By Maximilian Clarke

One year after the first 24 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)- the government’s flagship policy for delivering economic growth and decentralisation- were announced, a report concludes that they have struggled to make progress.

The report by the non-partisan charity, Centre for Cities, finds that 8 have yet to have their boards recognised by government, only two have produced a long-term strategic plan and five do not have a dedicated website. In some cases, LEPs have appointed huge boards and advisory teams; the South East LEP has 43 board members and the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP has 14 associated focus groups, with at least 160 people involved. This, the Centre argues, could add a level of bureaucracy and process that might slow decision-making.

"While a handful of LEPs are doing really well, many are struggling to come close to meeting the objectives that were set to them by government this time last year,” said Andrew Carter, Director of Policy and Research at Centre for Cities. “One of our biggest concerns is the spatial geography of some LEPs does not match the economic and political geography, creating real barriers to effective influence over local economies. This means that many of the LEPs seem to be falling at the first hurdle, before boards are recognised or strategies considered.

In addition to these issues, some LEPs also face mismatches between spatial geography and the political and economic reality and pressures of partnership working across new boundaries.

Centre for Cities argues that LEPs still have potential if the government acts now to empower them to meet the rising expectation that they will be primary drivers of the government’s growth agenda. The government needs to give capable LEPs the resources, powers and freedoms to take forward policies for local growth by devolving responsibility for transport and skills, as well as providing some financial support for the administration of the LEP.

The study also advises that local authorities have a key role to play in this process by overcoming local politics and sensitivities and working in partnership for the benefit of the wider area. They should match the money provided by national government to support the administration of the LEP and offer up some input into strategic planning.

“Some are too small, some are too big and several have boundaries which do not recognise important economic patterns such as travel to work areas,” continued Carter. “Some are developing large shadow boards and focus groups, likely to make it difficult to make strategic decisions for economic growth quickly and efficiently.

“Devolution to local level means varied progress is inevitable, but government set the LEPs up as a national policy. The LEPs that are progressing quickest, such as Leeds, should be supported to get on with the job. The government has some difficult decisions to make about some other LEPs, hamstrung by lack of funding or leverage and influence. If they want them to deliver national priorities, they should ensure they receive the help they need to get their houses in order.”

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