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How to get your head around Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)

Over the last year, the European Funding Network has been arranging events around England bringing the voluntary sector and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) together to discuss the future of EU funding.  Here are some of the key points we’ve learnt along the way.


What are LEPs?

LEPs are non-statutory partnerships between the public sector (mainly local authorities) and the private sector. There are 39 LEPs across England and their aim is to promote economic growth and jobs in local areas. See the map on the LEP network website to find and contact your LEP.

They take many different forms and vary in size, capacity and governance - some LEPs inherited their structure from city councils architecture and the numbers of staff can range from 1 to 60!

Some LEPs have voluntary sector representation on their boards.  However, according to NCVO research, over 65 % of LEPs have very limited or no level of representation of the voluntary sector on their boards, and 18 % of LEPs have little or no engagement at all with the voluntary sector.

LEP partnerships with the voluntary and community sector are improving but there is still a need to increase the representation of the sector.

You can check the voluntary sector representation of your LEP on the European Funding Network website.


LEPs have a key role in EU funding

As well as receiving funding from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund and Growing Places Fund, LEPs will receive around £5bn from the EU Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) from 2014-2020, as proposed in  Heseltine’s report ‘No stone unturned’  in2012 .

They will also be able to access over £2bn from the Local Growth Deal in 2015-16 to deliver the Strategic Economic Plans. Government has indicated that the Local Growth Fund will be worth at least £2billion in every year of the next Parliament. When the first Growth Deals are concluded, Ministers may allocate up to £5billion of the £10billion identified for the period 2016/17 - 2020/21 in support of multi-year capital programmes in LEP plans.

 You can read the ESIF strategy of your LEP area over the next seven years.

NCVO has analysed the LEP ESIF strategies and identified a number of areas which are positive for the voluntary sector -


LEPs have an obligation to involve voluntary organisations

But they don’t necessarily know much about us yet.

During the process of creating the ESIF strategies, some LEPs engaged well with the sector by holding events, online consultations and one-to-one meetings. However collaboration between LEPs and our sector remains patchy.

Under the Growth Programme they have an obligation to involve the voluntary and community sector. In addition to government guidance to LEPs, the European Code of Conduct on Partnership reinforces the message that there needs to be meaningful engagement with all stakeholders, including social partners in planning and spending EU funds. 


We all need to work together

One of the challenges for LEPs will be their capacity to deliver. Realistically, they will not be able to meet and engage with every voluntary organisation in their area and that is why it’s important for the sector to come together and form partnerships.

Larger contracts are most likely to be awarded and it’s anticipated that many voluntary organisations will not have the capacity to deliver these without forming strong partnerships with other organisations. There is no doubt that we have work ahead of us to build the capacity of the voluntary sector to access the EU funds.


You need to show your economic value to work with LEPs

Voluntary organisations and social enterprises are central to the delivery of the new EU funds, providing training and services to help disadvantaged people into work.

Some of the areas that LEPs will need to deliver on, such as delivering inclusive growth and social innovation, are unfamiliar to them and this is where the sector’s expertise and knowledge of local communities can provide solutions and support to the LEPs.

The sector must articulate this offer to the LEPs and highlight our proven ability to deliver and make a difference - NCVO have guidance on how to make a business case to LEPs.


You can apply for EU funds

The new EU funding cycle starts from 2014 and runs until 2020; however spending is not expected to start until January 2015 at the earliest.  

Each LEP area has a notional allocation which must be spent on specific themes –set out in EU regulations, and as outlined in the LEPs ESIF Strategies.

See how much money will be going to your LEP area.

39 local sub-committees (made up of LEPs and partners including voluntary organisations) will work with the Managing Authorities on prioritisation of projects.   Interested organisations will be able to apply through Opt-in organisations (The Big Lottery Fund, Skills Funding Agency and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and co-financers such as National Offenders Management Service (NOMs) which will make available pre-matched funds.  Or you will be able to engage with commissioning and bidding, where it is the responsibility of the applicant to source eligible match funding.

There are useful tools available to help you prepare for and deliver contracts, e.g. the Contract Readiness Checker.

European funding opportunities will be posted on the European Funding Network website.


LEPs are here for the long-run

Although many of us are still unfamiliar with the LEPs, we can assume that they are not going away soon. 

As mentioned in point two, LEPs have been asked to develop multi-year strategic economic plans, and they will receive further funding for skills, housing and transport from 2015/16 via the Single Local Growth Fund.  A further £10 billion of funding for the SLGF is planned for the five-year period of the next parliament up to 2020/21.

But what if a different party comes into power following the 2015 general election? The Labour Party has already hinted they would strengthen LEPs if elected. Shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, confirmed: “We will work to improve LEPs, not abolish them if elected (speech November 2012).

Many factors will drive the future of LEPs such as policies, delivery and economic impact but significant questions remain about the capacity, accountability and representation of the LEPs.  

Further information

European Funding Network engagement with LEPs 

The LEP Network






Page last edited Aug 27, 2020 History

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