The Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP’s) in Liverpool, Lancashire and Manchester are not delivering according to polls conducted by Downtown in Business this week. The results from each area can be viewed HERE for Liverpool, HERE for Lancashire and HERE for Manchester.
So what has gone wrong with these new bodies that were established by the coalition government, at least in part, to fill the vacuum that was left by the hastily scrapped Regional Development Agencies (RDA’s)?
In Greater Manchester it would appear that most business leaders feel that the LEP is simply a layer of government that is unnecessary. The Combined Authority, which has strong private sector representation within its management structure, is seen as a robust, business – friendly organisation that champions the city region effectively, lobby’s successfully for resources from Westminster and Europe, promotes Manchester in the right way, and offers strategic leadership on the major issues of planning, economic development and transport. Why do we need a further layer of bureaucracy when the model in existence was delivering?
The LEP will argue that it has bid successfully for additional resources, and of course negotiated Enterprise Zone status for Airport City. But does anyone seriously believe that the Combined Authority did not have the ability to do that anyway?
In Liverpool, a chair has yet to be formally appointed, although it appears that Robert Hough will assume that position within the next couple of weeks. His appointment was delayed because he did not wish to be embroiled in the negotiations about what happens to the staff of The Mersey Partnership.
Now that the Chief Executive of that body, Lorraine Rogers, has resigned, it appears that matters are likely to be resolved sooner rather than later. However, the emergence of an Elected Mayor for Liverpool puts the city region agenda back somewhat. Will a LEP be able to frustrate a powerful elected mayor whose priority will inevitably be to drive the economy of the city at the expense of all others?
In Hough and the likely winner of the elected mayor poll in May, Joe Anderson, Liverpool’s LEP will have two pragmatic and skilled negotiators that should be able to accommodate the needs of both city and region. However, communication needs to be improved and private sector engagement enhanced if the LEP is to be seen as relevant and useful by the private sector.
We then come to Lancashire, which unsurprisingly fared even worse than their two North West counterparts in the Downtown poll. Off to an uneasy start, with government Ministers virtually forcing Blackburn to become a part of Lancashire’s offer, the rocky start appeared to have been smoothed over with the quick appointment of private sector board members, including the chair Edwin Booth.
It then failed in its first major challenge as Lancashire’s bid for an Enterprise Zone was snubbed. The government only did a U-Turn on this when heavy job losses were announced at BAE systems.
The bulk of the resources available to the LEP appear to derive from the biggest of local authority beasts Lancashire County Council, and it is hard to argue with those who suggest that here we have a LEP that has embarked on a ‘tick box’ exercise when it comes to private sector involvement. Appointing a board of the ‘usual suspects’ and then scratching your head at complaints from the business community that their voice is not being heard is not an acceptable approach from a body that the government told us would be PRIVATE SECTOR led.
If the political establishment in Lancashire needs more than a dozen council’s, over 900 councillor’s, not to mention MP’s and MEP’s to undertake its business, then I would respectively suggest that the county’s business community needs more than half a dozen representatives to effectively articulate the needs of the private sector. I understand that steps are likely to be taken to address this deficit. That can’t happen soon enough.
Overall though, LEP’s appear to have left many in the private sector unconvinced. It is to be hoped that in the next twelve months they can prove that they are a QUANGO worth keeping – or people may start to call for a return to RDA’s!