Partnerships bringing a business-led focus to their local economies

Local Enterprise Partnerships were introduced by the Coalition Government within weeks of the 2010 election, designed to bring a new streamlined and business-focused approach to regional development.

They were born out of necessity, following the Conservative Party’s decision while in Opposition to abolish the regional development agencies if they came to power.

Yorkshire Forward and equivalent agencies across England were quickly dismantled after 2010, with business and council leaders encouraged to form their own local area bodies instead.

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In all, 39 LEPs were formed across England, supposedly covering genuine ‘economic areas’ rather than what the Government considered to be arbitrary regions. Each consists of a board comprised of local business, council and academic leaders, so bringing a more business-savvy focus to economic planning.

In Yorkshire, four LEPs were formed. The largest, Leeds city region LEP, covers the whole of West Yorkshire along with York, Harrogate, Selby, Craven and Barnsley.

From next month it will be chaired by Roger Marsh, the long-serving PWC executive who has previous experience working in the Cabinet Office.

In the south of the region, the Sheffield city region LEP covers the whole of South Yorkshire along with Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, North East Derbyshire and the Derbyshire Dales.

Chairman James Newman, a charted accountant who also chairs Finance Yorkshire, said bringing together authorities from beyond Yorkshire for the first time to work in tandem with local business has been a key success.

“A huge amount with very little resource has been achieved,” he said. “The wins have been about the public and private sector working together, effectively reducing suspicion on either side.

“Managing to get some of our local authorities, who perhaps in the past have had historic rivalries, to work closer together in collaboration, and bringing in parts of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire that have not historically had a lot to do with the Sheffield and South Yorkshire city region, has also been a huge positive.

“You can have all the money in the world but if you haven’t got people working together, it will not be spent in the right way.”

Over in the Humber, bringing together four local authorities - Hull, East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire - who have spent decades squabbling is seen as an equally crucial achievement, aided by the chairmanship of Yorkshire grandee Lord Haskins.

The region’s fourth LEP covers York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding, chaired by entrepreneur Barry Dodd.

It would appear to face the most signficant challenges, following York Council’s decision last month to pull out of the LEP altogether and switching its focus to the Leeds city region. However, LEP leaders insist they retain the support of the York business and academic communities.