Throughout late 2019 and early 2020, we approached every LEP in the country to learn more about the extent to which charities and the communities they represent are involved in determining local economic, skills, job creation and other priorities within the local area. In particular, we sought to uncover examples of where the voluntary sector is involved on LEP boards, themed advisory groups, committees or any other sub-boards that play a part in setting priorities and other work that the LEP is doing. We also asked each LEP if they had any codes of practice for engaging with communities or the organisations that represent them. Information was obtained through a mixture of phone conversations and email correspondence. Despite repeated attempts, we failed to receive a reply from 15 LEPs to our requests for information. In these cases, we relied on information obtained from the LEP’s website, where available.
During the same period, we approached voluntary sector colleagues in each LEP area to get their thoughts on sector engagement with their LEP to date. In particular, we asked for examples of where the sector is involved on LEP boards, advisory groups, committees, sub-boards or any other mechanisms that feed into priority setting and other work that the LEP is doing.
To help prompt feedback, we asked the following questions.
- Are charities or social enterprises on the main LEP board or any sub-boards in your area? If so, is the representative from a CVS or a single-issue charity?
- Are there other mechanisms for ensuring the sector’s views are represented when the LEP determines local priorities? For example, via other public bodies such as a mayor’s office.
- Do you feel your LEP is adequately focused on improving social inclusion and helping disadvantaged communities, rather than business priorities alone?
- Do you feel your LEP is adequately prepared and equipped for administering the UK Shared Prosperity Fund which will replace EU funding post-Brexit? If not, why?
- Do you have any other observations about the way your LEP operates?
We only considered our investigation of each LEP area complete where we managed to get feedback from a member of staff – usually a CEO – of a voluntary sector infrastructure body (CVS). These organisations traditionally have a comprehensive understanding of sector practice and experience in a given area. What may appear to be good engagement with the sector – such as visible representation on LEP boards or sub-boards – can end up being tokenistic in nature. It was therefore important to check that the engagement that the LEP was reporting – either via email or their website – reflected the reality on the ground. We have consequently afforded sector feedback greater significance in our investigation as it is based on the real-world experience of charities. We acknowledge that in each LEP area there is more than one CVS, and that experiences across the sector may vary. However, it is our view that given their broad understanding of voluntary sector activity and experience in their area, the feedback obtained from infrastructure bodies will more often than not reflect the experience of the sector more generally in that area.