A ‘LEP’ into the unknown
With the announcement by Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG), that the Regional Development Agencies (RDA’s) are to be abolished and will be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), local government and businesses have been in a state of intense activity to develop proposals for LEPs in economic geographic areas by the first week of September this year.
LEPs are intended to propose a flexible, locally-led approach to economic development that the Local Government Association has long argued for. The aim of the LEP is to allow local areas to determine their own economic growth and drive the creation of private sector jobs. It is expected that LEPs will cover the full range of inter-linked issues that underpin local economic performance such as local transport provision and infrastructure investment, housing, regeneration, business support, skills and employment and training provision.
In many places the models for LEPs and the partnerships with business already exist, and it is expected that councils and businesses will wish to continue with them. The precise form and geographical coverage of LEPs will vary from place to place.
The Government has confirmed that it has received 56 proposals for LEPs from across the country.
Ministers have been impressed by many of the proposals which are radical in their approach. They identify the variety of challenges facing individual local economies and put forward innovative ways of tackling them – reflecting the importance of allowing local areas to determine their own economic development and drive private sector job growth.
The Government has said it is keen to see partnerships remain proactive and maintain momentum. Over the coming weeks Ministers will consider the proposals in detail, looking at how they will support economic growth, before providing feedback to partnerships ahead of the publication of the White Paper on sub-national economic growth and the introduction of the Localism Bill.
Government also considers that Local Enterprise Partnerships can rewrite the economic geography of the country – unconstrained by arbitrary boundaries of Regional Development Agencies and the top-down prescription approach taken previously. Proposals include partnerships that cut across existing regional boundaries and include universities or community groups among them.
The Local Government Group, led by Local Government Improvement and Development (LGID) is leading on the support and advice to councils including peer networks to develop their propositions, an online seminar, a communities of practice for the sector, an expert panel to advise on key issues with their thinking, and an advice note for councils.
A role for regulation and regulatory services in the future LEP’s
This is unclear at the moment and may become clearer when the White Paper is published. However, notwithstanding this, local regulators including councils and national regulators who deliver services in localities e.g. the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, have the opportunity to develop together comprehensive support and advice services in LEP areas that help businesses with the most important elements of regulatory compliance.
This may include gateway services, where first call advice is provided to businesses for all local regulatory services, freeing up resources to focus on high risk, non compliant businesses, particularly those who deliberately flout the law and thereby undermine those businesses who are in the majority and who look to ensure they meet their statutory obligations.
Local Government Regulation, as part of the Local Government Group, will be exploring opportunities to develop good practice with councils and their regulatory partners and will look to promote this across the sector in the future.
It is also not clear how LEPs will impact on individual businesses including their regulatory responsibilities but having access to sensible, proportionate, risk based regulation and compliance advice may become part of the offer from a LEP.
For local authorities and other local regulators it provides an opportunity to work in a joined-up and coordinated way, ensuring resources are targeted across the LEP in business activities where the highest risks and hazards occur and importantly ensure there is consistency in approach and a level playing field.
For colleagues who specialize in regulatory advice for their companies and organizations including health and safety, it makes sense to keep up to date with developments, which may be through their professional bodies, membership of business group representatives e.g. the CBI, the British Retail Consortium, the British Chambers of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses.
Derek Allen became Executive Director of LGR in March 2002. He was previously Head of Regulatory Services at Thurrock Council; a role which included town planning, environmental health, trading standards and highways enforcement services. He trained as an Environmental Health Officer at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham where he specialised in food safety and private sector housing.
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