Look before you LEPPaper should be cited as:Pugalis, L. (2011) Look before you LEP, Journal of Urban Regeneration and Rene...
Nick Clegg had shaken hands on a deal to form a UK Coalition Government, the axe quicklyfell on RDAs as their powers, fund...
their locally unaccountable private sector-led boards and bureaucratic grounds perceived toproduce an ‘additional layer’ a...
Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).8 The latter is anexample of the recentralisation of p...
Taking a critical look at the framing, process and politics underpinning the Coalition’s‘open call’ for LEPs and the conco...
Prior to the General Election the most comprehensive account of LEPs was containedin a letter by Caroline Spelman and Ken ...
powerful business lobby groups, such as the CBI. Sir Digby Jones, the former boss of theCBI, claimed that LEPs are ‘politi...
economic space, the letter stated that they will play a key role in delivering the Coalition’scommitment to ‘rebalance the...
workings of LEPs in many casesPrivate sector     Most propositions claimed to have private sector      The Atlantic Gatewa...
The majority of submissions identified workforce skills and inward investment as keylocal priorities and therefore expecte...
unique history of cooperation that any new partnership clearly has to negotiate. In this senseestablished cross-boundary e...
Partnership for Urban South Hampshire, for example, only engages with business on key       strategic issues, to make best...
issues are, how to tackle them, who to work with and how to work – the What, Who and Howformula. Such a ‘bottom-up’ approa...
With Government lacking substantive criteria with which to base their decisions, astraightforward, objective and transpare...
based civil servants in BIS and CLG were only ever resourced to liaise with nine RDAs, andwere themselves facing staff red...
The first tranche of LEPs left approximately 40 per cent of the population of EnglandLEP-less, with significant left-over ...
As the results of May, 2011 local government elections have transformed the politicaldynamics of some areas, it will be in...
resources, which concomitantly undermines the representative role of local government, willbe reversed by way of LEPs. Suc...
REFERENCES AND NOTES1.      Due to its unique constitutional arrangements a separate process operated in London,where the ...
23.      Finch, D. (2010), Most LEP proposals not good enough - Cable. Vol. Available at:http://fishburn-hedges.typepad.co...
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2011 Look before you LEP - Pugalis

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State-led restructuring of sub-national economic governance and regeneration has been rapidly evolving over the past year or so across England. With several waves of cross-boundary Local Enterprise Partnerships approved by the UK Government, it is opportune to take stock of some of the more notable shifts. Building on a preliminary analytical mapping of the rocky road from regionalism to sub-regional localism, the paper pays particular attention to the politicised process underpinning the alliances, and crafting, development and subsequent submission of LEP proposals, as well as the eventual assessment and state sanctioning of LEP bids. Examining the process from a variety of perspectives, the paper highlights unequal power relations and extracts a number of powerful policy considerations. The paper propounds the argument that the rhetoric of permissive policy masks centralist controlling tendencies and unwritten rules.
Pugalis, L. (2011) 'Look before you LEP', Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal, 5 (1), 7-22.

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2011 Look before you LEP - Pugalis

  1. 1. Look before you LEPPaper should be cited as:Pugalis, L. (2011) Look before you LEP, Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal, 5(1), 7-22.AbstractState-led restructuring of sub-national economic governance and regeneration has beenrapidly evolving over the past year or so across England. With several waves of cross-boundary Local Enterprise Partnerships approved by the UK Government, it is opportune totake stock of some of the more notable shifts. Building on a preliminary analytical mappingof the rocky road from regionalism to sub-regional localism, the paper pays particularattention to the politicised process underpinning the alliances, and crafting, development andsubsequent submission of LEP proposals, as well as the eventual assessment and statesanctioning of LEP bids. Examining the process from a variety of perspectives, the paperhighlights unequal power relations and extracts a number of powerful policy considerations.The paper propounds the argument that the rhetoric of permissive policy masks centralistcontrolling tendencies and unwritten rules.Keywords: Public-private partnerships, sub-national governance, regeneration, economicpolicy, regional development, business engagement, leadership and local enterprisepartnershipsINTRODUCTIONFollowing the Conservative Party’s announcements to replace England’s RegionalDevelopment Agencies (RDAs) outside of London with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)in the run up to the May, 2010 General Election, which broadly correlated with LiberalDemocrat views, it was clear that, failing a Labour election victory, RDAs’ dominanteconomic regeneration role would be living on borrowed time.1 Once David Cameron and Page 1 of 20
  2. 2. Nick Clegg had shaken hands on a deal to form a UK Coalition Government, the axe quicklyfell on RDAs as their powers, funding and responsibilities were curtailed, well in advance oflegislation set to formally abolish them by April, 2012. Alongside this act of demolition wasthe fledgling idea of sub-national economic reconstruction centred on business-led LEPs.Recognising ‘the constitutional paradox of a permanent civil service that has no permanentmemory’ (p. 214),2 it is considered crucial to analyse the ideas, thoughts and motivationsdirecting policy change in order to capture lessons that would otherwise go unnoticed orremain concealed. Building on a preliminary analytical mapping of the rocky road fromregionalism to sub-regional localism that theorised the transitional landscape,3 the presentpaper pays particular attention to the politicised process underpinning the alliances, andleading to the crafting, development and subsequent submission of LEP proposals, as well asthe eventual state assessment of LEP bids. Consequently there is merit in briefly recappingand updating the core aspects of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat’s (Con-Lib’s) state-ledrestructuring of sub-national economic governance and regeneration since Pugalis posed theexploratory question: ‘where do we go from here?’