You can read details of the government announcement here.
In February, the government announced that it was ‘minded’ to enable the functions of LEPs to be delivered by local government in the future. Today’s announcement confirms that by March 2024 government will support upper-tier councils (county councils and unitary authorities) or combined authorities to absorb the three main functions of LEPs, namely: business representation, strategic economic planning, and responsibility for the delivery of government programmes.
It also confirms that councils will continue to receive transition funding to support councils to take on these functions and exercise them in the future.
The County Councils Network (CCN), has been the leading voice in arguing for LEP functions to be transferred to councils for a number of years. Most recently, CCN outlined in a major report with EY, published in July 2023 (see here), that the government must make a ‘decisive’ decision and transfer LEP functions to upper-tier councils in England.
In response, CCN has strongly welcomed the announcement, including confirmation that functions will be transferred to upper-tier councils and the commitment to continuing funding – the central asks of the organisation. The network also welcomes the guidance issued today, outlining that it builds on the transition principles set out in the report by CCN and EY.
Cllr Tim Oliver, CCN Chairman and Leader of Surrey County Councils said,
“Today’s decision by the government is a decisive one and very welcome, drawing a line under recent uncertainty and allows us to get on with integrating Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) functions into upper-tier councils and combined authorities.
“We are pleased that the government has listened to the calls of the County Councils Network (CCN) that it is upper-tier local authorities who have the necessary scale and expertise to make this transfer a success, while also confirming that transition funding will remain in place for local authorities next year as they absorb LEP functions. It is important that transition and longer term funding is sufficient to fund all new burdens and provide the necessary resources to enable councils to make the most of these new functions to support local economies.
“While the government have clearly set out that LEP functions should be transferred to upper-tier councils, it still allows LEPs to continue to operate independently without government support. While recognising these are private enterprises which the government cannot abolish, this could create duplication and confusion locally, and therefore they should only continue to function following consultation with the relevant upper-tier council.
“CCN recently published a report with EY which sets out a clear blueprint or how this transition can be successfully implemented, and outlines the national and local principles that should be adhered to – many of which are reflected in today’s guidance. LEPs have accomplished a lot of good work and we want to work closely to integrate them as quickly and as efficiently as possible into local government. Equally, we will ensure that the voice of local business continues to be heard in economic decision making going forward. It is through this shared expertise that we stand the best chance of growing our economies.”
Notes to editor