The Higher Education Commission responds to the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Review

The future of business support will have a profound impact on how and where the economy grows. With the Higher Education Commission’s inquiry focusing on levelling up regional economies and boosting universities’ role in innovation, it was crucial to get involved with the Government’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Review.

Our ambition for making the representation was to provide a clear argument for the importance of business collaboration and how to support this. The evidence we have received throughout our inquiry provided us with an understanding of what various business organisations wanted in terms of support and how it could be better delivered.

A key element in delivering an improved system will be an effective business convenor. Whatever form it takes, whether a LEP or a Chamber of Commerce, an effective business convenor needs to harness local economic knowledge to improve the economic activity within their locality. Targeted investments, which increase innovation activity and help to upscale SMEs, will be at the heart of a future facing business support provision. Business convenors should draw together various enterprises so that they can achieve the benefits of shared knowledge, facilities and resources to deliver growth to a locality. The convenor should play a role in delivering the skills that are required for businesses to upscale and increase their innovation, helping to create a more dynamic economy for the local community.  Developing a skilled labour force across the regions of the UK will be crucial to delivering meaningful levelling up.

The Government should seek to maintain the best aspects of the current business support system. In the past, systemic changes have failed to achieve a real step-change in performance, so the focus should be on delivering an enhanced system which can match business’s needs, unlock greater private investment and deliver real prosperity in the future.

They should aim to do this by ending the considerable variation in business support present in the UK’s regions. LEPs must be large enough, of high enough quality and with sufficient resources available to them to effectively support their business community and prevent inequalities becoming further entrenched. In order to do this, a new revised framework of core services should be agreed, which should be delivered to at least a minimum standard of quality replicable across the nation.

Business collaboration in England has consistently been held back by a lack of information or clear guidance regarding potential collaborative opportunities. If we are to create a more innovative economy throughout England, we must deliver a support system which effectively ‘signposts’ opportunities to collaborate between industry, SMEs, research institutions and higher education bodies. As the principal business convenors in England’s regions, LEPs should aim to serve this role by assisting businesses in finding the correct partners for innovation initiatives – whether in academia or in industry. The UK has always been a world-leader in research, but if we are to achieve our ambitions of becoming a more innovative and dynamic economy we must achieve greater commercialisation of research and prevent missed opportunities. Business support in this endeavour should be a core service LEPs provide in the future.

With the LEP Review, the UK Government has a golden opportunity to provide a better support service for the nation’s business community. By enhancing the system with greater resources and more effective services, we can put an end to missed opportunities and low growth and create a more innovative future.