Why LEPs make a real difference to communities and people’s lives

Birmingham. Photo credit – Pixabay

Following on from the launch of the first Local Industrial Strategy in the West Midlands earlier this week, Warren Ralls, director of The LEP Network and a Board Member of the Institute of Economic Development, discusses the positive changes LEPs are making to communities.

One word seems to make a regular appearance in the top ten ‘worst buzzwords of business’: you’ve probably guessed it – I’m talking about ‘strategies’.

Apparently, it’s one of the most misused words in business, or maybe it’s just had a bad press. But regardless of how well or badly used it is, the strength of any strategy is based on a very simple test – does it make a difference?

A recent article by a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Chair underlined this for me when they said: ‘I didn’t join my LEP to sit on committee meetings or to read reports…I wanted to help businesses create jobs and the economic growth which benefits people’s lives.’

Powerful stuff. If I was to ask the good folk in my local town on a Saturday afternoon if they knew what a Local Industrial Strategy was, I’d get a few glazed looks and some memorable replies no doubt – but that isn’t what matters. What does matter is whether it makes a real difference to them and benefits their lives.   

Today marks a milestone in how LEPs will do that with the publication of one of the first Local Industrial Strategies – the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy (covering Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP, Coventry & Warwickshire LEP and Black Country LEP).

Other ‘trailblazer’ Local Industrial Strategies will follow this year from Greater Manchester and the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc (Oxfordshire LEP, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Business Board, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP and South East Midlands LEP). Others will follow by March 2020.

Rooted in the national Industrial Strategy, these Local Industrial Strategies go to the very heart of what LEPs are judged by: namely, the difference they make to their communities and to the lives of the people that live in them.

That difference will be measured by a range of factors: Does it create better jobs for people? Are there enough skilled people to take up those jobs? Is there enough housing? Will it improve local transport networks? Does it exploit local economic strengths? Will it capitalise on the technological changes already underway and tackle the grand challenges of the future outlined in the government’s national Industrial Strategy? This is exactly what the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy will do.

But LEPs don’t do this in isolation and the key to the success of their Local Industrial Strategy is partnership. Their Local Industrial Strategies are the culmination of months of work listening to the local business community, universities, third sector groups and other partners. Underpinning their approach is the critical need to drive up productivity, and exploit the strengths and potential of each area.

This helps ensure that LEPs build on their unique local strengths, such as battery industrialisation and automotive development in the West Midlands, to make sure that every community across the country reaches their full economic potential. That’s all a big ask. But LEP plans are visionary and ambitious in their scale to make that difference. That’s what matters to people. That’s what matters to LEPs.

The Prime Minister underlined this capability at our recent PM Council of LEP Chairs, where she said that ‘using their unique insight and expertise to co-develop Local Industrial Strategies, LEPs are boosting economic growth, securing jobs and delivering prosperity – making sure that no community is left behind’.

That’s what will ‘benefit people’s lives’. That’s the difference people will see – even if they still haven’t heard of a Local Industrial Strategy.


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