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July 30, 2010

“Real business people” to shape Local Enterprise Partnerships

Small firms and business groups are to play a key leadership role in shaping the formation of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the Government has announced.

Earlier this year, the Government announced that the nine current Regional Development Agencies will be replaced with a new business support structure – LEPs – saying it wanted to bring local councils and businesses closer together in order to boost enterprise and create jobs.

The Department of Communities and Local Government has now unveiled that regional chambers of commerce and other small business groups will work with local councils to help tackle planning issues, improve infrastructure, support small businesses and promote employment projects.

Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, said that the British Chambers of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses would “work hand-in-hand’” with local leaders under the partnership. The aim was to rebuild local economies “without strangling businesses with red tape”, he said.

FSB policy chairman, Mike Cherry, welcomed the news as “fantastic” for small firms and said it was crucial that the voice of the small business community was heard at a local and regional level.

BCC head of policy, Kevin Hoctor, said that the new LEP framework would be “more responsive” to local business needs and would make it easier for small firms to do business.

“Examples of the sorts of things LEPs will be looking at include reducing planning regulation for certain industry sectors and business rate discounts for start-ups, as well as skill-boosting initiatives such as work placement schemes for graduates,” he said. “The overall goal is to see real business people making real business decisions, rather than being held back by bureaucracy.”

BCC members would also be able to contribute ideas by working with their local Chamber, added Hoctor.

Further details about how LEPs will operate will be set out in a forthcoming White Paper this autumn, but each Partnership is likely to focus on different issues as the emphasis will be on local need. The Government has said at least 50 per cent of each LEP board will be business people rather than councillors.

It is also expected that LEPs will be responsible for distributing the £1 billion Regional Growth Fund, which has been set up to support private sector employment. Private companies will be able to bid for funding if they can demonstrate how they will create new jobs.

Both the FSB and the BCC have been asked to come forward with suggestions for how they want LEPs to work by September 6. Members should contact their local Chamber or FSB office for further information.