LEPs were established to drive the government's growth agenda at the local level, but they have the freedom and opportunity to play a greater role by developing growth plans that address both narrow concepts of productivity growth and wider issues of local economic resilience – that is, making sure that their areas' economies are strong enough to withstand both local and global economic shocks in future. However, only a handful of LEPs have taken advantage of this freedom by adopting more innovative and forward-thinking approaches.
For this report we identified and researched five case studies of good practice in which LEPs are taking forward different aspects of economic resilience within each theme of the LEP resilience framework set out in the first report of this research project: responsible business, investment and local resource flows, integration and a responsive public sector, engagement and accountability, and environmental sustainability. Each chapter makes the case for each theme of our framework, explores how the LEP's work is benefitting their local areas, and makes recommendations for how both LEPs and other authorities can learn from these examples.
More broadly, we conclude that LEPs – and economic decision-making processes nationally – are not yet engaged in the kind of longer-term thinking that more resilient local economies depend upon; nor are they sufficiently accountable or transparent to enable this to happen. What is needed, therefore, is a mature debate about the limitations of the current set-up, and some incremental improvements to sub-national governance and partnership arrangements. To address these issues, we set out five broad recommendations.
- Central government should create a further window of opportunity for the formation of a new wave of combined authorities, based on clear functional economic geographies.
- Combined authorities, counties or other upper-tier authorities should publish sub-national partnership plans which clearly set out their partnership structures and dynamics at the sub-national level, and which include a clear role for LEPs.
- Government should clarify the purpose and functions of LEPs while allowing them the freedom to pursue their own arrangements and priorities.
- Local authorities within combined authority areas, should promote greater cooperation between officers from the chief executive down.
- LEPs and their wider partners should adopt a series of locally-determined economic resilience principles as part of their strategic planning processes.
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