Tuesday, 26 July 2011

LEP Network Interview with the British Chambers of Commerce

I Interviewed Mike Spicer from the British Chambers of Commerce on the LEP Network 26th July 2011

What will the LEP Network do?

It will be a light-touch network that enables LEPs to come together to discuss issues of shared importance, engage with Ministers, and share knowledge and good practice. It will be a gateway to news and information, and will assist LEPs to ‘self-serve’ with their troubleshooting, capacity-building and problem-solving needs.

The Network officially went live on 21 July, so it’s still very early days. We have a draft programme of activities that we are testing with LEP leaders to ensure it reflects their needs and is driven by their requirements.

The core programme will consist of events; electronic forums for regular communication; a monthly bulletin; a website and an annual benchmarking report of LEP-area economies.

We hope that over time it becomes a valued and trusted platform for LEPs and the wider community of interest around local economic development.

Who is it for?

It’s there for LEPs. LEPs come in all shapes and sizes and the make-up of Boards, in terms of public and private-sector participants, varies greatly too. The Network needs to be inclusive to reflect that and be successful.

While LEPs are resource-constrained, that doesn’t mean they can’t draw on expertise and experience in a way that avoids the use of significant additional resource. Using the power of networks is one such way. We’ve already seen virtual social networks spring up around the LEP agenda. But I think it’s fair to say that at this stage they are mainly confined to the wider community of interest and have a public-sector slant.

The Network will help to address this lack of capacity on the private-sector side but will not be exclusive to it. I think a major strength that the BCC brings to this is experience of engaging with Chamber members, other local business bodies and the wider community on the issue of local economic development. This experience will inform how we frame Network activities so they are as inclusive as they can be.

We have also been in discussions with the LGA about how we can make this work for both the public and private-sector participants in LEPs.

What will you do?

My role is to lead the project management of LEP Network activities and be the main point of contact for those looking to find out more about how they can get involved.

Are you a new national secretariat?

No. This is not about re-creating some equivalent to the old RDA National Secretariat: RDAs shared common lines of accountability into central government and the secretariat supported that by co-ordinating communications and positions.

But LEPs are evolving from the bottom up - free from central control and shaped according to local need: the LEP Network is based on these principles too and will be driven by the priorities of its members.

LEPs have told us loud and clear: they do not want the Network to be a collective mouthpiece for them, and they do not want some grouping drawn from the Network that could, over time, come to be seen as the primary route for the Government to engage with the LEP agenda.

For how long will you be facilitating this network given funding restraints?

The Department for Communities and Local Government has made a grant available to cover some of the costs of Network activity over its first two years, the remainder will be met through in-kind contributions from the BCC.

So our role is to get it up and running. We will be working with partners across the Network to explore the options for sustaining it beyond the grant period.

How do I get involved (LEP/business/representative group)?

There are several ways you can get involved - by attending events; providing news and other material for the website and monthly bulletins; and contributing to online discussions.

The Network will hold events throughout the year: some will be directed primarily at LEP Boards, others will be open to the wider community of interest.

We will also be organising a Business Representatives Forum, drawn from across national business groups and sector organisations. This will be a forum for business groups to raise common issues about local economic development from their members, in a way that can be fed into the Network.

I understand that there is an event on 15th September – how can I register?

The LEP Network’s inaugural event will be held in London on 15 September. It is open to LEP Boards, senior government officials and business group representatives. This first event is by invitation only. The aim is to maximise the quality time between LEP leaders and Ministers. The event will feature keynote addresses from BIS and CLG Ministers; a ‘LEP Question time’ session – a chance for LEP leaders to ask questions of senior members of the Government; and plenty of opportunities for networking.

There will be a second, larger event, in February / March 2012 that will be open to the wider community of interest. We also plan to hold regular thematic workshops.

Will you have a website/email address?

Yes. The Network website will go live over the next few months. It will be a portal for information on LEPs and news from around the Network; carry discussion threads; be a hub for LEP-relevant research; and include information about LEP Network events with details of how to get involved.

The LEP Network email address will go live from 1 August and will be: info@lepnetwork.org.uk

Can I register for updates / newsletter / events? Will you have a distribution list?

Yes. You will be able to register by emailing info@lepnetwork.org.uk from 1 August and there will also be a facility to sign up through the website when that goes live.

Will I be able to bid for funding from you?

No – the Network is not a funding body. But information on how to access / raise funding will be included within the scope of Network activities.

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