.3 The spatial scales favoured for the attempted management and governance ofeconomic regeneration policy have ebbed and flowed since the identification of the so-called‘regional problem’ in the 1930s.4 Theoretical developments, policy-driven research andsocio-economic shifts have all played a role, yet it is arguably political ideology that hasinstigated some of the more radical scalar-contingent institutional shifts. Whilst ‘regions’performed an important administrative role prior to the 1990s (e.g. as statistical units), theMajor-led Conservative Government standardised them by way of introducing GovernmentOffices for the English Regions (GOs) in 1994. Partly in response to the European Union’spreference for the regional administration of funding, such as the European RegionalDevelopment Fund (ERDF), GOs provided Whitehall departments with regional tentacles.The promotion of regions as preferable units for the administration and integration of sub-national policy continued under New Labour, including the launch of RDAs in 1999. 5Possessing statutory powers for furthering the economic development of regions, theirresponsibilities grew incrementally and they wielded significant influence over regenerationschemes involving the public sector. Despite largely favourable ‘independent’ evaluations,they came under political scrutiny from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats prior to theGeneral Election. Whilst space does not permit a detailed analysis here, against a backgroundof economic recession RDAs were attacked and criticised on democratic grounds owing to Page 2 of 20
  3. 3. their locally unaccountable private sector-led boards and bureaucratic grounds perceived toproduce an ‘additional layer’ at an inappropriate spatial scale, amongst other things. Supposedly aligned with their localism philosophy, the Coalition Government invitedEnglish localities to put forward proposals – backed by democratic and business leaders – forthe creation of LEPs. This was initially restricted to those areas of England outside ofLondon, but the Government subsequently extended its invitation to London after discussionswith its Mayor. By way of these invitations, the gauntlet had been laid down by the Coalitionfor a respatialisation of neoliberal economic regeneration entities. Providing localities – thatwere originally expected to be composed of two or more upper-tier authorities – with lessthan 70 days to put together propositions on the back of a few paragraphs of guidance in theform of broad ‘parameters’ contained in a letter of 29th June, 2010 by the Business Secretaryand Communities Secretary,6 Government refrained from publishing any policy-guidanceuntil after the state-set 6th September, 2010 deadline. It was not until 28th October, 2010when the Coalition issued their eagerly anticipated Local Growth ‘White Paper’7 that theGovernment’s policy on LEPs was revealed.5 The White Paper is intended to provide the overarching framework for how the Con-Libs seek to rebalance the country’s spatial economy as part of achieving an economicrecovery. It sets out three priorities: 1. Shifting power to local communities and businesses – by establishing local partnerships of business and civic leaders (i.e. LEPs) 2. Increasing confidence to invest – by creating the right conditions for growth and a new incentives regime 3. Focused investment – by tackling barriers to growth that the market will not address itself and supporting investment that will have a long term impact on growthAs part of this broad brush agenda, a range of measures, designed to provide incentives forlocal authorities (LAs) to promote business growth, is outlined in principle.5 The White Paperalso provided details of the first tranche of approved LEPs (see Figure 1), the process fordismantling the RDAs and set out high-level criteria for the Regional Growth Fund. Thelatter is set to be the prime (and only major) economic regeneration funding pot over the nextthree years. The £1.4 billion England-wide fund, administered (but not financially supported)by Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), will, among itstasks, be instrumental in providing ‘match-funding’ for accessing the ERDF, administered by Page 3 of 20
  4. 4. Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).8 The latter is anexample of the recentralisation of policy-funding functions; previously ERDF had beenmanaged by the RDAs and GOs before them.Figure 1: A map of the first wave of state sanctioned LEPs Page 4 of 20
  5. 5. Taking a critical look at the framing, process and politics underpinning the Coalition’s‘open call’ for LEPs and the concomitant territorial alliances informing LEP submissions, thepaper extracts a number of powerful lessons that can be learnt from this policy story stillbeing written. Examining the process from several different perspectives, including business,academic, political and practitioner views, the paper highlights unequal power relations.Following the methodological approach via policy ‘chatter’ advocated by Pugalis,3 whichhelps capture the political nuances and practitioner deliberations in a fast-paced policy and attimes chaotic environment, the paper propounds the argument that the rhetoric of permissivepolicy masks centralist controlling tendencies and unwritten rules. The state-led orchestratedpoliticised process is recounted in the next section, which is followed by an overarchinganalysis of the LEP proposals submitted to Government. The assessment process is thenexamined, before concluding with some lessons to date. As with all state-led restructuringexercises, the motivations, implementation and outcomes are contextually embedded and thusspatially distinct. Yet, in the realm of globally connected local places and practices, someinsights specific to England are likely to resemble processes evolving across other places,countries and continents. In this respect, findings will be of interest and appeal to a widerinternational audience of scholars and policy analysts. However, direct and unsympathetic‘fast’ policy transfer of lessons learnt is not advisable.THE POLITICISED PROCESSThe dismantling of regions, including the abolition of RDAs, was a political act. Con-Libcritiques of RDAs – revolving around unsuitable administrative geographies, unaccountablecreatures of central government and inefficient bureaucratic machinery – can be viewed as asmokescreen for eradicating vestiges of the Blair-Brown Labour era (1997-2010).9 Perhapsowing to their primary desire of drawing to a swift end Labour’s regional policy-infrastructure, the Coalition’s localist policy rebuilding plan was less developed.10 AsDamian Waters, the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI’s) regional director in the NorthWest, put it: ‘There is a danger that [the Government] are throwing out the baby with the bathwater’. More extreme views attest that there is a danger of throwing the bath out as well!Lesser and greater remarks of concern were reiterated from different perspectival lenses (e.g.LA officers, entrepreneurs and regeneration practitioners), forming a strong impression thatwhilst the ‘old’ regionalist policy approach was imperfect, wholesale demolition andreconstitution was unnecessary, and potentially counterproductive.3, 9 Page 5 of 20
