The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Look before you LEP - the next generation of business support and what business can do.

By Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

The last few weeks have seen a blizzard of announcements by the coalition government on their proposals to abolish the Regional Development Agencies, the future of Business Link and its replacement by a new generation of business-led organisations called Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

This is a complex issue and one that is very fast moving with the pace being set by two government departments, Business Innovation & Skills led by Vince Cable and Communities and Local Government led by Eric Pickles. Make no mistake there are different approaches and motives from both departments and irrespective of who triumphs the outcome will have a significant impact on business.

I think I’m safe in saying that in all my time of dealing with business support and policy work I cant recall one issue that has caused so much confusion to so many by so few. It’s a little like trying start a dot to dot puzzle without being sure all the dots are on the page yet.

So what do we know and what can you do to help us get the best deal for business?

The NWDA will be abolished by March 2012 and other regional bodies will suffer the same fate. The replacement bodies for some of these functions will be Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). These will be private sector led with equal input from local authorities and other bodies.

There will be no regional LEP in the North West but there will be either 7 or 8 sub-regional LEPs. The government has started to use the phrase “functioning economic areas” to describe the geographical footprint of a LEP, Greater Manchester being an obvious example.

So, there will be a Greater Manchester LEP. This is something that we are supporting and talks are already happening about what this will look like, what it will do and the role of partners within this.

What isn’t clear at present though are what powers the LEP will have. The government have passed the ball to us and are waiting for it to be passed back. There is a strong split between nationally led programmes such as inward investment, business support, access to finance and locally led programmes such as housing, planning, start up support.

Our view is that if the LEP is to be successful it needs full access to all the range of business support and growth mechanisms not just a select few. This view is shared by a number of other partners and other areas throughout the country.

What is also crucial is that existing regional funds, assets and programmes are retained as best they can locally and not vacuumed up into Whitehall never to reappear.

Being completely realistic LEPs really are the only game in town. The RDAs are not going to make a comeback, Business Link’s future is far from certain and we still have massive challenges to get the economy back in shape and get a private sector recovery that is sustainable and effective. The government is clear on this, we have an opportunity to craft LEPs into a shape that is really fit for purpose.

The Chamber is at the heart of this and I want to make sure that as many members and businesses are included in the process as possible. I’ve put some briefing information together along with the original letter from Cables and Pickles which can be found at http://www.gmchamber.co.uk/your-voice/policy/local-enterprise-partnerships The picture is not an easy one to grasp with huge gaps in knowledge so if you are still wanting more information on LEPs please let us know. We will be asking for your views in a week or so in order that you can play a part in shaping the future for business in Greater Manchester.

The Chamber isn’t into wild speculation and we are keeping just to the facts on this issue. The problem is there are very few facts around. This isn’t just a rehash of leftovers it is a new model that is being set up that will shape the economy for years to come. One thing is certain though, if we don’t even ask for what we want we will end up with what we are given and then we really will only have ourselves to blame if it doesn’t work.

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