LEPs and the future of EU funds

From 2014 onwards, the way in which EU funding will be delivered in England is expected to change considerably: Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will work on priorities for their ‘EU Investment Strategy’ in their areas and will be given notional allocations of funding from the new EU Growth Plan. The 39 LEPs already play a role in determining local economic priorities and will be key in determining how EU funds will be spent locally from 2014-2020.

We were first introduced to the LEPs leading role in the future EU funds in Heseltine’s report “No stone unturned: In the pursuit of growth” which suggests that LEPs should be the principle delivery vehicle for developing strategy and investment plans for their local areas. The UK government consulted on this proposal during a series of consultative roadshows in November and December 2012. However absent in Heseltine’s report, the Autumn statement, and the roadshows is how these LEPs will engage and involve partners including civil society organisations in decision making and delivery.

From our initial stocktake, it appears that less than half of the LEPs boards and/or advisory groups include individuals from civil society organisations.  This raises serious questions about how we – VCS groups, social enterprises, and coops – are perceived to contribute to economic growth. There is clearly a lack of knowledge about the added value our sector can bring to the economy.  An Acevo/NCVO report published in 2011 highlights examples of the direct impact of the third sector on the economy, for example through employment support and welfare to work, provision of training and business and enterprise support. Yet, two years on it appears that these messages still need to be communicated to many of our LEPs.

The LEPs will be expected to work with us and other local partners in setting their strategies although we will have to wait until the Spring to see the UK government’s guidance to the LEPs.   But what is clear for us now, is that there is a need for greater involvement of civil society with the LEPs.  How to go about this was one of the main concerns voiced at our joint event with Network for Europe in the North West region a couple of weeks ago – and there may not be a one-size-fits-all answer.

The LEPs come in different sizes and structures. Some of the LEPs have special interest groups, some have advisory panels. The memberships of boards differ from LEP to LEP in terms of public and private sector, and representatives from higher education and universities. And as for capacity – that the Liverpool LEP has over 40 members of staff while the neighbouring Cheshire and Warrington LEP only has two shows how greatly they can vary from each other. Will these differences in resources have a significant impact on how much EU funding an area will receive?  It has been made clear that although 39 different LEP ‘areas’ exist, this will not mean 39 different pots of money. This leaves some LEPs in a stronger position to benefit from the funds than others and will require collaboration between different LEPs. At the Network for Europe event, we were fortunate to hear at first hand from a LEP in the context of EU funds. Paul Dickson from the Liverpool City Region LEP explained how they recognise the role the VCS sector plays in EU projects and we encouragingly heard how they are already linking up with Network for Europe and Voluntary Sector North West.  How advanced the other LEPs are in terms of collaborating with our sector is yet to be established. But one thing that is clear, the LEPs will need to involve all relevant partners in their strategic planning for EU funding, hopefully through collaboration, board / sub-group membership and consultation either permanently or on a ad-hoc basis.

The Government will be providing £10 million per year for capacity building within the LEPs, and each LEP will be able to apply for up to £250,000 additional funding per year to support the development and delivery of their strategic plan. However, our sector also needs to provide support to the LEPs during this crucial development stage and we encourage you to engage with your LEPs now to set out your key investment priorities and start thinking of projects for the 2014-2020 funding period.

We would love to get feedback from you:

  • Is your organisation in contact with your LEP?
  • Are you on a LEP Board or Partnership?
  • How are you planning to ensure that your organisation is engaged in the LEP strategic planning for 2014-2020
  • Tell us how you think the government should ensure that LEPs will work with all partners

Useful links

ESF logoRead this useful VSNW report on The Rise of the LEPs.

Other documents from our joint event with Network for Europe are on our website events pages.

Find out more about your local LEP on this LEP network website.

Join the discussion on Twitter on #futureEUfunds

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Sara was the European Social Fund (ESF) officer, responsible for supporting the delivery of 'Civil Society Active for ESF'.

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