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Roles and responsibilities of local enterprise partnerships

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This section explains how LEPs operate and their main responsibilities. We recommend you read this section before moving onto the 'Engaging with your LEP' page.

What are LEPs responsible for?

LEPs are non-statutory partnerships between local authorities and businesses which promote economic growth in their local area. Prior to LEPs, public sector led Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were responsible for regeneration, regional competitiveness, and the development of skills. The government’s intention is that LEPs promote a business led and more locally responsive agenda.

At first, LEPs were given a broad remit but limited resources. Their role and funding has evolved considerably, in large part due to Michael Heseltine’s, “No stone unturned in the pursuit of public growth” report, published in October 2012. LEPs produce a strategy for enterprise growth in their area, identify barriers and solutions to growth and work with local partners to improve the local business environment. They also have responsibility for bidding for central government funding and influencing local funding streams and ensuring that these deliver against the locally agreed priorities.

Who is on a LEP and how are they structured?

It is important to remember that LEPs are non-statutory bodies. This means they can look and operate very differently from each other, in terms of size, capacity and governance. As LEPs take on different responsibilities, it is likely that their structure will continue to evolve. The ways in which they can differ from each other include:

  • Legal status: LEPs are free to choose the most appropriate legal status. Some are unincorporated partnerships, others are incorporated or part of broader strategic governance arrangements.
  • Structure: LEPs are free to design their own structure. Some are based on pre-existing local partnerships - for instance under the last government’s multi-area agreement partnership approach - and others were created from scratch. Each LEP will have a different combination of standing sub-groups, task and finish groups, business membership body support arrangements, special interest advisory groups or advisory panels.
  • Board membership: LEPs must be chaired by a business person and at least half of the members must come from the private sector: beyond that LEPs can choose their members. Some LEPs have a voluntary sector representative on their board.

The variation in structure and membership also has an impact on how effective each LEP is in practice. Some are genuinely leading economic development for their area, whereas others have a more advisory role. For instance, the LEPs in areas where Combined Authorities have been set up may have a more limited role in local economic development.

One thing that all LEPs have in common is a European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) Committee, which were set up in response to the European Commission’s concerns on governance. These oversee the development of the EU ESIF programme in the area, and feed into the national ESIF Growth Programme Board. ESIF Committees are made up from key partner groups in the LEP area, including from the voluntary sector, rural, environment and equality sectors.

What areas do LEPs cover?

There are 38 LEPs in England, which are often but not necessarily coterminous with first tier local authority areas. The size, economic make-up and rural/urban split of each of these areas vary considerably. The LEP Network provide a function for finding your nearest LEP.

LEPs and EU funding

Funding from Europe brings further resources to LEP areas and also broadens the LEP’s remit in terms of both the focus of their work and engagement with partners; it is this element of their role which has the most immediate relevance to voluntary sector organisations.

The European Structural and Investments Funds Growth Programme

Over the current seven year cycle (2014-2020) the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) is worth approximately €7.3billion for England. The ESIF money is sub-divided into a number of funds for particular purposes. In England, the ESIF Growth Programme consists of the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and part of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). Organisations from all sectors are able to bid for the funding.

European structural funding must be matched by national funding. Working with the Managing Authorities, LEPs are responsible for strategy on how the money is to be spent, finding projects and match funding, and ensuring that the projects deliver the objectives. They do not deliver the projects themselves.

The European Commission has produced a comprehensive guide for beneficiaries of ESIF and related EU instruments.

European Social Fund

The European Social Fund (ESF) is the main funding stream supporting the creation of jobs, helping people into better jobs and ensuring fairer job opportunities for EU citizens. ESF comes with around €3.5billion which needs to be matched by domestic sources. It is managed by the Department of Work and Pensions in England. The ESF has three thematic objectives:

  • Promoting sustainable and quality employment and supporting labour mobility: focus on employment for jobseekers and economically inactive people and the sustainable integration of young people into the labour market. Areas with high youth unemployment are also supported with extra funds from the Youth Employment Initiative.
  • Combating social exclusion, poverty and discrimination: active inclusion of disadvantaged people furthest from the labour market, removing barriers in a holistic and integrated way, including through supporting early action, outreach activities and access to locally provided services, and promoting equality between women and men and equal opportunities for all.
  • Investing in education, training and vocational training for skills and lifelong learning: focus on improving access to lifelong learning, upgrading the skills and competences of the workforce and increasing the labour market relevance of education and training systems.

