I’m sure the mother of Geoff Miles, owner of Maidstone Studios and chairman of Kent Economic Board, is a lovely lady.
That her son would rather have a cup of tea with her than be part of a talking shop is either a tribute to her, or a stark warning to councillors. Probably the latter.
These Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) sound a bit dry but have turned into a hot potato. They are being given the power, if not the cash, to shape economic priorities across Kent, Essex and East Sussex. The Government sees them as a shrewd move, ridding the scene of New Labour’s regional development agencies, cutting costs, and devolving influence as part of the “big” society.
They are supposed to be business-led, but business will have to work hard to ensure they are. Councils are used to meetings and, despite spending cuts, usually have resources to set up new organisations. Businesses are run by busy people trying to survive recession.
But the early signs in Kent are hopeful. Business representative groups support the enlarged LEP, business people with strategic awareness are also on board. The challenge will be to get smaller and medium enterprises to engage.
That voice was missing in Committee Room 4A in the House of Commons yesterday. (1) The room was packed with council and business chiefs from across the three counties and resonated with warm words, especially from Greg Clark, Tunbridge Wells MP and minister for communities and local government.
Our LEP was “in the vanguard, set the bar, had the opportunity for real economic empowerment.” All good stuff. But the reality is it will have less money and has not yet worked out the rules by which it will play the game. Board members have to be appointed, support staff engaged and priorities determined.
There is plenty of boring but critical governance work to do before the real work can begin. And it is also important to keep Medway and 12 districts sweet. They did not really want a three-county LEP but must now live with it. They need to formally sign up to the new LEP.
After all, it’s the only game in town and there’s no point in whingeing that the Government has chosen the “wrong sort of LEP.” Run well, with imagination and creativity, it has huge potential. It needs to notch up early wins to confound sceptics and show it can deliver.
Business must engage. And if all goes as well as the optimistic scenario outlined in the Lords, businesses and residents could reap benefits in terms of more jobs and greater prosperity. Then they will be glad they took that LEP of faith.