Local Enterprise Partnerships: Are they a LEaP of faith?

Even at that early point I knew I would be up against ‘the old guard’; there was an expectation that the new LEP would simply attract the old boy/girl network from the dwindling RDA’s and Business Support Agencies. 
But to my surprise I received a call asking me to attend a meeting of the councillors charged with the unenviable responsibility of putting the 15 strong board together; a private sector chairperson, seven officials from the dusty corridors of the public sector and seven ass-kicking dynamic individuals from the private sector (my descriptions not theirs). 
My initial surprise to be included in the shortlist was only raised further when the headhunting agency that was running the process asked me if I would be happy to be interviewed for the chairman position as either a permanent or interim role. As I said to them, I only want to see the LEP succeed so I would be happy to be considered at any level.
I attended the chat and voiced my thoughts and opinions, concerns and suggestions, and when asked if I would be willing to commit to the role of chair or board member, again I confirmed my commitment to supporting the LEP remit (whatever that may be).
I subsequently received a call from the head-hunters to let me know that my head wasn’t the one they wanted to hunt. To not succeed at getting the chairman role didn’t surprise me one iota as I never really put myself forward for it, but then I was told I wouldn’t be required for the board position either. 
I have to say I was a tad (not sure how big a ‘tad’ is), disappointed, but I have many things to occupy me so I don’t dwell on my abject failure and this huge rejection. I had tried, and I had failed, so now I feel I can watch and I can comment.
The process meant that after receiving a rejection of the Leeds LEP chair role I was able to meet the man who successfully secured the position: Neil McLean, who I think is absolutely the right man for the job – I never was, trust me. I met Neil as part of the process to be considered for a board member role – I obviously failed to impress Mr McLean, so my final rejection was received.
Since then the roll of honour was called for the rest of the board.  I can only comment on the business members, and I have to say it was refreshing to see new names (and impressive ones at that) in amongst a couple of more expected inclusions. 
So now we have a board that cannot be dominated by public office due to seven members and the chair being from the private sector at least that was the hope when the LEPs were conceived. But is this a truly balanced board? One of the ‘business’ sector members is from the world of academia. So I make that six ‘business’ people. 
And business people are busy people and sadly I do not think they will all be able to make every meeting as they have businesses to run, staff and customers to see to and shareholders to keep happy.  But by comparison, I think the public sector representatives will be able to attend every meeting (they’re good at that) and as soon as that happens the board isn’t balanced anymore  – so where does that leave ‘a non biased’ board?
What is a little disappointing is the coming to pass of a fear I raised during my interviews which is the question ‘where am ‘I’ around the table?’ By that I mean, where is the representation of the many hundreds, if not thousands, of small businesses within the LEP’s territory? The one-man bands, the SOHO’s (Small Office, Home Office), the start-ups, the sole trader, the would-be entrepreneurs, the ‘S’ in SME’s..?  I don’t see any of them represented. I see public officials, I see social and education representatives and of course ‘big’ businesses but I don’t see ‘me’. 
Now this is not sour grapes, it didn’t have to be me, but it would have been nice to have someone there who voices their concerns.
Further concerns I have seem to echo those of others; what exactly is the remit of the LEPs and what access to finance do the LEPs have being two of the biggest. I also voiced my concerns over how one LEP can successfully balance the needs of so many businesses, geographical areas, sectors as well as everything from travel, housing, training, investment etc. A truly enormous task and I wish them every success in the challenges they face.
I do feel that there are many sat on the sidelines waiting for the LEP initiative to fail, which is unfair. Hence I think the LEPs have to take a leaf from the book of the likes of Welcome to Yorkshire and ensure they shout about what they are doing. We need to know what the LEP is doing, we need to know how it is doing and then how successful that activity has been. If there is a failure to communicate with the residents and businesses within the Leeds City Region LEP then the assumption that it is simply an ineffectual talking shop will be true. Having met with Neil McLean, however, I know that is not his intention and he aims to create the most successful LEP in the country.
So I won’t be the maverick voice around the Leeds LEP table, but perhaps it was my outspoken ‘style’ that talked me out of that boardroom. On the other hand, I hope that it was that very style and commitment to enterprise that talked me onto Vince Cable’s Entrepreneurs’ Forum. So I may not be able to help in my region but I can offer my help in the capital.
I want to leave you with this, one of my favourite quotes. “In all the parks in all the cities, you won’t find statues of committees”.
The best of luck to all the LEP’S, the Chairs and their members.
Photo: Matt Wheatley on Flickr Some rights reserved
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