Gloucestershire Local Enterprise Partnership welcomes government’s Levelling Up plan

GFirst Board

The long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper was published yesterday by central Government. In it, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced a dozen targets to make people happier and live longer in his effort to “level up” the country.

One group of organisations which have welcomed the Levelling-Up White Paper are the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), because it formally embedds them in the policy agenda for the first time, and setting the course for their future relationship with national and local government.

England’s 38 LEPs will now work with government through the LEP Network to co-design the future evolution of LEPs and the role they will play in levelling up and within local governance structures.

Welcoming the Levelling-Up White Paper, LEP Network Chair, Mark Bretton said: “The Levelling-Up White Paper marks a milestone for LEPs by embedding our role in draft policy for the first time. It is a natural evolution of the role of business in local decision making and a legacy to all the work LEPs have done so far – they are now central to the new policy agenda that government is taking forward.

“It’s clear the government recognises the vital role LEPs have played in sustaining and increasing local economic growth through the pandemic and supporting businesses throughout the country. We are now committed to working with government to embed that new role to underpin the ambitions of the Levelling-Up White Paper – with the fundamental principle that local business continues to have a place in local decision making.”

Ruth Dooley, GFirst LEP Chair said: “This is really good news for GFirst LEP and shows that Government clearly recognises the vital role LEPs have played in sustaining local economic growth through the pandemic and supporting businesses throughout the country. A big thank you to the LEP Board, all our Business Group members and of course all the staff for their continuous hard work.”

GFirst LEP CEO David Owen said: “The Ministers recognised the ‘huge amount of work’ that LEPs have done in the last few years to support businesses and local economies.  Key roles for us moving forward will be to continue to be the business voice in the levelling up agenda and in local economic growth and to lead on strategic economic planning for the county.”

“We will also continue to have a core convening role with all partners at a local level in the development and delivery of local economic strategy. This would include working with local authorities to shape any potential devolution deal and the impact it would have on businesses and the private sector.”

The white paper includes a series of medium-term ‘missions’ all to be achieved ­by 2030. The ‘missions to be hit are:

  • Jobs – Pay, employment and productivity should rise in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city.
  • Research – Public investment in R&D outside the South-east will increase by at least 40 per cent.
  • Transport – Local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London.
  • Technology – Nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G for the majority.
  • Education – The number of ­primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have ­significantly increased.
  • Skills – The number of people completing high-quality skills training will have significantly rise in every area.
  • Health – The gap in healthy life expectancy (HLE) between areas will narrow, and by 2035 HLE will rise by five years.
  • Happiness – Well-being will also have improved across the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.
  • Local pride – People’s satisfaction with their town centre and local ­culture will rise.
  • Housing – Renters will have a secure path to ownership.
  • Crime – Homicide, serious violence and local crime will fall.
  • Mayors – Local devolution with elected county mayors for all areas that want London style control over issues like transport.

This last ‘mission’ perhaps forms the one for widest discussion in Gloucestershire.

What could devolution mean for the county? What are the pros and cons?

The Chair of GFirst LEP, Ruth Dooley and the CEO, David Owen met with Neil O’Brien MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for Levelling Up, The Union and Constitution) and Paul Scully MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets) earlier this week for a pre-announcement briefing on the Levelling up White Paper and how it impacts on the work of GFirst LEP, Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership.

CEO David Owen said: “The Levelling-Up White Paper marks a milestone for LEPs by embedding our role in draft policy for the first time. It is a natural evolution of the role of business in local decision making and a legacy to all the work LEPs have done so far – they are now central to the new policy agenda that government is taking forward.”

“We’re ready for this fresh challenge and look forward to building on the great relationships with partners right across Gloucestershire”.

The White Paper goes on to say, “For the last decade, LEPs have acted as important organisational means of bringing together businesses and local leaders to drive economic growth across England. They have also been responsible for the delivery of a number of major funding streams. It is important to retain the key strengths of these local, business-oriented institutions in supporting private sector partnerships and economic clusters, while at the same time better integrating their services and business voice into the UK Government’s new devolution plans. Where a devolution deal does not yet exist, LEPs will continue to play their vital role in supporting local businesses and the local economy.”