To undertake appropriate external scrutiny of the South-East Local Enterprise Partnership.
The Chairman welcomed the Chief Executive Officer, Adam Bryan from South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), who was in attendance to talk about the role of SELEP within the Epping Forest District and answer prescribed questions from members.
He informed the Committee that South East LEP was the largest outside London and had been established to provide a clear vision with strategic leadership, driving sustainable private sector-led growth and the creation of jobs in the south east. It brought together businesses, councils, universities and other industry influencers to form geographical partnerships across East Sussex, Essex, Kent, Medway, Southend and Thurrock. It had eight ports, a high speed rail link and national and regional airport capacity, which provided a significant economic gateway and strategic route between mainland Europe, London and the rest of the UK.
Based in Chelmsford, the SELEP consisted of a Chairman, Christian Brodie, three Vice-Chairman Graham Peters, George Kieffer and Geoff Miles and a board of 27 members which was a balance of local authority members and businesses. The Strategic Board was responsible for the vision, strategic direction and priorities of the LEP and an Accountability Board ensured that the LEP’s investments represented value for money and were subject to scrutiny with all the meetings being recorded.
The Governments ‘Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnership’ review provided two significant changes for LEPs, which were their governance arrangements and their future strategies. Following the Government’s Industrial Strategy in 2017, the LEPs had been tasked with producing local industrial strategies by March 2020. This would change the SELEP focus from projects supporting future jobs and freeing up land for housing development, to productivity and business productivity. Regarding the governance perspective, the Government wished to make the LEPs more transparent, stronger and resilient, which would result in the SELEP adopting a legal entity; change the composition of the Board to 20 members with two-thirds private sector; and an increased scrutiny and independence.
The Chief Executive Officer responded to a number of prescribed questions.
· There were currently no local growth funds within the Epping Forest District. He advised that SELEP responded to priorities at the Essex level and the Leader of Council was part of the SELEP Board. There were local projects within the surrounding areas that would benefit the District and provide partnership working;
· SELEP’s view on the Governments ‘Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships’ review, were that LEP’s needed to demonstrate that they could rise to the challenges set out in the review, to deliver and obtain funding in SELEP area;
· He advised that the geographical area of the SELEP worked well within the federal model, which created a unified response that was more impactful to the Government;
· SELEP supported local businesses through a growth hub, which provided business advise and support;
· SELEP would provided support to enhance the digital infrastructure in the District, through engaging with the Council on the Digital Innovation Strategy;
· SELEP had a close working partnership with the Invest ESSEX which would support the Council in attracting investment and growth into the area;
· LEPs had been used to determine the possible effects of the referendum vote on leaving the European Union in providing intelligence networks on what businesses were planning; and
· That the LEPs would be expected to liaise with the relevant business boards to assist and provide input into the Local Industrial Strategies that the Government had requested.
The Chief Executive Officer concluded that the SELEP had an important year in transforming the organisation and produce a Local Industrial Strategy.
The Committee asked further questions which included;
· What SELEP boards were Epping Forest District Council represented on and who by; and what had the LEP done to benefit the Epping Forest District over the last two years? The Chief Executive Officer advised that the Council Leader was the member of the Strategic Board, which was part of the senior board of the SELEP. There had been no investment from the growth fund spent in the Epping Forest area the last two years.
· What other projects from the last two years that had the SELEP invested in. The Chief Executive Officer advised that from the 580 million growth fund, 350 million had been spent so far. It included infrastructure around Harlow and A414 towards Chelmsford and he would provide a full account of all the projects that had received funding to members. Also, further details could be found on the SELEP website.
· The Chairman clarified the Leader of Council’s representation at the SELEP Board as the West Essex representative not just the EFDC. The Chief Executive Officer advised that the SELEP Board incorporated five local authority leaders and or deputies, representatives from the three upper tiers Essex, Southend and Thurrock. This had been a historical arrangement between the Leaders and Chief Executives.
· How did LEP measure the outcomes compared to the funding spent. The Chief Executive Officer advised that when a LEP discusses with the Government the projects that it wanted to support, the decision was based on outcomes such as jobs and homes. There were different ways to audit the outcomes but most of the projects that were invested in were with local authorities and reported back to Government on a quarterly basis. The SELEP has an Accountability Board, which had been set up as a section 101 agreement with a joint agreement that the SELEP operated at a high standard and all the meetings were recorded.
· Members were concerned that with the Government’s plans to reduce the LEP boards membership to 20 and two-thirds being private sector, that local authorities’ representation on the SELEP was going to reduce and therefore the representation would fade over time and the unique knowledge of an area would be lost. Furthermore, would the education hubs in Kent and Sussex be replicated and was there intention to roll out career’s guidance, support and advice to adults through their working careers. The Chief Executive Officer understood the challenges of the changes required to the representation on the board and that future funding would relied on the SELEP adopting these changes. There were opportunities to be creative with the membership and SELEP were looking into who could attended the board meetings and co-opted members options. Regarding the educational hubs, these were run separately to SELEP and they had only a co-ordinating role although they frequently communicated with them.
· What area did the SELEP cover; how were the boundaries were determined; and whether there was any cross boarder co-operation with London Boroughs. The Chief Executive Officer advised that it was administration areas of Essex, Southend, Thurrock, Kent and Medway and East Sussex, which had been determined by the then Sectary of State in 2011, Eric Pickles MP. The relationship with the neighbouring LEPs were excellent and communication occurred regularly with projects of shared interest across the LEP areas.
· Did the Governments restrictions to the LEPs Board members cascaded down to the federation boards? The Chief Executive Officer advised that the restrictions had not, but that transparency was the key goal.
The Chairman thanked the Chief Executive Officer for attending the meeting.