Leader Views


Posted on:
17th December, 2020

A Milestone Year for LEPs

It was great to see the momentous first vaccinations for COVID - just one year on since the disease was officially identified.  What better testament to British fortitude, ingenuity and determination to overcome the biggest challenge of a generation?

A Milestone Year for LEPs

That event is a stark reminder of the speed with which a new vaccine is now being delivered, reflecting not only the scale of innovation in life sciences, but the historic changes the past year has brought.

It’s also a year that marks the first anniversary of a refreshed and streamlined LEP Network “under new management” with Mark Livesey as the new Chief Executive and a regionally appointed LEP Network Board to support us. I am really privileged to have such a great group of colleagues to chair.

At the same time as the virus was being formally identified in December 2019, we met LEP Chairs and Chief Executives in London to set some priorities for the ‘new’ team. The agreed objectives for 2020 – to target our collective operations more effectively, increase our level of engagement with critical stakeholders, sharpen our policy responses, and swiftly co-ordinate pan LEP action to deal with the challenges ahead.  Key has been ensuring we build consensus across all 38 LEPs at far greater pace and doing all this whilst ensuring that each LEP retains its sovereignty.  

At a recent gathering in December of all LEP Chairs and Chief Executives, we reported back on our first year.

So how did we do? Essentially, the report card says good progress made, but much more remains to be done. 

I won’t run through the detail - you’ll get the gist of that here – but I want to point to actions that really capture the true spirit of LEPs – this ‘LEP Factor’ is a reminder of our true purpose and influence when we act as one. This shows that actions say more than words ever can about LEP impact and value  And from a LEP Network perspective we’ve really demonstrated, the old Aristotle adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its (38) parts”.

The standout for me is the way LEPs responded to the immediate crisis that the COVID restrictions triggered. The unsung heroes at the business end are the LEP Growth Hubs led by experienced business leaders - the first port of call for local businesses in desperate need of advice and support. Based in every part of the country, they saw an immediate fivefold increase in traffic and became the local ‘go to’ support service at the sharp end of business support. We’ve built great relationships with the key Business Representative Organisations like the British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, CBI, Make UK, IoD, etc and joined the Business Action Council.  It’s also great to see how closely LEPs have worked with Central and Local Government and elected Mayors to bring the business voice when it mattered most.

LEPs and their Growth Hubs initiated over 100 project interventions throughout the crisis that proved a lifeline for many local businesses, helping them adapt and survive. These have included sourcing PPE and medical supplies, swift grant funding initiatives, reskilling and training with career portals, and creative initiatives like Buckinghamshire LEP’s ‘ScreenSkills’ programme to reskill those made redundant in the aviation industry.

As both the Business Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, and Regional Growth Minister, Luke Hall, testify: “LEPs have played a key role in mitigating the immediate business impact of Covid-19, including through your engagement with local businesses…Your local support measures for employers and businesses have also been greatly appreciated.”

The role of LEPs in supporting businesses in the event of no Brexit deal was the primary focus a year ago – that rapidly morphed into building recovery and resilience in response to COVID. But Brexit is now firmly back at the top of the to do list for LEPs and their Growth Hubs, again, exploiting their expertise to support local businesses in the weeks and year ahead.       

Our LEP roundtables with business ministers proved another value addition, and demonstrated the scale of reach of LEPs – not just in business, but across innovative sectors and R&D. It was the first-time ministers reached out to LEPs on this scale (LEPs brought a total of 450 businesses to the table) to hear their ideas and views on recovery and green innovation.

Many of the green innovation ideas – around net zero, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and hydrogen investment - are reflected in the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.     

Again, as Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on our last round of green roundtables - “This has been absolutely phenomenal …it’s invaluable for me and for the centre, for No10, Treasury, as well as BEIS”.

LEPs also had impact and value delivering our consistent policy messaging to government in our landmark papers ‘Budget 2020’, our ‘5 Point Plan for Recovery, and our ‘£30bn Rebuild and Recovery Deal’ for CSR. Fundamental policy suggestions that address the immediate critical challenges the business community is facing.  We have sat on a variety of Select Committees, Ministerial Taskforces and working groups and LEPs are regularly invited to offer insight and opinion.

Often the measure of success is the distance travelled – for LEPs the past year has been a marathon but included some full sprints when the need arose. There’s no doubt it has accelerated structural and societal changes, many unintended, and some more permanent than others  As we move forward into 2021 we must ensure we take the best from what has been a torrid time for so many.

So, while we recognise the impact of LEPs acting as one voice, and the impact we have made - we know there is much more work to do if we are to overcome the challenges of 2021. But LEP spirit, that ‘LEP Factor’ that’s so well demonstrated this year, will hold us in good stead. If science has the innovation to develop a vaccine in a year, then I’m sure we’ll tackle 2021 with great enthusiasm and impact.

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