When thinking of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) it is unlikely that until recently one would be likely to bring to mind such phrases such as social inclusion, social innovation or “community lead local development”. Anyone attending The LEP Network conference in April 2013 – a gathering of the key influencers in the “LEPiverse” would have heard Mark Prisk MP talking about the role of LEPs in developing strategies for the allocation of European Funds[i]. Interestingly following this a panel of Chairs of LEPs was asked by an audience member what LEPs were intending to do for the Voluntary Community Sector (VCS)[ii] organisations. The stark answer from the panel was “nothing”.
It was clear that at this time many involved with VCS organisations really didn’t understand what a LEP was and that conversely many involved with LEPs were unaware of the full implications of complying with European guidelines regarding development of an “inclusive economic growth” plan. Among these were EU and Government strategic priorities including:
- Promoting social inclusion and combatting poverty
- Investing in education, skills and lifelong learning
- Promoting employment and supporting labour mobility
- Enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs
- Ability to address – social innovation, sustainable development, equality and anti-discrimination
The problem has been a deep misunderstanding by each party – VCS organisations and LEPs – of what the others can do, or are capable of doing and a possibly even bigger misunderstanding of the language used by the other. Yet the reality is that if VCS organisations can learn to communicate in terms LEP board members understand then now is the time that LEPs should be willing to listen. According to Ted Ryan of RAWM[iii] the support agency for voluntary and community organisations in the West Midlands area 20% of EU funds must go to social inclusion projects and these must be match funded. Who better to deliver this than the bodies which are already addressing these as part of their core competencies and have proven record of finding the match funding from various sources including Big Social Capital and the Big lottery Fund.
At a recent conference in the Black Country, Chris Handy of Black Country LEP and Group Chief Executive of housing organisation the Accord Group told Social Enterprise representatives that in their presentation to LEPs they needed to understand that they cannot make out that they are a “special case” but must understand that often they will be dealing with “hard-nosed” LEP representatives who will want to be shown the ROI as a priority and possibly will be “turned off” at a sob story. Clearly VCS organisations need to learn to speak the language of growth that LEPs need to hear – after all that is why LEPs were set up on the other hand LEPs need to understand that some VCS organisations can be valuable partners in delivering their strategic plans.
One VCS organisation that has really got to grips with this is UnLtd[iv] the leading provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the UK. In a report[v] due to be released soon they state they on average they provide support of £100,000 grant investment and £25,000 of staff resource per LEP. They have developed a proposal explicitly addressed to LEPs to enable LEPs to work with Social Enterprises. For those VCS organisations wishing to receive support from LEPs there can be no better advice than to follow the lead shown by UnLtd – make your proposition simple and focus on the ROI
Tony Bray of BIS stated recently that in 2012 Social enterprises (including housing associations) showed growth of 57%, and a 58% growth in 2012. According to the same UnLtd report “Social Enterprises in the UK employ nearly 1 million people and contribute £18.5 billion to the economy”. Surely these statistics if nothing else should be a wake-up call to LEPs. Whilst of course there are other parties besides those in VCS in the mix that can help LEPs meet the requirements to successfully implement their strategies for EU funding, there is little doubt that if LEPs and VCS organisations learn to communicate and work together there can be tremendous benefits for both in achieving their strategic aims.
My thanks and appropriate credit for their contribution to the following in producing this brief article: Ted Ryan [vi] of RAWM and Helen Ryman of UnLtd
[i] Following from the announcement November 2012 by The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) that EU structural funds for 2014 -2020 were to be directed through Local Enterprise Partnerships.
[ii] VCS organisations are broadly defined as the following: Civic Society, Civil Society, The Third Sector, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), The Voluntary Sector, Social Enterprises, Charities, Community groups
[v] See link for copy of “Mobilising the Social Economy: Promoting inclusive and sustainable local growth”: https://www.dropbox.com/s/471obm3c5mtaihk/Core%20Proposal%20-%20UnLtd%20LEP%20Partnership%20Proposal%20August%202013%20%283%29.pdf