electively accountable mayoral-type figures operating across a strategic geography…in many parts of the country there will be no other body on that kind of scale with that kind of strategic overview of the wider economy, straddling a number of different local authorities.”
- “It has been inspirational to hear the many varied things that LEPs are doing across the country: in the south-east, Thames valley, Coventry, Warwickshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, and D2N2 in Northamptonshire and the south midlands. They are doing everything from heritage to digital skills and, indeed, fusion power.”
- “LEPs have played a very important role in unlocking local economic potential and growth over recent years. Using the convening power that so many Members have talked about, partnerships have forged lasting and productive relationships between business, education and local government. At the same time, they have brought that crucial private sector perspective into local decision making, and indeed into combined authorities”.
- “LEPs have been really instrumental in supporting businesses through the twin challenges of leaving the EU and responding to the pandemic. As if that were not enough, a lot of businesses are now turning to their LEP and growth hub for guidance and support regarding the current situation with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
- “I want to thank the people working in LEPs who might watch this debate or read the transcript, because the Government place a huge value on the contribution that they have made and will continue to make to their local economy”.
As part of his summing up, the Minister made clear that, following the conclusion of the LEP Review, the government now has “clarity about the end state that we want to get to and why we want to continue to have LEPs: for that convening role, the private sector expertise, and the ability to broker lots of different local stakeholders and drive forward a wider strategic vision for the area. That is why we have chosen to keep LEPs and why I pay tribute to them today”.
In her final comments on the debate, Sally-Ann Hart MP (Hastings and Rye) noted that:
“LEPs clearly have a role to play and are an asset to all the constituencies represented today….they have the ability to harness the power of businesses and they have a commerciality about them that local authorities just do not have. When it comes to decision making on the if, why, how, when and what of spending money, it is really important that we have the LEP voice in our regions.
“If we want to develop a culture of enterprise in this country, LEPs really do play an important role in that. They really do manage to convene partnerships, which is one of their strengths. I was therefore delighted to hear the Minister’s confirmation that LEPs will continue and will be funded and that clarity will be provided soon.”
A full transcript of the debate is available in Hansard.
You can watch the debate on Parliament TV (starts at 16:30hrs)