26 January 2011

As we progress into 2011 more detail is leaking out as to how LEP’s will be structured. There is an amazing amount of goodwill from the business community towards LEPs and it is vital that those who are responsible for the governance take advantage before the enthusiasm wanes.

I have attended a variety of events around LEPs over the last 3 months and I believe that it is critical that each LEP outlines its objectives very early on. Having sat on a variety of Boards and Quangos over the years the common problem which they all face is not living up to expectations. This results from a wide ranging set of objectives which are designed to pacify vocal opinion at the beginning but become a heavy weight around the neck as the reality of delivery differs from the grand ambitions.

A good example of this happened this week at a meeting in Norwich regarding the “New Anglia” LEP. The presentations were tight with the shadow board indicating a concentration on the tourism and energy industries. Now it is arguable if these are the correct priorities but I commend the principle of concentrating on areas where an effect can be seen and measured. The question and answer session however turned into a “What about…” inquisition. The competing demands of the cultural, creative etc industries were all raised and whilst they are important the LEP with limited resources cannot make a difference across the board.

To me it is vital that the LEP concentrates its activities in a few key areas where they can really make an immediate difference. If not they will fail and the business goodwill will evaporate very quickly. It will be interesting to see which argument wins out…a focused narrow approach or a wide “everything to all men” one.

As an aside it is clear that financial resources will be sparse so how about this for one way to make a real difference? All economic officers, departments and budgets in every local authority in the LEP area should be given to the LEP to administer. In Norfolk and Suffolk I would estimate that this would equate to 100 staff and over £5m. It would then be for the LEP to decide on how many staff are required and what they do with the budget. Radical but I would bet that it would make a real difference. Business could then be tasked to match this sum. Perhaps via 1% extra on rates or by a “tithe” on representative movements which want a place on the Board such as Chambers, FSB,IOD etc. Say 10% of membership fees? Match this with UK government or ERDF funds and the budget is transformational.

I would not bet on the above happening but if a LEP just replaces an RDA or LSP it will become a toothless talking shop. If it does business differently such as above it could really become a powerhouse for economic good.

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