  6. 6. Prior to the General Election the most comprehensive account of LEPs was containedin a letter by Caroline Spelman and Ken Clarke.11 Claiming that the RDAs were a legacy of afailed regional government experiment, in reference to the North East of England’s ‘no’ votefor an Elected Regional Assembly, the Spelman-Clarke letter suggested reforms to theexisting regional system, rather than ‘scrap it’ entirely. The assertion was that such reformwould strengthen local economic development and urban regeneration priorities. In terms ofleadership, Spelman and Clarke were insistent that ‘a leading local business person will chaireach new partnership’ (p. 2). Proceeding the General Election result, the Cable-Pickles letterwas a little more flexible, indicating that they were ‘willing to consider variants’ such as anelected mayor (p. 2).6 The reference to elected mayors was a nod in the direction of theirintent to legislate for these in the 12 ‘largest’ cities (as set out in the Localism Bill).12 Yet, thetwo page letter by Cable and Pickles has been widely rebuked across different sectors andinterests. Enraged by contradictory views pertaining from different ministers, RichardLambert, director-general of the CBI, described the manner in which the Government wentabout creating LEPs as a ‘shambles’. The quiet conflict between Eric Pickles (Conservative) and Vince Cable (LiberalDemocrat), icons of the notable policy differences that have traditionally existed betweentheir respective departments, CLG and BIS, goes much of the way in explaining why thepolicy on LEPs lacks strategic cohesion, has developed unevenly and been riddled withinconsistencies. It is feasible that the internal wrangling between BIS and CLG officials,reminiscent of ‘negotiations’ that stretched out the implementation of the Treasury’s13‘Review of sub-national economic development and regeneration’ in 2007 under a LabourGovernment, may have expended valuable time and space for more creative, strategicthinking. Though, it should be noted that this trait is not limited to national policydeliberation. It is a pervasive peculiarity that transcends political affiliations and spatialscales. Considering the vagueness of the policy of compromise contained in the ‘LocalGrowth White Paper’,5 the role and scope of LEPs is yet to be adequately clarified, despite 12months passing since the circulation of the Cable-Pickles letter. Consequently, LEPs inpractice are subject to be drastically transformed over time and across space. In a letter addressed to Vince Cable, dated 14th September, 2010, which was leakedto the press, Mark Prisk, Business and Enterprise Minister, alerted the Business Secretary tothe ‘strong concerns of the business community’ regarding LEPs. Prisk cautioned that LEPscould be a ‘failure in large parts of England’ should business become ‘detached’ from theinitiative. Prisk’s letter of concern was in direct response to the public criticisms from Page 6 of 20
  7. 7. powerful business lobby groups, such as the CBI. Sir Digby Jones, the former boss of theCBI, claimed that LEPs are ‘politically driven and managed’, confused in their objectives, toosmall to operate strategically and already had a ‘local authority mentality’. Jones’condemnation epitomised the mood of the business community who began to refer to LEPs as‘toothless tigers’ destined to be ‘talking shops’ and ‘empty vessels’. The process, to date, has been a maelstrom of conflicting ministerial pronouncementslacking the substance of a considered policy-framework, let alone any evidence supportingthe advocacy for yet another round of reterritorialised institutional manoeuvring, that showsno signs of abating. Even Cable acknowledged that the process had been ‘a little Maoist andchaotic’. In parallel to the ministerial induced confusion, LAs and businesses were presentedwith the unenviable task, and potentially poisoned chalice, of garnering ambitious LEPproposals in a relatively short period of time (i.e. 10 weeks).SUBMISSIONSIn July 2010 the consultancy CommunitySense launched a research project to investigate howLAs intended to progress the development of LEPs.14 More than 50 senior regenerationprofessionals participated, with survey findings, unsurprisingly, indicating that LAs wantLEPs to adopt a strong enterprise focus including supporting employment, skills and businessdevelopment. Responses revealed a pragmatic acceptance that most LEPs would be formedfrom existing partnership arrangements and there was a widely held expectation thatbrokering business involvement would be particularly challenging. The Government receiveda total of 62 LEP proposals, including a few propositions for strategic (regional) forumsintended to operate alongside and in cooperation with LEPs, such as, the YorkshireEnterprise Partnership. Content analysis of the majority of these submissions, alongsideinterviews and media reports validates the public sector practitioners’ initial views capturedin CommunitySense’s LA survey.Focus and prioritiesWhilst there was no government blueprint for LEPs, at least no blueprint that Cable andPickles could agree and issue publicly prior to the September deadline, their letter provided abroad steer and hinted at some of the Coalition Government’s emergent thinking.3 As cross-boundary entities, the letter stated that LEPs should produce a ‘clear vision’ for their areasetting out ‘local economic priorities’. Providing the ‘strategic leadership’ for their functional Page 7 of 20
