North East Devolution and Levelling Up

North East LEP faces unsure future

(Headline amended on 9 Feb 2022)

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) faces the prospect of losing its separate identity and being integrated into the North East’s new combined authorities, if they are established as expected under the government’s levelling up plans.

NELEP’s fate is uncertain at this stage, but it seems likely to become a subsidiary of a new, expanded mayoral combined authority (MCA) covering the six councils in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland and to have some as yet undetermined relationship with County Durham if the latter agrees a separate go-it-alone county devolution deal with the government.

The future of England’s 38 LEPs is discussed briefly in the Levelling Up White Paper (p. 146) published last week.

LEPs are business-led, non-statutory organisations entrusted by the government with leading local economic development. NELEP was established in 2011, published a ten-year-strategic plan (SEP) in 2014 and administered a Local Growth Fund of £270m between 2015 and 2021 as well as some other government funding.

The Levelling Up White Paper says that ‘for the last decade, LEPs have acted as important organisational means of bringing together businesses and local leaders to drive economic growth across England. They have also been responsible for the delivery of a number of major funding streams.

‘It is important to retain the key strengths of these local, business-oriented institutions in supporting private sector partnerships and economic clusters, while at the same time better integrating their services and business voice into the UK Government’s new devolution plans’.

To that end,’ the Paper continues, ‘the UK Government is encouraging the integration of LEPs and their business boards into MCAs, the GLA (Greater London Authority) and County Deals [such as Durham, potentially], where these exist.

‘Where a devolution deal does not yet exist, LEPs will continue to play their vital role in supporting local businesses and the local economy. Where devolution deals cover part of a LEP, this will be looked at on a case by case basis.

‘Further detail on this transition will be provided in writing to LEPs as soon as possible’.

Lucy Winskell, NELEP chair, said in a statement on the White Paper: ‘We were…pleased to see further commitment to devolution. We are clear that local decision-making, targeting investment resources to local priorities, will make a difference and we will continue to work alongside our political partners in the region to secure the optimum devolution position for the North East.’

The Integration of NELEP with a new North East MCA would not be a surprise. Tees Valley LEP became closely integrated with Tees Valley Combined Authority after the latter became an MCA in 2017. This website reported two months ago that LEPs might be scrapped as part of the White Paper

NELEP’s ten-year economic plan is due to complete its course in 2024, which is also the likely date for the formal establishment of new MCAs for the North East and County Durham and the election of their mayors. That would be a logical time to change NELEP’s status.