The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) has undergone a significant organisational restructuring including the loss of a sixth of its jobs following a government funding cut and ahead of an anticipated, but far from certain, new devolution deal for the region.
The news has emerged two months after this website warned that the future of NELEP, and England’s other LEPs, was uncertain as the Conservative Party embarked on the election of a new leader and prime minister.
England’s 38 LEPs are business-led partnerships set up in 2010 to drive economic development. Each receives government funding on the basis for a ten-year Strategic Economic Plan. The ten years are up next April.
It was an odd moment, we said in July, for NELEP’s chief executive Helen Golightly to issue a statement welcoming the clarification of its new role following publication of the Levelling Up White Paper.
She spoke positively in a statement issued on July 12 about NELEP’s work, recounted fondly how she has seen the organisation grow from six staff to more than 60 and expressed pride in their rigour, commitment and sheer determination to achieve amazing things whatever the circumstances.
Strategic direction, she said looking ahead, is what keeps the ship steady during times of change: ‘And the next 12 months will undoubtedly bring more change for not just the LEP, but for wider regional governance as our local and combined authorities work towards securing greater devolution powers and funding to the region’.
We did not know then but Helen Golightly must have done, and we do now, that even at the time NELEP’s budget for running costs had been cut by £500,000 and that 11 of those jobs she had been so pleased to see created were already being axed.
NELEP’s board meets in private but its redacted minutes are published afterwards, and those for the meeting of July 21 give some information about what has been going on.
‘The organisation’, say the minutes, ‘had gone through a restructure and this had been challenging for colleagues both directly and indirectly affected.’ Eleven posts had been deleted from the 66 in the organisation. Four had been vacant posts and the remainder were either voluntary or compulsory. All teams and all levels had been affected across the organisation’. Among them was one NELEP director.
The July 21 meeting, the minutes record, also noted that there was potential for greater devolution across the region and the transition of LEPs into ‘local democratic institutions’ with a mayoral local authority in due course.
Officials of NELEP and the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) – which is already a mayoral authority – are said in the minutes to be working closely on this proposal. But there is no mention of the North East Combined Authority (NECA). It is the four councils in NECA that rejected devolution and a mayor in 2016 – Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham – who are the ones who must be persuaded to change their minds.
Nothing we have learned since July about the Truss government’s approach to levelling up or about that of regional leaders to devolution supports the clarification of which Ms Golightly spoke in July. Two months is a long time in politics.
The NELEP board minutes record that there was a devolution update at its July 21 meeting – but, in line with North East custom, it was confidential. There will be another update at the board meeting on September 29, but it will be verbal, so outsiders will not hear it. There is also be a written ‘Chair and Chief Executive Update’ on the agenda, but it is nothing more than a list of meetings held.