Agenda item

LEP Review

To receive a verbal update on the current position of the LEP Review, plans for a refresh of the Local Industrial strategy, and the ‘transition plan’.


David Owen, Director of Economy and Environment, Gloucestershire County Council (GCC), and Chief Executive of the GFirst LEP, provided an update on the current position of the LEP review, and plans for a refresh of the Local Industrial Strategy.


Members were informed that the national LEP review had been completed.


Members were also informed that the Levelling Up White Paper deemed that every area that wished to receive a devolution deal would do so by 2030, and the aspiration within Gloucestershire was for the area to receive a County Deal under the leadership of GCC.


In areas where there would be a mayor or a combined authority, LEPs would be required to integrate into these functions. Where a devolution deal had not been agreed, the unwritten indication was that LEPs would continue in their current capacity. The White Paper also highlighted the importance of the independent business voice, however it was not yet clear how this would be achieved.


It was understood that once a County Deal was signed, the LEP would have one year to integrate into the agreed democratic structure. However, direct discussions with the Government on a deal for Gloucestershire were likely still a way off.


David Owen continued to explain that the funding settlement received by GFirst LEP in March this year had been cut by 38%, and the LEP was given just one day’s notice of this. There had also been a shift in the allocation of other national funding streams, such as the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which were now being received by district authorities as opposed to the LEP.


It was noted that the LEP Board had received a paper in September detailing measures to ensure the LEP could continue until a County Deal was agreed. Preparations for integration following an agreed deal were already in motion, with David Owen now working for both GCC and as Chief Executive of GFirst LEP. Current preparations were also looking to ensure the retention of skilled LEP staff and to address the definition of the independent business voice in Gloucestershire.


Members were advised that in the meantime, it was business as usual for the LEP. The LEP was currently in the process of recruiting for a new LEP Board member, and the Local Industrial Strategy was being reviewed as part of the wider strategic approach in Gloucestershire.


Nationally, the LEP network was working with Government officials to define in more detail sections of the Levelling Up White Paper, such as the expectations for the independent business voice at a local level.


One member summarised that in essence, funding which would previously had been received by the LEP was now being received by district authorities. They suggested that this could cause issues, and queried whether Gloucestershire would lose out in terms of the more strategic projects that would benefit the whole County. David Owen agreed there was a danger that there would be less strategic input across the County, in addition to a potential postcode lottery for businesses in relation to the support they could receive.


In response to a further query, it was clarified that there was no suggestion of Gloucestershire receiving a mayor.


One member asked whether GFirst LEP worked strategically with other local LEPs, such as Worcestershire. In response, it was understood that Gloucestershire was working collaboratively with Worcestershire on cyber connections in the Malverns, however the fact that Worcestershire’s LEP boundaries were not co-terminus impacted on any strategic partnership.


Another member commented that whilst they could see some benefits of the LEP integrating with GCC, they had always been previously reassured by the independence of the LEP. They queried how businesses would view the LEP in the context of the Council and what the arguments were for bringing the LEP in house.


In response, it was explained that the White Paper clearly set out the requirement for LEPs to integrate, and that work was ongoing to define the requirement for the independent business voice following devolution. It was noted that in some areas, LEPs already sat within local authorities without a devolution deal.


One member reflected on the innovative projects attributed to GFirst LEP, and queried whether that innovative approach could continue following the LEPs integration with GCC. In response, David Owen commented on the innovation he had witnessed amongst GCC officers, and noted that a number of successful LEP projects had been supported by GCC and district councils. He added that the Growth Hub in Tewkesbury sat within Tewksbury Borough Council and was exemplary.


The Committee thanked David Owen for his update.