  8. 8. economic space, the letter stated that they will play a key role in delivering the Coalition’scommitment to ‘rebalance the economy towards the private sector’. The Cable-Pickles letterintends LEPs to tackle issues like planning and housing, local transport and infrastructure,employment and enterprise, and tourism in some areas, as analysed in more detailelsewhere,3, 10, 15 thereby, supporting the Government’s aspiration to create the ‘rightenvironment for business and growth’. Although ministers claim that the model for LEPs isthat there is no model, by effectively – at first – ruling out the role of LEPs in some activitiesincluding inward investment, sector leadership, responsibility for business support,innovation, and access to finance, the broad parameters had been set. As a result, the salientfeature of LEP bids have several key characteristics in common (see Figure 2). However,beyond the commonalities – reflective of the Government’s broad parameters and existingeconomic regeneration priorities – proposals ranged significantly. It was clear that some, forexample, had been prepared late in the process; lacking broad partner input, analytical rigourand thoughtful priorities. Some bids amounted to less than a handful of pages of text, whereasothers exceed 200 pages, including maps, diagrams and detailed economic analysis. Severalpropositions mentioned an intent to adopt ‘innovative’ financial instruments, althoughelaboration was absent in most cases.Figure 2: Common characteristics of LEP bidsKey themes Common characteristics Bid examplesRole Many bids consider the principal role to be that of The East Sussex Prosperity through strategic leadership Growth proposal did not outline Terminology, such as ‘influencing’, ‘advocacy’, decision-making powers, instead ‘support’ and ‘enabling’, was frequently preferring a more strategic advisory mentioned roleScope and Most proposals tended to reflect the enterprise The Newcastle and Gateshead bidpriorities brief set out in the Cable-Pickles letter, although suggested the use of a spatial addressing locally specific priorities featured development plan to guide and prominently in many bids prioritise the work of the LEP Some proposals used the Government’s language of ‘rebalancing the economy’ to frame their prioritiesForm The proposed form of LEPs tended to be either an The East Anglia bid was silent on the informal partnership arrangement, often supported form of its proposed LEP by a LA acting as accountable body, or an entity with a legal personality, such as a company limited by guaranteeFunctions Beyond those functions identified by Cable and Oxfordshire’s submission proposed Pickles, such as housing, planning and transport, joint-working with the Homes and other functions including access to finance, Communities Agency in allocating supporting business start-ups and developing a low housing and regeneration funds carbon economy were frequently identified in bids Gloucestershire, Swindon and Functions identified by Government to be Wiltshire sought devolved delivered nationally, particularly inward responsibility for inward investment investment, were considered crucial to the through their bid Page 8 of 20
  9. 9. workings of LEPs in many casesPrivate sector Most propositions claimed to have private sector The Atlantic Gateway bid was a raresupport backing with some utilising signatories as example of being genuinely private ‘evidence’ sector-ledGovernance The majority of bids mirrored the Cable-Pickles The Solent proposition set out to make guidance by proposing a private sector chair and use of an Employment and Skills equitable board representation across the public Board and private sector Many propositions were explicit about their intention to secure further/higher education representation at board level Most bids were silent on the matter of voluntary, community and third sector representation at board level A number of bids intend to employ Employment and Skills BoardsBusiness Some bids had clearly thought of different Hampshire’s submission citedrepresentation mechanisms and processes to engender broader engagement through online business engagement beyond those nominated to mechanisms and a business forum comprise the boardGeography Almost all submissions were composed of at least Greater Manchester made a strong case two upper-tier authorities, with frequent claims of on the grounds of functional economic territories matching ‘natural economic areas’ space A single upper-tier bid was submitted in CumbriaBoundary There were competing bids covering similar and/or Competing bids were received bydisputes overlapping geographies Government across Lancashire, Numerous LAs were included in two or more LEP Pennine Lancashire and Flyde Coast submissionsCross-boundary Many propositions recognised the need for Adopting consistent language, each ofworking working across LEP boundaries, primarily with the LEP submissions from across the immediate neighbours but also with LEPs across North East proposed to work with a other parts of the country with similar sectoral regional forum – the North East strengths Economic Partnership Some LEP bids proposed confederated working arrangements and others set out to work within a regional frameworkExisting It was common for LEP submissions to recognise Many of the City Regions and Multi-partnerships the need to build on existing partnerships, though Area Agreements, such as Leeds City not necessarily mirror existing geographies, Region, put forward LEP bids although some LEP bids are remarkably similar to sub-regional governance entities established under the previous Labour GovernmentGovernmental Several propositions were explicit about the need The Birmingham and Solihullrelations to work closely with specific government proposition specifically mentioned its departments and agencies intent to work closely with UK Trade and IndustryStaffing Due to budget constraints and uncertainty of The Tees Valley submission identifiedarrangements funding most submissions outlined an expectation a core team of staff that would provide that secretariat support would be kept to a policy and delivery support, and seek minimum to access additional fundingFunding and Consistent calls for accessing the Regional Growth Liverpool City Region’s submissionother sources of Fund called for financial benefits where theirfinance Several bids suggested that they would consider role in achieving welfare benefit pooling public sector resources and there was savings could be demonstrated significant interest in place-based budgetingAssets Consistent calls were made through LEP bids for The Marches proposition sets out to taking on the ownership of RDA physical assets, deliver ambition on the back of RDA such as land and property assets Page 9 of 20
