LEPs were designed to shift power from central Government to local communities, by putting councils in charge of enterprise spending. And the new network will, apparently, provide a forum for local businesses to share their ideas with those in charge of LEPs, giving them the chance to ‘solve problems and get the latest data they need to promote economic growth across the country’. The idea is that a ‘diverse range of businesses’ come together to help their local area flourish. So far, so encouraging.
The proposal for the network says that although Frost will chair it, other organisations including the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Business, the Institute of Directors and so on will also be a part of it. But the groups in question aren’t impressed – not least because they say they hadn’t even heard of it until they were told about it by the BCC this morning. Ouch.
Criticisms are wide-ranging, from the FSB’s ‘it smacks of a top-down approach, which is the antithesis of localism’ to the IOD’s ‘we question seriously the need to spend £300,000 of taxpayers’ money on a body whose purpose is to lobby national Government on behalf of LEPs’. Even the Forum of Private Business, which wasn’t mentioned in the announcement, has waded in, saying ‘to find the Government having exclusive discussions with a single business organisation... is surprising and disappointing’. Only the CBI struck a vaguely positive note with its rather pithy ‘sounds useful’.
So a bad start for LEPs, which have barely had a chance to get off the ground yet. And it’s a bit off-putting that despite all its talk of kick-starting growth, the organisations representing the nation’s businesses still can’t agree with the Government. If it can’t get this right, what hope do we have at a local level?