LEP integration: How to safeguard the voice of the local business community

  • Laura Bridges
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LEP integration: How to safeguard the voice of the local business community

Government guidance and local leaders recognise the need to retain a local, independent, business voice in the transfer of Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) functions to local and combined authorities.  However, LEPs worked hard to secure diversity of business voice and there is more than one voice that should be heard to ensure equitable economic growth.  Careful consideration is needed for authorities to curate a strong governance framework that embeds local business voice(s) into decision-making as an important feature of the arrangements going forward.  

Using our experience working with LEPs and local authorities and reflecting on what we have heard at our recent roundtable ‘The Future of LEPs: navigating the path to successful integration’ we have collated our top tips for how to safeguard the voice of the local business community in future arrangements. 

The visual notes captured by Lim, at 31ten & Shared Intelligence‘s roundtable session – 26th January 2024


What we’ve heard:

In talking with local leaders who have first-hand experience in planning for the transition of LEP functions, we have collated some key themes: 

  • Safeguarding a local business voice is a top issue and one of the bigger risks of integration:  Government guidance and local leaders recognise the need to retain a local, independent, business voice.  LEPs worked hard to achieve diversity of business voice – entrepreneurs, MSMEs and representatives from minoritised groups – this approach needs to evolve, not start again and ensure leaders are comfortable with not always having a coherent business voice;  
  • There are difficulties in getting commitment and enthusiasm for business involvement in successor governance arrangements – mainly due to having no ‘skin in the game’.  Whereas they previously saw their potential influence and role in shaping local economic development as well as the opportunities and benefit to be secured for the sector and local area. This often included funding pots to deliver local outcomes. 
  • Essential or ‘nice to have’? There’s a risk that safeguarding, cultivating and embedding the business voice in future governance might fall into the non-statutory / ‘nice to do’ pile and fail to get adequate resources dedicated to it;
  • Future governance arrangements for embedding this business voice into local decision-making may vary: Councils must invest time to check existing governance structures within councils are fit for purpose or establish new business boards to deliver business representation. The shape of future arrangements are driven by consideration as to how inclusivity can be built into future governance to align opportunities for both employers and the local community;  
  • Getting these final next steps right in determining future governance arrangements is vital to ensure that the capabilities that LEPs have spent so long developing are protected and the appetite for local businesses to remain part of local decision-making is retained.  


The opportunity for Local Authorities:

Local authorities have already been important partners and are known to have been an integral part of supporting the business voice. While the reality of funding makes the transition a challenge, there are real opportunities to deploy learning from working with the LEPs to create dynamic new arrangements:  

  • Governance should not simply follow local government BAU. For example, meeting agendas and structures should be different, and bureaucracy reduced;  
  • There are significant risks that expertise, confidence and balance of power and resource between local authority and local businesses could be lost if significant energy is not focused on curating a platform for future business voice in the immediate future;  
  • In areas where there is devolution, this should be seen as an opportunity to reframe economic and local growth priorities. Where there is no devolution, dialogue needs to begin to understand which geography makes most sense – it won’t always be within a district, county or unitary boundary – inward investment is a good example of this;  
  • The nature of economic development is change and evolution – this is your opportunity to curate a new and more representative business voice;
  • Consideration should be made for what happens once teams are integrated. How can councils now demonstrate the added value of a single structure? 


Our top tips:

Our top tips for securing a strong, diverse and independent local business voice in future local economic development arrangements are as follows:  

  1. Maintain dialogue with businesses to maximise the opportunity to co-create new arrangements for embedding a business voice. We can provide support with business engagement and the envelopment of new team structures to ensure business voice is front and centre.
  2. Cultural change is needed. Places will not get the business board arrangements right from the outset, so build in reviews over the next year or so. We can facilitate an integration review to ascertain the effectiveness of the business voice in new governance arrangements.
  3. Where there is an elected mayor in a devolved area, build a board structure that makes clear how it gives board members a chance to work with the mayor and influence their policy. We can provide support in governance reviews and developing Terms of Reference to enable effective stakeholder engagement and decision-making.  


We’re happy to help!
31ten and Shared Intelligence can support your LEP integrations in a multitude of ways:
  • Governance development, review or sharing exercise to facilitate collation of ToR across different geographies to help design an optimum governance
  • Facilitating an integration review in 6-9 months post-April 24 to review the effectiveness of the business voice in new governance arrangements
  • Support with business engagement for new / refreshed economic strategies
  • Developing new team structures to ensure business voice is front and centre
For more information or an informal conversation surrounding any of these things, reach out to Laura on Laura.Bridges@31tenconsulting.co.uk