  10. 10. The majority of submissions identified workforce skills and inward investment as keylocal priorities and therefore expected the LEP to play a decisive role.16 Yet, the Coalitionintends to recentralise these functions. Overall, an analysis of the LEP proposals shows aclear trend towards LEPs performing a strategic enabling and influencing role – ‘steering andcheering’. Locally distinct, specific details of the role to be performed by LEPs tended to besketchy in the propositions, which is understandable when considering the adventuroustimescales, lack of clarity from Government and no sign of state financial backing. It is clearthat some localities decided to design-in flexibility, with interview responses suggesting thatmany LEPs intend to adapt once the landscape of LEPs becomes clearer. More than onerespondent made reference to waiting to see ‘which way the wind is blowing’ beforespecifying functions and activities. Another practitioner involved in the crafting of a LEPsubmission maintained that it was for ‘the board itself to determine priorities and activities ...we [officers and representatives] can provide them with something to work with, but [theboard] need to have an input and make the final decision’. This type of stance indicates thatsome proposals, perhaps even a significant majority, should be viewed as provisional works-in-progress. Hence, it is likely to transpire that the actual focus and prioritisation of actionsover coming months and years may bear little resemblance to original bids. Indeed, theannouncement to revive Enterprise Zones (EZs), a favoured Conservative policy of the 1980sand 1990s, with the 2011 Budget Report identifying the first 11 of 21 EZs across England,17but only available to those places with a LEP, has prompted some commentators to claim that‘New life has [been] breathed into LEPs’.18Developing existing partnerships – LEPs are nothing newIn part owing to the compressed timescale for developing LEP submissions, but alsoreflective of the array of neoliberal spatial governance arrangements developed over thepreceding decade – including but not limited to Multi-Area Agreements, City Regions andSub-Regional Partnerships – there was a strong propensity for LEP submissions to recastexisting arrangements. Indeed, the CommunitySense survey reported that ‘Over 87% ofLocal Authorities sampled were preparing to utilise and merge existing partnership structuresto support LEP development’ (p. 7).14 Some of the most notable examples of LEPsubmissions taking forward prior partnership configurations are the two pilot statutory CityRegions, announced in the 2009 Budget, covering Greater Manchester and the urbanconurbation centred on Leeds. Adopting such tactics prevents ‘reinventing the wheel’, whichis to be commended. These recast or simply rebadged partnerships will have accumulated a Page 10 of 20
  11. 11. unique history of cooperation that any new partnership clearly has to negotiate. In this senseestablished cross-boundary entities, such as Tees Valley Unlimited, may be at a distinctadvantage, as notwithstanding their own politico-institutional problems, they arecommencing life as a LEP with a track-record of economic governance at the larger thanlocal level. However, there is an apparent risk that some (predominantly public sector) actorssee LEPs as ‘business as usual’. In contrast, Dickinson asserts that the private sector ‘wants aradical change’ in modes of working.16 Partly in response, terms such as, ‘fleet of foot’ haveentered the practitioners’ vocabulary to describe a new way of working that is more agile andresponsive than recent practice. Yet, so far, there has been little sign of a substantive culturalshift to indicate that this will be the case other than in the most exceptional of circumstances.It would be invidious if this latest round of state-led restructuring does not rouse moreinnovative partnership arrangements and more creative ways of solving longstandingeconomic issues.Business involvementSince the Coalition came to power, and especially in the period up to the September, 2010LEP submission deadline, there has been a spate of policy announcements. Consequently, anoverwhelming weight of material was being fired in all directions and it was difficult for theprivate sector to engage within such a small window of opportunity. A survey of almost 300businesses by Shropshire Chamber of Commerce conducted prior to government deadlinerevealed that approximately two-thirds of respondents were aware of the abolition of RDAs,but there was less clarity on the role and governance of LEPs.19 For example, 37 percent ofrespondents had no knowledge that LEPs are intended to be business-led with strong boardrepresentation. Notwithstanding some promising exceptions and creative ways of engagingbusinesses, such as through online networks, it is little wonder that the role of business in thecrafting, formulation and endorsement of submissions has been variously described as ‘thin’20and ‘patchy’.21 As a result – implicitly and explicitly – the process can be characterised asbeing LA-led, despite the Cable-Pickles letter calling for business leadership. The followingquote from a researcher at the Centre for Cities think-tank demonstrates the assumption thatLAs are the driving force behind the development of LEP submissions: ‘Partnerships will need to consider carefully who to involve from the business community, and how to work with them to ensure a laser focus on growing local economies. The Page 11 of 20
  12. 12. Partnership for Urban South Hampshire, for example, only engages with business on key strategic issues, to make best use of their time’.21There is an implicit inference that ‘partnerships’ are run by public sector stakeholders whohave more time to devote, with businesses only consulted ‘on key strategic issues’. If such aview informs the workings of LEPs then the business as usual model will surely prevail. The‘involvement’ of business interests in sub-national economic governance is an area that isworthy of additional theoretical and empirical enquiry. It is far too simplistic to view privatesector or even more holistic multi-sector leadership as a magic bullet for the many complexand entrenched issues that LEPs will inevitably face in the future.In a context of economic austerity, some commentators are concerned that LEPs will struggleto compensate for the ‘regional lacuna’ that has emerged following the demise of the RDAs.9Drawing on the case of the North-West RDA, Kevin Meagher argued that the BBC wouldnever have moved to Salford Quays without a strategic regional body in place ‘to bang headstogether and get a rational approach