Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Note of the LEP Network Conference on 26th April 2012

General points from the Event
  •  It was a popular event with 37 of the 39 LEPs in attendance as well as three Cabinet Ministers, one Minister of State and lots of senior civil servants. Government is taking LEPs seriously.
  • David Frost, Chair of the LEP Network, made a plea to government on behalf of LEPs about resourcing "Can they drive significant change while run on a shoestring" and requested a commitment of £250k per LEP per year for the next three years to help them reach their full potential. Here is a link to his blog http://lepnetwork.org.uk/leps-cannot-deliver-economic-development-on-a-shoestring.html on the issue.
  • Eric Pickles responded to this request for funding with this statement: "if you push, some departments will give it to you, but it will rip the heart out of you, it will come with teeth". He then referred to delivery targets for central government and a warning of "then you will work for us". (This bit wasn't in the speech transcript!)
  • The Full Transcript of Eric Pickles speech can be found here: http://www.communities.gov.uk/speeches/corporate/lepnetwork2012 the other point of note is "If you see rules break them. If there are obstacles - go through them...So take liberties. Tell us what you need to make progress".
  • Mark Prisk went on to say that we must remember that locally the private sector is working in partnership with the public sector to make areas better: Local growth must be locally led. The one size fits all approach has failed. LEPs have a challenging agenda. There will be local difference based on local need and local resources. Whitehall is also learning to adapt to this different approach. LEP have the ability to pool resources and pool talent to affect change locally. We must remember that LEPs can't do everything. LEPs need to have a clear strategy and a clear idea of priorities in order to create the right conditions for growth.
  • The idea of 'non city deals' was mentioned.
  • Government recognises that the nature of bottom up approach means you are going to get an un even model
  • Here is a link to Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening's speech http://lepnetwork.org.uk/transport-secretary-justine-greening-addresses-addresses-lep-network-annual-conference.html she mentioned that some decisions will go to LEPs from 2015 and that LEPs will be a key player in this devolved process. There will be a managed handover to transport authorities when they are ready. I am sure I also recall her mentioning indicative funding to be announced later this year – although this doesn't seem to be written anywhere.
  • Break out session were held on four topics. Here are the key points from each:
      • Resourcing 1) Continuous financial support 2) competition vs. allocation 3) structures and accountability
      • Skills 1) youth unemployment crisis 2) provision of skills to economic need 3) role of LEPs in skills agenda
      • Business infrastructure 1) communication (esp. Broadband and mobile coverage) 2) transport (delay from statutory consultees) 3) key roads to be identified and improved 4) multiple initiatives from various departments to be coordinated
      • Planning and Economic Development 1) LEP role to be statutory, consultee or just to make it easier for business 2) how to unblock
There is lots of LEP best practice nationally. Here are a few highlights:

  • So what next?

    Below I have put together some thoughts into possible next steps:

  • LEPs should contact central government – all departments – and tell them what they want and what they will achieve – the door is open – it is up to LEPs to go through it. Be proactive.
  • The flip side of the door being open is to understand that LEPs can't go through all open doors – they don't have the resources. Expectations need to be managed. Different LEP areas will have different priorities. The value of LEPs is greater than what funding they have or don't have. The ability to pool resources, pool talent and knock heads together shouldn't be underestimated. That said LEPs will need to have a clear strategy and a clear idea of priorities in order to create the right conditions for growth.
  • All LEPs to be given RGF3 funding to replicate the successful RGF2 bid from Plymouth to support SMEs locally.
  • The LEP Network to continue to share LEP good practice. LEPs to use/replicate this best practice where appropriate to do so.
  • Recognise that the incentives on offer do not apply to all LEPs. Some will be all singing and dancing others will be a more basic model. All with have the same overarching objective.
  • Central government to coordinate their requests of/to LEPs better. Some departments are better at this than others.
  • Cut public sector red tape. The public sector should be able to operate at the same speed as the private sector whist providing transparency and VFM. Especially when contracting for services.
  • Bureaucracy to be cut for LEPs where it makes sense to do this. If an element of competition adds nothing then start handing things out. This isn't too top down. Perhaps this could be applied to transport funding. Allocations given to LEPs for a particular purpose but decisions taken locally on exactly what will be delivered.
  • Government is currently negotiating a deal with the EU for 2014 based on improving value for money, reducing bureaucracy and burden and allowing aligning of the funds. I think LEPs can have a key role.
  • Perhaps the next stage for some LEPs will be to look at the 'city deals' which are all to be agreed by the summer and think about what sort of deal they want and then ask for it. This could be a 'LEP deal' a 'county deal' or a 'rural deal'.
  • Will incentives such as business rate growth be ringfenced to ensure this is reinvested in the local economy/economic development?
  • There was also talk about how do we know if LEPs are successful? What are the right things to measure? Over what time scale?

    Finally I had a lovely day.  It was a great event, really well organised and very interesting.

    As ever these are my personal views.