Place, skills, and growth were the main themes for the LEP Network’s Annual Conference, which the Hub attended on Monday 27th March.
This year, the event brought together representatives from across England’s 38 LEPs and the business world to discuss post-Brexit strategy, infrastructure, jobs, skills and why LEPs are the foundation for building a Global Britain of the future.
With speakers such as Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, Sherry Coutu, the Chair of the Scaleup Institute, and Claudia Harris, Chief Executive of The Careers & Enterprise Company, the expertise available to attendees was extensive and wide-reaching.
One of the most interesting sessions for the Hub focused on how LEPs could help localities drive skills and business growth. We recently attended an event with a similar theme at Nesta, which was aimed at universities engaging in much the same work. There are similarities between the aims of LEPs and the work being done by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), and it was easy to see where parallels could be drawn between projects currently underway.
Collaboration, growth, and localities
Dr Ann Limb, Chair of the South East Midlands LEP, said that LEPs are engaging in community outreach and expanding relevant programmes to encourage local skills growth from a young age. LEP outreach programmes are doing well, with over half of England’s secondary schools now engaged, despite a lack of nationwide connectivity. This is much like the work in which universities are currently engaging, establishing civic engagement programmes in their regions.
With regards to community outreach and engagement, there is a lot of scope for universities and LEPs to collaborate and provide a more holistic approach to entering higher education, completing apprenticeships, or even going into the world of business as an entrepreneur. By working together, LEPs and HEIs could help solve local skills gaps, focusing on need and impact of any outreach according to their local area.
Sherry Coutu, Chair of Scaleup Institute, outlined the competitive advantages of LEPs, and their inherent ability to leverage local resource to allow for more scale-up businesses within their regions. She recommended that LEPs work together with SMEs to encourage jobs growth, as well as an increase in productivity. Universities are also usually a major regional employer, and are also establishing themselves as start-up centres and resource centres for local SMEs. LEPs should leverage this extra local resource and work together with universities to establish LEP identity and encourage scale-ups/start-ups.
Martin McTague, Director of Policy at the Federation of Small Businesses, focused on how LEPs can establish themselves within their regions, as experts on local funding opportunities (e.g. Growth Funds) and regional skills providers, especially within a post-Brexit landscape. LEPs will play a crucial role in the transition, especially with regards to the loss of ERDF funding and providing information about, and access to, new funding streams.
Using LEPs to develop skills
LEPs will also be vital to ensuring that local skills gaps are plugged, and it is here where it would be beneficial to ensure that the local HEIs are engaged as stakeholders. Universities are also beginning to concentrate on offering apprenticeships alongside more traditional educational format, allowing practical and real-world application for their research, and filling local skills gaps according to need.
There is scope for LEPs to bring HEIs in as a key stakeholder to establish a post-Brexit pipeline of scale-ups, and to work together to plug local skills gaps. Universities offer expertise and research capabilities that can be leveraged by LEPs to help SMEs and apply research in real-world contexts.
Encouraging collaboration for growth and development
Both LEPs and Universities have realised the importance of establishing themselves as core elements in their local areas, with a need to drive civic engagement programmes and encourage active participation from SMEs and educational institutions in local growth and skills development.
This is something that has been taking place since before the publication of the recent Industrial Strategy green paper, but it is something that is also a core part of what the Strategy – and, in turn, the Hub – wants to do.
There are many benefits to LEPs and HEIs working together within each region to drive local growth and skills development, and the Hub aims to be a central part of bridging the gap and helping these collaborations to happen.
Get in touch
If you would like to discuss the Hub’s involvement within the local innovation sphere, or you would like to discuss the Hub getting involved in your region’s local innovation projects, please get in touch with our team.