agreed’ between Manchester and Salford councils.22Calling for LEPs to have genuine powers that can help generate business interest, Meagheropined that ‘the last thing anyone needs are a fleet of empty vessels manned by squabblinglocal authorities as the big picture on regional economic development gets missed’. Yet,prospective LEPs submitted their proposals lacking clarity on what they were permitted to do,how they will do it, and how and by whom they will be judged.RED, AMBER, GREEN: PERMISSIVE POLICY OR UNWRITTEN RULES?As a consequence of the Government’s embryonic policy for LEPs, there was broad concernfrom business groups and think-tanks that there could be ‘far too many little ones - whichwould undermine their effectiveness’.23 Yet, a high number of bids was always likely to be aby-product of localism, particularly if one agreed with the Coalition’s view that the eightRDAs (excluding London) were too remote from local economic ‘realities’. A permissiveapproach, what CLG’s deputy director of economic partnerships defines as ‘no prescription,no guidance, no duties, with accountability [instead resting with] local people, and an end tomindless reporting/strategies and plans produced to satisfy Government’s appetitive for moreand more data and information’,24 would therefore place an onus on the multiple stakeholderswithin localities negotiating translocal economic forces. Here, local actors decide what the Page 12 of 20
  13. 13. issues are, how to tackle them, who to work with and how to work – the What, Who and Howformula. Such a ‘bottom-up’ approach may not necessarily correlate with the views ofWhitehall, but it would demonstrate a first step of localism in action. Emanating from the loose guidance provided by Government was the addedconfusion derived from stakeholder interpretations. Creating ‘space’ for LEPs to respond tolocal needs and priorities, which is welcome, Johnson and Schmuecker warned that this ‘alsocreates uncertainty as to what will meet the criteria and what will not’ (p. 1).25 Whilst therewere generalities across the submissions, as identified above, there were also spatiallyspecific priorities and tailored ‘solutions’. The process, therefore, increased the likelihood ofcompeting bids and overlapping geographies. The Government subsequently received morethan 60 individual LEP proposals, which was decidedly more than BIS had hoped for, butprobably more closely attuned with the localism policy of CLG and its ministerial head EricPickles. Pugalis3 demonstrates this patchwork quilt of prospective LEP geographies visuallyand SQW20 quantified that at least 70 district authorities were included in two or moresubmissions. Figure 3 identifies many of the geographically overlapping bids.Figure 3: Competing LEP bidsRegion Areas with competing bidsNorth East NoneYorkshire and York and North Yorkshire and Leeds City RegionHumber York and North Yorkshire and Hull, East Riding and Scarborough Hull, East Riding and Scarborough and Humber Leeds City Region and Sheffield City RegionNorth West Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Warrington and the Atlantic Gateway Lancashire, Pennine Lancashire and Flyde CoastEast Midlands South East Midlands and NorthamptonshireWest Midlands Birmingham and Solihull with East Staffordshire, Lichfield and Tamworth and Stoke on Trent in StaffordshireEast of England East Anglia and Norfolk East Anglia and Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough East Anglia and Kent-EssexSouth East Kent-Essex and Kent and Medway The M3 corridor and Surrey The Solent and Hampshire and the M3 Corridor Surrey and the Coast to Capital and the Gatwick Diamond Gatwick Diamond and Coast to CapitalSouth West Cornwall and Isles of Scilly and Devon and Somerset/Heart of the South West Devon and Somerset/Heart of the South West and South Somerset and East Devon Page 13 of 20
  14. 14. With Government lacking substantive criteria with which to base their decisions, astraightforward, objective and transparent assessment process of LEP submissions appearedimprobable. The Coalition had inadvertently set themselves an impossible challenge: how todemonstrate commitment to their permissive approach and localist philosophy at the sametime as encouraging localities to overcome territorial disputes and rise above parochialism.How the Coalition responded proved to be a significant early test in respect of their ‘appetitefor the reality as well as the rhetoric of devolution’.21 At this crucial stage, ministers wereforced to reveal their hand which confirmed that the ‘Whitehall knows best’ view had notvanished, but had been masquerading through the concept of localism. The Governmentopted to endorse an initial wave of 24 LEPs using ex-post rationalisation as a way out of thetrap they had inadvertently created (see Figure 1). Finding themselves in an unexpectedsituation that tested their localist credentials, the Coalition, so as not to appear irrational,modified their approach (philosophy) so as to ‘justify’ their course of action. Ex-postrationalisation permits actors, in this case government ministers, to reformulate past actionsand processes to appear in a more positive light. The specific course utilised by the CoalitionGovernment involved the adoption of four key criteria to assess the LEP proposals: i) supportfrom business ii) natural economic geography iii) LA support iv) and added value andambition.7 Without explaining the use of such criteria or indeed acknowledging the existenceof such criteria prior to and/or during the open invitation for LEP submissions, it is doubtfulthe extent to which this criteria informed the ministerial decision-making process. Whilst theCoalition have been staunch advocates of transparency, with Pickles contending that Freedomof Information requests would be rendered redundant if the public sector made moreinformation readily available, they have been far from transparent in the murky LEP approvalprocess. Indeed, politicised motives masquerading as rational policy decisions may also bedirecting the location of EZs. In April, 2011 David Cameron reportedly stated that the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP area would be granted one of the remaining ten EZs, pre-empting what has been officially scripted as a competitive bidding process. Decision letters to proposers support the view that ministers arbitrarily adopted atraffic light system of assessing bids. ‘Red’ – limited chance of approval and a major rethinkrequired. ‘Amber’ – additional work need, largely in terms of geography or partner buy-in.‘Green’ – approval granted. Around 90 percent of the content of decision letters to proposersconsisted of generic text, which provided the impression that individual bids had not beensystematically considered. The intention to provide ‘detailed and individual feedback topartnerships’24 may have been laudable but was never realistic considering that the London- Page 14 of 20