For the majority of the ESF, LEPs can opt-in to a service offer from a national organisation by committing some of its European funds. In return, the LEP accesses match funding and administrative support. Most but not all LEPs have agreed to work with the opt-in organisations. The opt-in organisations are:

  • DWP match funds support for employment.
  • The Skills Funding Agency commissions a wide range of ESF activity; as well as adult skills provision, which among other things will include support for young people not in employment, education or training and in-work progression.
  • Big Lottery Fund match funds ESF projects that tackle poverty and promote social inclusion

In addition, the National Offender Management Services (NOMS) is a co-financing organisation, operating the nationally managed ESF strand of activity supporting the reintegration of prisoners back into the workforce.

The ESF creates real opportunities for voluntary sector organisations:

  • Aligns with sector aims: many of the ESF priorities correspond to what the sector is already trying to achieve in tackling inequalities in employment and skills.
  • Social inclusion: 20% of the ESF is ring-fenced for promoting social inclusion, an area in which many voluntary organisations have considerable expertise.
  • The National Lottery Community Fund: the participation of the National Lottery Community Fund as an opt-in organisation makes the funding more accessible for voluntary organisations.
  • Community Grants: small grants for voluntary sector projects that engage excluded people on a pathway to employment, and which make use of softer targets, may be available in some areas.
  • Community Led Local Development (CLLD): an investment priority under the social inclusion theme, CLLD is a model of development which mobilises all the key players in a local area in a collaborative partnership to increase employment and overcome disadvantage. Many voluntary sector organisations are already involved in partnerships which could be adapted to this model.

European Regional Development Fund

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is worth around €3.6 billion and is aimed at enterprises (including social enterprises) and infrastructure investment. The majority of funding is focused on growing and making small and medium enterprises more competitive, innovation and research and low carbon activities, with some more limited funding for ICT and the protection of the environment. 

The Managing Authority for the ERDF is the Department of Communities and Local Government. The ERDF in England does not fund organisations directly but rather organisations that can provide support (for instance, technical or financial) for other organisations. Organisations that wish to bid for ERDF money must find their own match funding.

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development

The part of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) which is invested through the European Growth programme is worth €221 million, and is aimed at improving rural economic growth. This is done through building knowledge and skills, supporting new and developing micro and small rural businesses, investing in small scale renewable and broadband investments and supporting tourism. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the Managing Authority.

LEPs – other responsibilities

It is useful to be aware of the responsibilities of LEPs outside of the EU funding.  Although some may not seem to be immediately relevant to the voluntary sector, some, such as the Local Growth Deal can impact on areas such as public services delivery. Even where this is not the case, building a relationship with a LEP requires being able to put yourself in the shoes of board members and recognise they have other priorities which they might be juggling.

Local Growth Deals

Local Growth Deals are agreed between LEPs and government for investment in local economies. The types of projects vary, but could include improving infrastructure, investing in innovative and new technologies and funding broadband. LEPs bid for the money by developing multi-year strategic economic plans which then determines the level of funding that they will be allocated and what projects it must be spent on.

The first wave of Growth Deals were agreed in July 2014. As of March 2016, £7.3 billion worth of Growth Deal funding has been allocated to LEPs. Research from the Centre for Cities shows that most LEPs tended to focus their plans on transport, housing and skills, emphasising capital investment (e.g. building new teaching facilities). However, there are signs that some LEPs are starting to see their role in terms of broader social and economic impacts.

It is the government’s intention that LEPs should have influence and control over skills provision in the Local Growth Deal. For instance, the government will require colleges and training organisations to explain to LEPs the details of their training provision and how this aligns with economic development priorities. For more information see the SFA guidance, LEPs: increasing their influence on skills budgets.

Enterprise Zones

Enterprise Zones are specific geographic areas which offer tax, planning and other incentives for businesses to start up or expand. Enterprise Zones are hosted by LEPs, while the relevant LEP and local authority is entitled to keep all business rates growth generated within the Enterprise Zone. There are currently 24 Enterprise Zones in England.

Leveraging other funding

As private sector led bodies, LEPs are of course meant to be at the forefront of attracting private sector investment to their area. They are also responsible for identifying other sources of investment that can be harnessed for economic development, including match funding from other local partners, such as Housing Associations, universities and colleges, or unlocking surplus and redundant Public Sector Assets.

5 step guide to engaging with your LEP

Page last edited Mar 17, 2020

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