LEP integration: An opportunity to align and review economic strategies

LEPs have long been responsible for regional business representation and local economic planning. First, we saw strategic economic plans drive investment into local areas which provided solid infrastructure in support of the local economy, bringing in billions of pounds of investment from both public and private sources. Then, for a couple of years from 2018 to the pandemic, local industrial strategies started to gain traction – although few were formally signed off by government before they were de-prioritised.

With LEP integration, we are now seeing the next generation of plan-making, this time through local government. At the end of last year, government published some additional guidance setting out that:

“From April 2024, government encourages areas to produce (or update) economic strategies on an ongoing basis to support local decision making, furthering the work previously undertaken by LEPs. Government expects areas to publish their (existing, new, or updated) strategy within six months of receiving funding.”

What we’ve heard:

At a recent roundtable hosted by 31ten & Shared Intelligence, looking at the ‘Future of LEPs’ we found there were two clear areas for further exploration as shown in our sketch note from the event highlights – the opportunities and the obstacles.

Those opportunities identified include:

  • LEP integration provides an ideal time to review, refine and refresh an area’s economic strategy.
  • Greater clarity = less confusion for businesses and a greater level of commitment going forward.
  • A time to stocktake the physical assets and investments in an area that can provide a sound basis from which to deliver further economic growth following integration.

While those obstacles included:

  • Limited motivation for developing or refreshing a strategy at this point in time, with government ‘expectation’ not providing the clarity required to justify what is perceived as a long process.
  • A lack of understanding the potential prize at the end of the process and limited visibility given we are in an election year.
  • Making the case for economic funding when many pressures revolve around social care provision.

The visual notes captured by Lim, at 31ten & Shared Intelligence‘s roundtable session – 26th January 2024


The opportunity for Local Authorities:

This is a pivotal year for local government when considering the development and delivery of an economic strategy. History shows that first movers have an advantage and establishing priorities shaped by local businesses and communities will give confidence to the market.

  • Those in devolution territory have a significant opportunity to build economic priorities into their overall strategic planning and governance arrangements. A high-level economic vision should be considered front and centre.
  • For those at a district, county, unitary or combined authority level, there are also opportunities. Sub-regional working can help to build a wider ecosystem and deliver sustainable growth at a scale which makes sense.

Reviewing the current economic strategy base is an essential first step. It requires effort to bring partners together and explore the opportunities and challenges, but having a clear direction will show the local industrial base where change can bring better place and people outcomes.

Finally, we appreciate that there is ongoing uncertainty about longer-term funding for non-statutory services like economic development. Resource and institutional memory are available now while LEP integration takes place so make the most of it by setting out what is most important. Use this time as an opportunity to change the narrative to build in inclusive growth or work more closely with partners to gain their perspectives and drive economic change.

Our top tips:

Developing an economic strategy doesn’t need to be a long and convoluted process. There are many examples of work we have done which use existing frameworks and strategies. Integration provides a timely opportunity to better engage with wider public services to understand the role of anchor organisations or internal teams such as public health, property services or planning.

In our last blog, we highlighted the need to ensure integration came with a solid business voice. We suggest including those businesses in the development of the strategy as a shadow board or as part of an economic commission.

Make the most of the newly integrated talent and resource to develop the strategy. We think this needs to start with conversations with members about what they want from their local economy. Is it productivity growth? Is it social value? Is it jobs for the economically inactive? All are valid answers and will require a particular strategic focus.

We’re happy to help!

31ten and Shared Intelligence have a long history of developing economic evidence bases, skills and employment strategies, economic strategies as well as investment cases. This doesn’t always need to be a lengthy or expensive process if you have the right building blocks in place.
Drop us an email to chat through your particular scenario: Lisa.McCance@sharedintelligence.net
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