Safeguarding the future value of local business in levelling up.
In an exclusive piece for the UK's Business Action Council, Mark Bretton, Chair of the LEP Network, sets out why it’s vital to retain the voice of local business to make levelling up a reality, and why we must safeguard this future value for the communities we work with.
"Like most organisations since the last Budget, LEPs have been pretty full on preparing for what looks like a defining Levelling -Up White Paper, and one of the toughest Comprehensive Spending Reviews of modern times.
But LEPs have an additional issue to contend with – we have been under government review since that March Budget, the second in three years, and that has an impact on the fantastic commitment of all our Chairs, Chief Executives, and staff who work so hard to make things happen.
I don’t think any organisation is as closely monitored or reviewed as much as LEPs have been in the past three years – yet we’ve come through the past 18 months of the pandemic having proven their unique capabilities. But don’t take my word for it – as Johnathan Werran, the Chief Executive of independent think tank Localis concludes:
"LEPs came through the stress test of how to engineer economic pandemic recovery with flying colours, showing their worth with the immediacy and intelligence of their responses in rapidly devising credible local growth strategies that united a diverse set of partners.”
I’m proud of the critical part we played in supporting business throughout the pandemic, launching over 100 locally tailored SME support initiatives. Almost 2m businesses turned to their LEPs within the first six months of the pandemic alone, and we helped many businesses adapt to changes post-Brexit.
The priority for me is to enshrine the future value of LEPs in what is a busy political arena in order to build on what clearly works for local economic growth and levelling up – ensuring we continue to make the difference in our communities regardless of political persuasion.
As business-led partnerships, we must ensure that local businesses continue to have a clear strategic input in driving regional economic recovery, as well as providing access to high quality, locally tailored business support services.
To this end we are in ongoing discussions with officials and stakeholders to help define exactly what the best form of business representation and support looks like in the future. Recently we’ve been highlighting exactly what that future value can be post Levelling-Up White Paper and sharing the emerging conclusions of the review. Based on a ‘what works’ approach, LEPs have identified clear future values that we can bring to the table, namely:
- a trusted body bringing business, public sector, academics and third sector together around common goals
- big focus on translating national Levelling Up ambitions at local level,
- enabling local businesses, particularly SMEs, to transition to Net Zero at pace,
- building the future talent pool of local skills that business needs,
- helping local firms exploit international trade opportunities as part of a Global facing Britain,
- investing in the local innovation and R&D that will help bring all this about, and leveraging private sector investment in the process
- building the infrastructure that will connect areas and visibly level up every region across the country.
These future values will nurture local partnerships, broker new deals, and drive innovation through our forensic understanding of our local economies. We convene at pace in pursuit of a shared endeavour to unlock crucial developments that others have been unable to deliver.
As we build our national recovery, we must use this capability that we have spent over ten years building at a time when local communities and businesses need it most, generating vital private sector investment, bringing partners to the table, working across boundaries and supporting business in future opportunities. I couldn’t put it better than Localis, who have been working on local policy issues for twenty years:
“If the aim of the spending review and levelling up agenda is to build back better, and starting from now, Localis views LEPs as an optimal, oven-ready structure for binding our local economic anchors with the local and national engines of state. Truth be told, if they didn’t exist already, senior officials and ministers would be busy inventing them.”
We particularly value the relationships that we have with all the BAC members, some developed over many years, some more recent. We need your help please to spread our message, to give your voice in support of our evolved role and to ensure that we secure the settlement we need to continue to be able work with you, playing our unique part in the Plan for Growth and Net Zero."