Colin Bell, Business and Sector Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, explains why evolution is key to simplifying the business support landscape to be meaningful for businesses
It won’t surprise anyone when I say that the business support landscape is too confusing and overly transactional. There are many reasons for this but perhaps the biggest contributor is the way funding is administered and governed.
If we truly want the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business, then we need to grasp the once in a generation opportunity represented by the current LEP reform. This will allow us to break with the status quo while building on what works, creating regional ecosystems that deliver economic and business transformation while strengthening our global competitiveness.
However, there is a real and present danger – if we don’t act now then we risk merely evolving what’s gone before, and even worse, creating a post code lottery of locally focused small scale schemes that will result in limited impact and increased fragmentation; and inefficiencies that will exacerbate rather than address the weaknesses of the current funding and fragmented landscape.
Addressing the frailties of the system is relatively simple. We need to develop a way of working that effectively connects the essential pillars of regional economic development, which are Governance, Strategy, Funding and Delivery infrastructure.
Where these don’t work hand in hand, it leads to many of the existing issues that we are experiencing, such as inefficiency, confusion, duplication and unhealthy competition between stakeholders.
Modernising the landscape requires:
- Creating systems that connect the essential pillars (Governance, Strategy, Funding, Delivery infrastructure) without dictating a one size fits all approach.
- Developing regional strategy and frameworks that are built around businesses operational and competitive horizons.
- The creation of a long term regional economic development ‘system’, backed by long term strategy and long-term funding.
- A system that is focused on delivering impact and transformation rather than box ticking and transactional approaches.
- The modernisation of the business support landscape by a) rethinking how we segment the business base to identify those with real underlying potential, and b) structuring support that directly tackles business pains and helps business to deliver the gains they’re striving for.
- Building on the existing and proven ability of LEPs and Growth Hubs to align collective energy and resources towards clear and common goals and strategy.
The evolution of LEPs and Growth Hubs should be welcomed as a much-needed chance to modernise business support.
I know I’m joined by many in the belief that this is an opportunity to develop a landscape that enables genuine business and economic transformation. Through meaningful change, we can deliver powerful and integrated customer journeys and focused resource and energy on the businesses, programmes, and initiatives that make a real difference to the business community.
Get this right and it could be a powerful and effective way to support the government’s agenda to level up our regional economies.
Colin Bell is Business and Sector Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.