Letter: Whitehall is wrong to snipe about regional development bodies

I was deeply disappointed to see Whitehall sources denigrating Local Enterprise Partnerships in the FT article “Ministers examine shake-up of regional development in England” (Report, December 7). These throwaway comments about LEPs have no basis in fact.

LEPs are still under a government review. After a string of delays, we will not know the results of that until early next year, nine months on. This is intensely damaging for LEPs and their staff, and sniping from Whitehall sources in the FT does not help.

There has never been any independent assessment that has shown LEPs are a “waste of space” or underperform. Indeed, LEPs have been given a clean bill of health, with the government’s own annual performance review concluding LEPs exceed the required standards. The terms of reference for the review underlined this: “The performance of LEPs has progressed significantly . . . it is therefore policy change, not LEP performance that is the key driver of the review.”

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of “levelling up”, in comments to the county council network in November, stated that LEPs “play a critical role in local economic development”. The independence and brokering capability of LEPs, delivering apolitical consensus across boundaries, where in many cases there may be none, is unmatched.

That is what makes them unique, with over 2,000 local business leaders, 180 locally elected councillors, 250 academic leaders and third sector representatives co-deciding investment decisions, LEPs have delivered billions more in private sector leverage than public funds alone. We need to be clear what problem government wants to solve here. Reform, yes, but winding LEPs down to reinvent them in local authorities and councils is no silver bullet to local economic development, nor instant levelling up.

As your article makes clear, the voice of local business is critical to levelling up and reformed LEPs are the optimum model to keep them engaged — as the chief executive of the think-tank Localis stated “if LEPs didn’t exist, ministers and officials would be busy inventing them”.

Mark Bretton
Chair, LEP Network
Corby, Northamptonshire, UK

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