Whilst the role of LEPs is considered by government, we reflect on our role as a catalyst for future growth.
The future role of LEPs is currently under review with government considering what functions they might provide post-pandemic. Clearly, as business led local partnerships, we are keen to ensure that local businesses continue to have a clear strategic voice in continuing to drive the recovery, as well as access to high quality, locally tailored support services. LEPs have played a critical part in supporting business throughout the pandemic, within weeks launching over 100 locally tailored support initiatives to support SMEs. These saw almost four million businesses turn to their LEPs last year for dedicated support and advice. As we enter the recovery phase, we cannot afford to jeopardise that support to local SMEs, or destabilise the local partnerships between private sector, public sector, academia and third sector which the LEP provides.
As well as responding at pace to the pandemic, over the past seven years Coast to Capital has worked hard to identify and invest approximately £325m of Government funds in a range of Growth Deal projects, from infrastructure and digital to skills and clean energy, in order to support the growth of the region’s economy.
We have invested in all Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) institutions in the Coast to Capital region, with flagship projects including the new school of nursing at the University of Chichester and the Vision for Growth project at East Surrey College. Infrastructure projects include an extensive range of road improvement projects across our area, as well as the redevelopment of the Gatwick airport railway station. We’re also proud of our investments in local businesses and third sector, such as the new Aldingbourne Trust Centre in Chichester, enabling the expansion of Hepworth Brewery, and investment in the new specialist facility and installation of machinery at Ricardo in Shoreham.
Having a business-led, local response to recover and rebuild the economy has been and remains critical. And through our ability to bring public and private partners together, we have also leveraged in an additional £900 million of public and private sector investment.
Our Growth Hub and business engagement team continues to provide free, critical advice and support to businesses, as they navigate the path to recovery and growth. Over the past year, we have provided business support services to over 2,500 businesses and distributed more than £4m in direct business support through a mix of recovery grants and loans.
The work of our skills board has set out a regional skills strategy to match the needs of our economic geography and to ensure that both HE and FE provision is relevant to employers’ requirements. Through our Enterprise Adviser Network, we work with schools and colleges to match them with senior business volunteers, helping drive the quality of careers advice and inspiration, as well as exposing our young people to local jobs and training opportunities. This work is vital to ensuring a low-carbon future for our economy, whilst directly supporting the development of future careers and the integration of the Government’s careers strategy into the secondary education curriculum.
It would be a major lost opportunity to either lose or dilute the LEP capability and jeopardise local recovery just when local communities and businesses need it most. LEPs continue to help generate the vital private sector investment that benefits your constituency, to bring all partners to the table, to secure a post Covid recovery across every region, and support business in the opportunities which lie ahead.
Since the announcement of the LEP Review, LEPs and officials have identified areas of activity that most add value to the economy, where the role of the LEP has proven pivotal at bringing about local growth and importantly where LEPs can help drive increased activity with business to ensure businesses thrive and grow both globally and within the UK. An agreed role comprising four key elements will be recommended to ministers;
- A strategic role, providing place-based economic expertise and insight to central and local government and helping secure long term inclusive growth at the local level as part of the Plan for Growth. This builds on LEPs’ 10 year investment in the extensive economic evidence bases which underpin local recovery strategies, bringing an important business insight.
- To deliver a programme of joined-up, expert and tailored business advice and support for local businesses through the extremely successful Growth Hub network, ensuring they can play their full part in the Plan for Growth, enabling SMEs in particular to thrive.
- To identify key local sectors and industries, and to design and deliver interventions to make them more competitive, making the most of local opportunities. LEPs are best placed to come together across the country to help the UK develop global leadership in a range of sectors including as part of the PM’s drive to build our position in science and Net Zero. Programmes will ensure that businesses have the relevant skills they need and that local people are able to realise their potential. Working with DIT LEPs will continue to encourage major private inward investment as well as developing export opportunities.
- To continue to deliver our existing programmes including Getting Building Fund, Local Growth Fund, Enterprise Zones, Freeports etc. LEPs have an excellent record in project execution and will ensure that the remainder of these commitments are delivered to time, cost and output measures.
The budget statement marked a major shift in government funding policy which we respect and we can assure you that LEPs are fully embracing this as part of the review. However, our private sector led Board believe it is essential that LEPs, working with Local Authorities, not competing against them, are a central part of the Levelling Up and UK Shared Prosperity Funding process.
LEPs remain committed to the success of regional economies and, as such, it is vital that we ensure there are no gaps in long term funding, as well as aligning the available funding with local, regional, and national strategies. We need to ensure that funding is used to deliver impactful local projects that benefit our communities and economy.