  15. 15. based civil servants in BIS and CLG were only ever resourced to liaise with nine RDAs, andwere themselves facing staff reductions as a result of the spending cuts announced in theOctober, 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.26Figure 4: A map of 33 LEPs – April, 2011 Page 15 of 20
  16. 16. The first tranche of LEPs left approximately 40 per cent of the population of EnglandLEP-less, with significant left-over spaces occupying large swathes of the North East, NorthYorkshire, Lancashire, Humberside, East Anglia and the West Country. Since the initialwave, three more were approved in December, 2010 and by the end of April, 2011 six morehad been approved on an incremental basis, which brought the number of state sanctionedbids to 33 (covering approximately 93 per cent of England’s population and 1.9 millionbusinesses) (see Figure 4).LESSONS TO DATEIn a rapidly evolving policy environment, change is the only constant at the moment.Although it is too early to judge the efficacy of LEPs, marked differences in the LEPsubmissions and, just as importantly, their process of production, can be identified in order toextract some key points of learning from the process to date. Whilst it would appear obviousthat LEPs should have clarity of purpose, including strategies, funding and powers,27 thecompressed timescale and lack of guidance mean that in many cases this remains a crucialaspect to resolve. Without this basic understanding of their raison d’être and the tools at theirdisposal, LEPs face an uphill struggle to influence the regeneration and growth of localeconomies (especially over the short-term). Therefore, the first lesson to be drawn fromEngland’s state-led restructuring of sub-national economic governance and regeneration isthat clarity of goals and objectives, in this case to enable local growth, should be thoughtfuland achievable. Whilst locally tailored priorities and approaches are advocated, visionslacking the substance to deliver will be futile. Lesson two is for the rules of the game to beexplicit and agreed upfront. It is for this reason that new policy concepts, such as LEPs, arenormally consulted upon prior to policy formulation and implementation. Linked to this,lesson three is to learn from what has gone before: salvaging what has worked, revising whatcould work better and learning from what has not worked so well. It is perhaps this lessonwhich the Coalition Government should heed most in the future. Lesson four is to be realisticabout what can be achieved within compressed timescales. For example, seeking views andproposals for new ways of working between public, private and voluntary sector interestswithin a 10 week period was overambitious. The fifth lesson is that old rivalries, territorialdisputes, local politics and histories of stakeholder relations die hard. A perceived peril ofsome of the submissions and state sanctioned LEPs is that the cavernous cracks created bylongstanding tensions may have only been papered over rather than fundamentally addressed. Page 16 of 20
  17. 17. As the results of May, 2011 local government elections have transformed the politicaldynamics of some areas, it will be interesting to monitor whether this unsettles or stabilisesemergent LEP relations. Those LEP-less areas, such as north and south of the Humber, mayuse changes in local political leadership as an opportunity to put in place some cross-boundary arrangements. The sixth lesson is to acknowledge that the form and focus of LEPswill be spatially and historically contingent and, therefore, each LEP will require variabledegrees of national support and autonomy. The seventh lesson is to recognise the unequalpower relations of partnerships and to negotiate these in an open and transparent manner. TheCoalition exercise considerable power across the landscape of LEPs, yet arguably, thesepowers have been concealed by representations of localism. The ground rules for LEPs and sub-national economic regeneration has shifted rapidlyover the past 12 months. In part, this can be attributed to the frenetic politicised process thatframed the alliances, crafting, development and subsequent submission of LEP proposals, aswell as the eventual assessment and state sanctioning of LEP bids. Commencing with only anebulous notion of what form a LEP may take and what they could achieve, somecommentators perceived this to be evidence of ‘localism in action’ – a truly permissiveapproach from Whitehall. Other analysts point to the tension between the localism of Picklesand the regionalism-centralism of Cable, and indeed their respective officials, as the primaryreason underscoring a lack of guidance. As a result, the proposed LEP geographies wereunlikely to tessellate. Given the permissive rhetoric of the Con-Libs, their criteria forassessing bids would prove challenging and contentious. The paper has identified a lack of transparency, shifts in politico-policy direction andex-post rationalised criteria, leaving a dark cloud over the deliberations informing the crudetraffic light system of endorsing some (Green), leaving the door open for others (Amber) andthe bold rejection of the rest (Red). Despite expressions of localism wrapped-up in ademagogical strategy, after 12 months of Con-Lib rule the shift from RDAs to LEPs appearsto mask insidious centralism. If this is so, then the Coalition’s sub-national policy isremarkably similar to Labour’s. Further, LEPs could be considered more of a reaction againstLabour’s RDAs rather than a direct replacement. Though the Labour Governmentpropounded the virtues of subsidiarity,13 they were reluctant to grant localities genuineeconomic powers, financial levers or incentives beyond a duty to assess the condition of theireconomy. At a time when many areas have an improved understanding of economicopportunities and regeneration priorities, in part supported by the production of LocalEconomic Assessments, it is hoped that the tendency for Whitehall to centralise power and Page 17 of 20
