Warren Ralls 13 March 2018

A champion for LEPs

When the Institute of Economic Development (IED) kindly approached me to be co-opted on to their board of directors, I thought they must have taken to heart secretary of state Sajid Javid MP’s message at our last conference when he said: 'I don’t think there’s ever been a better, more exciting time to be involved with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).'

I’m very pleased to be joining the IED at such a vital time. When the government’s White Paper on Industrial Strategy landed on newsdesks across the country, it fuelled hundreds of column inches. Among them was some strong reaction to a particular intention from Government to designate LEPs as the lead organisation to develop Local Industrial Strategies in those areas without a mayor.

Indeed one piece said LEPs were getting a bit of a 'tongue-lashing' on the proposal – and it seemed to the outside world that local authorities and LEPs were going in separate directions – but when have the facts ever got in the way of a good story?

The reality is actually a far better story. The effective partnerships that LEPs have already built up with their local government organisations are critical to the success of local economies and the wider wellbeing of their communities.

Local authorities are part of LEPs and vital to the partnership with business, education and other local stakeholders to deliver an effective strategic economic vision – it’s this wider partnership that organisations like the IED solidly support.

LEPs have worked hard to create successful alliances with local government and their partner organisations – my role at the IED is a clear reflection of those alliances and demonstrates how both the LEP Network and stakeholders like the IED can work hand in hand to achieve sustainable economic growth.

The benefits of that relationship are far greater than the sum of its parts. On our part, the LEP Network works behind the scenes to support LEPs to create the conditions that keep local economies growing, businesses successful, and productivity on an upward trajectory. That dovetails perfectly with the work of the IED.

I look forward to us working together in discussions with government on the key issues that affect local areas including the LEP Review, forging new Local Industrial Strategies, helping shape the future UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and continuing to call for devolved responsibility from Whitehall to local communities in a post Brexit environment.

Getting it right at local level is vital. If our local economies are not effective, we won’t have an effective national economy. That’s where our relationship with the IED will prove greatly beneficial – particularly as it’s the lead independent professional body representing economic development and regeneration practitioners working for local communities. Another solid fit for LEPs.

It’s an approach that resonates well with the latest thinking from my fellow IED board director, Lawrence Conway, that greater ‘place-based’ local and national collaboration is needed to grow and maintain a sustainable economy. That goes right to the heart of the LEP USP and we couldn’t agree more. I believe the work of the IED and LEP Network compliment each other well, and shows how working together can help achieve that goal.

I really like what the organisation is doing in terms of being more vocal and I feel it would benefit from a LEP voice. Most IED members are from a local authority background, and there are others in the wider economic development community that will benefit from what the IED does. I have built up my economic development knowledge through working in a variety of roles over a number of years – and I see potential for individuals from similar backgrounds to benefit from what the IED has to offer, its CPD provision, thought leadership and wider networking opportunities.

As Mr Javid said in his recent speech to the County Council Network: 'The future – not to mention the present – is all about joined-up thinking, working together strategically to get things done.”

I think he would be proud to see how the IED and LEP Network are putting that into action.

Warren Ralls is LEP Network director and Institute of Economic Development board member

This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine. Register here for your own free copy.

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