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Supporting enterprise is about people not just plans

Phil Swann, Si Managing Director writes

The Black Country LEP build on the fact 25% of Rolls Royce's UK supply chain is W Mids based

The Black Country LEP build on the fact 25% of Rolls Royce’s UK supply chain is West Midlands based

One of my biggest frustrations of the last five years of coalition is the failure to exploit the potential of the new generation of strategic economic plans (SEPs).

I feel guilty at having persuaded several local authority and local enterprise partnership (LEP) clients to treat the SEP process seriously only for the subsequent local growth deals to become a depressing process of cherry-picking individual schemes.

The best LEPs were moving towards genuinely business-led strategies. They were getting to know which businesses in their area had the ambition and potential to grow; discovering where they were located and which sectors they were in. They were learning more and more about the real barriers to growth faced by those specific companies and were having creative discussions about what action could be taken to overcome those barriers.

This contrasts with what I call the “planner-led” approach which (described simplistically) goes like this: here’s a site, my formula says it can accommodate 750 jobs in advanced manufacturing so that’s what we are going to aim for. Too many of the cherry-picked schemes fell into this category.

The LEP board away-days that I facilitate come to life when a business person talks about her or his business, their ambitions and the challenges and opportunities they face. The subsequent discussion focuses on what steps the LEP and the councils in the area can take to help that business person and others in similar positions.

There looks set to be a prolonged period of negotiation between the political parties nationally following next week’s election. That should delay any announcements about the next round of local growth fund (or whatever it is called in the new world).

Can we use this interregnum to get back to where we were in Spring 2014 and put real-life business intelligence – rather than civil servants’ templates – at the heart of local economic development?

Read more about how we support local enterprise.

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