  18. 18. resources, which concomitantly undermines the representative role of local government, willbe reversed by way of LEPs. Such a shift would go some way in addressing the state-localpower imbalances and truly differentiate the Coalition’s espoused ‘radicalism’ from whatwent before. Speaking at the London Development Agency’s annual public meeting on 9thNovember, 2010, London Mayor, Boris Johnson, believed it would be a ‘mistake’ to create anetwork of LEPs within the capital ‘My motto is look before you LEP. What we need to do is be very careful that we don’t reinvent the wheel. I think it would be a mistake for London to create a confusing and complicated Venn diagram of sub-regions … I don’t think that’s the way to go’.It has subsequently transpired that the Mayor’s advice has been heeded, with a single LEPcreated for the capital (which in many respects is a direct replacement of the LondonDevelopment Agency but with much less financial muscle). Yet, even in London the LEPpicture is not totally clear.28 As the boundaries of England’s sub-national economicgovernance and regeneration landscape continue to be redrawn geographically, politically,institutionally, and across sectoral interests and stakeholders, many questions originally posedby Pugalis3 remain pertinent but are yet to be answered at this stage. The importance ofcollaboration, governance, powers, responsibilities and resources will be crucial to theefficacy of LEPs and worthy of more detailed investigation in the future. The spatial injustices of a fractured society of the privileged and dispossessed couldpotentially be exacerbated by LEPs, assuming that some will be more powerful and effectivethan others or if some localities remain LEP-less in the post-regional landscape. Policiesfocussing on enabling the market and responding to opportunities tend to have an unpleasanttrack record of silencing marginal communities and actors, whilst benefiting more powerfulinterests who tend to shout loudest.2 Considering that geographically rebalancing theeconomy is purported to be a major strand of the Coalition’s growth strategy, such a situationwarrants serious political and analytical attention. Perhaps the Con-Libs and others shouldhave followed the advice of Boris Johnson and ‘looked before they LEPed’. Page 18 of 20
  19. 19. REFERENCES AND NOTES1. Due to its unique constitutional arrangements a separate process operated in London,where the Mayor and London boroughs were invited to come forward with LEP proposals by5 November, 2010, which was subsequently extended.2. Houghton, J.H., and Blume, T. (2011), Poverty, power and policy dilemmas: Lessonsfrom the community empowerment programme in England. Journal of Urban Regenerationand Renewal Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 207-217.3. Pugalis, L. (2011), Sub-national economic development: where do we go from here?.Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 255-268.4. Gudgin, G. (1995), Regional problems and policy in the UK. Oxford Review ofEconomic Policy Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 18-63.5. Pugalis, L., and Townsend, A.R. (2011), Rebalancing England: Sub-NationalDevelopment (Once Again) at the Crossroads. Urban Research & Practice Vol. In Press.6. Cable, V., and Pickles, E. (2010), Local enterprise partnerships. Open letter to LocalAuthority Leaders and Business Leaders, HM Government, London.7. HM Government (2010), Local growth: realising every place’s potential. TheStationery Office, London.8. The Regional Growth Fund is expected to provide £580 million capital and £840million resource funding over the ensuing three years. Open to all parts of England, financialsupport is made up of contributions from CLG, the Department for Transport and theDepartment for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. CLG is the largest contributor,providing £890 million. The budget allocation for for 2011-12 is £495 million.9. Pugalis, L. (2011), The regional lacuna: a preliminary map of the transition fromRegional Development Agencies to Local Economic Partnerships. Regions Vol. 281, No.,pp. 6-9.10. Pugalis, L. (2010), Looking Back in Order to Move Forward: The Politics ofEvolving Sub-National Economic Policy Architecture. Local Economy Vol. 25, No. 5-6, pp.397-405.11. Spelman, C., and Clarke, K. (2010), Strengthening local economies. Open letter toConservative MPs, House of Commons, London, pp. 1-4.12. Communities and Local Government (CLG) (2010), Decentralisation and theLocalism Bill: an essential guide. The Stationery Office, London.13. HM Treasury (2007), Review of sub-national economic development andregeneration. HMSO, London.14. CommunitySense (2010), LEPs: the story so far, A survey of 51 Local Authorities byCommunitySense (Part 1). CommunitySense, London.15. Bentley, G., et al. (2010), From RDAs to LEPs: A New Localism? Case Examples ofWest Midlands and Yorkshire. Local Economy Vol. 25, No. 7, pp. 535-557.16. Dickinson, S. (2011), LEPs: puzzle or journey?. In Local Enterprise Partnerships:Good Neighbours - Good Outcomes, Evolution Business Centre, Northallerton.17. HM Treasury (2011), Budget 2011. Stationery Office, London.18. Jones, A. (2011), Zones give teeth to partnerships. Planning, 21 April, pp. 16-17.19. Shropshire Chamber of Commerce (2010), LEP Survey. Shropshire Chamber ofCommerce, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin.20. SQW (2010), Local Enterprise Partnerships: A new era begins?. SQW, London.21. Maugham, C. (2010), What will life be like after RDAs?. Public Servant, 11October.22. Meagher, K. (2010), Opinion: Talk of RDA abolition is premature. Regeneration &Renewal, 6 July. Page 19 of 20
  20. 20. 23. Finch, D. (2010), Most LEP proposals not good enough - Cable. Vol. Available at:http://fishburn-hedges.typepad.com/dermot_finch/2010/09/cable-wrigglesworth-lukewarm-on-leps.html [Accessed on 22 October 2010].24. Francis, C. (2010), Local Enterprise Partnerships: The story so far and relationshipwith planning, National Planning Forum, 8 October.25. Johnson, M., and Schmuecker, K. (2010), Four Tests for Local EnterprisePartnerships. IPPR North, Newcastle.26. HM Treasury (2010), Spending Review 2010. The Stationery Office, London.27. Lee, N., et al. (2010), No City Left Behind? The geography of the recovery - and theimplications for the coalition. The Work Foundation, London.28. Alongside a London Enterprise Partnership, covering the whole of the capital, theNorth London Strategic Alliance (NLSA), representing business interests, public sectorbodies and eight councils, as of March, 2011, was intending to press ahead with theirLondon-Anglia LEP approach, which was rejected by Government. Despite no formal LEPrecognition, the NLSA contend that London’s economy is so diverse that a single LEP willnot adequately tackle its barriers to growth. Page 20 of 20

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