Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are groups led by businesses to steer economic growth in their areas. In the North East there are two: Tees Valley Unlimited and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP). Their role is to promote business and investment by challenging negative perceptions of their area, and by driving transformational change as local communities take greater responsibility for their development.
Last year, the Heseltine report, ‘No Stone Unturned’, supported LEPs and recommended that they be given a range of powers and budgets to drive their work. Earlier this year the North East Independent Economic Review Report for NELEP led by Lord Adonis endorsed the Heseltine review and outlined an even greater role for NELEP and other LEPs.
But how local are LEPs? Heseltine had no place for neighbourhood planning or community budgets and neither Heseltine not Adonis refer to local organisations as contributors to growth. So it seems that LEPs and localism are talking about different things.
The European Funding cycle 2013 to 2020 is currently under review. At least 20% of the European Social Fund (ESF) will be dedicated to social inclusion. The plan is for this to be routed through LEPs who will decide on the delivery. However, the question is whether LEPs have a good enough understanding of social inclusion to do this properly. And if they don’t then there should be opportunities for local groups to get together, possibly as VCS consortia and bid to do this work for the LEPs.
Certainly, the VCS has the fine grain of local knowledge necessary to allocate this funding effectively. And equally certainly the need for this work is there in our region. The question is whether the local VCS has the allies to influence their LEP and to shape the debate in their favour. And the first task is to make LEPs listen.