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East Anglia: FSB welcomes LEP support for small firms

PUBLISHED: 09:00 09 September 2014 | UPDATED: 10:25 09 September 2014

Chris Soule, FSB policy chairman in East Anglia.

Chris Soule, FSB policy chairman in East Anglia.

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Small business leaders have called on Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to put small firms at the heart of their plans following the launch of a new report.

Big business is perceived as dominating the agenda at local level through its influence over LEPs, the regional bodies set up by the Coalition Government to replace regional development agencies, according to the study, entitled The Future of LEPs: The Small Business Perspective.

The report, by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), calls on LEPs to place small businesses at the heart of their plans for local economic growth.

The FSB says LEPs are the right vehicle to deliver local economic growth across England.

But while small and medium sized businesses have been responsible for four in five (84%) jobs created in the private sector between 2010 and 2013, and represent nearly half (48%) of private sector turnover, large businesses are perceived to have most influence within LEPs.

Two in five (39%) local authorities and two thirds (67%) of FSB representatives surveyed believe that large businesses exert the greatest influence over LEPs.

“Small business involvement in LEPs has been questionable in many areas. LEPs face problems as a result of lack of clarity as to how small businesses should be involved in LEPs and the future of local economic growth,” the report said.

Three quarters (77%) of small businesses want LEPs to offer procurement advice as part of their business support package, but only a quarter (25%) of LEPs are planning to offer this kind of service, it found. The FSB called on them to become more effective at providing the advice and services small businesses need.

Chris Soule, the FSB’s East Anglia policy chairman, welcomed New Anglia LEP chair Mark Pendlington’s plans for a Business Consultation Board and said the local organisation was “ahead of the game in so many areas”. However that didn’t mean improvements could not be made, he said.

“LEPs are crucial to delivering local economic growth across England. Small firms will ultimately be the ones creating most of the jobs and prosperity in the private sector, so it is absolutely essential that they are at the heart of LEPs’ plans,” he said. “LEPs will be handling billions of public money between now and 2021 and it is important to understand how it is being spent.

Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP, pointed out that his organisation has three board members running small firms.

“New Anglia LEP has a strong track record of working with small businesses and the FSB has positively influenced both the shape of LEP strategy and the delivery of our projects across Norfolk and Suffolk,” he said.

“Last year we commissioned them to research how the LEP could best support small businesses. The LEP accepted the report in full and has been working to implement its findings.”

He added: “We have regular meetings with the FSB, Chambers and other business groups, and we have established a voluntary network of Business Advocates who ensure that small companies are getting the most up to date information from us.

“Our most direct link with small businesses is through our Growth Hub advisers, who help small businesses access a wide range of support including finance, procurement, marketing and HR.

“We have robust processes in place for evaluation of our activities, which were agreed with Government as part of the terms of the funding for each for project. As a limited company we publish a record of all our board members business interests as well as our public accounts.”

Mr Soule added: “Last year we were pleased to be asked by New Anglia to find out what small businesses would like to see the LEP doing for them. The results and our recommendations were received positively and we have been working with the LEP since then to develop the suggestions put forward by the local business community.”

A spokesperson for South East LEP, which includes Essex, said: “We have read with interest the recent report published by the FSB and CLES and are pleased to see their interest in the role and future success of Local Enterprise Partnerships.

“We agree with a number of the recommendations and recognise some of the challenges the report has found. We constantly strive to involve businesses in our activity, ensuring this is relevant to their area of work and to involve them in areas where investments are being made. We welcome all and any support from the FSB in helping to effectively communicate the role of the LEP to the wider SME community.

“LEPs have continued to evolve and improve, and come from different starting positions. Some of the recommendations in the report, the South East LEP already has place, such as dedicated resources for consulting with the business community and supporting business Board members.

“Some of the recommendations relate directly to issues we are currently considering, including resources and models of operation to reflect the recently announced Growth Deals. This report is most timely and will help to influence how we develop our bespoke local arrangements.

“We welcome support from the FSB to help realise the potential of LEPs and the growing influence the private sector can have over this important area of Government policy.”

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