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Good start but LEPs toolbox is missing a few tools

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has launched a new source of information for local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).

The pages on the BIS website provide information about: LEP contacts; the LEP capacity and start-up funds; and a toolbox of support around enterprise zones and inward investment, for example.

Thinking back to the economic development initiatives of the previous government and it is clear to me that the focus of support for emerging structures has completely changed. Gone is prescriptive guidance, information about targets and monitoring, and multiple sites of information and support. In is more of an advisory function and degree of local flexibility; and an individual site of support. This is a good thing in that it avoids inefficiency through duplication.

The toolbox of support for LEPs brings together into one succinct place sources of information about the support on offer to enable LEPs to achieve economic growth. Each of the categories provides an overview of: where support can come from; the objectives of support departments or organisations; and contacts for further information.

Of particular use for LEPs given the centralisation of business support, inward investment and trade activities is the information about how these functions will operate in the future and how they link to the activities of LEPs. There is also an important synergy between the information provided on the site and the types of activities which LEPs might spend their allocation of the LEP Capacity Fund on.

In terms of areas missing, the toolbox seems to neglect the offer of local government and the voluntary and community sector. There is no mention, for example, of the activities local government undertakes when it comes to local economic development, nor is there any advice as to how LEPs engage with the voluntary and community sector at the local level. It does not set out any parameters for how LEPs should be measuring their effectiveness, both in terms of economic growth and other more socially focused outcomes.

The toolbox also fails to recognise agendas in a joined up way. While recognising the importance of support around related agendas such as enterprise and skills, it does not provide support for LEPs in bringing the two together. The commercial sector does not necessarily have a policy knowledge of linking themes and activities.

Finally, the toolbox does not really provide advice upon how LEPs operationalise strategy. It provides signposting towards support around themes such as business support, but does not provide case study examples of how this can be implemented at the LEP level. This is an area where CLES has significant experience of gathering case study examples from both the UK and internationally.

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