Worst fears were the axe might fall on local enterprise partnership GFirst LEP when the Government Levelling Up White Paper was finally published.
But the much-trumpeted document outlining the government’s plans on how spending will be delivered UK-wide places the powerful business-led group at the ‘core’ of decision making going forward.
In its 10-year term to date the organisation has won more than £112 million of funds for major projects in the county and built strong relationships with Westminster arguably never before achieved by the county.
David Owen, chief executive officer of GFirst LEP, which has an estimated 23 staff, said: ‘Key roles for us moving forward will be to continue to be the business voice in the levelling up agenda and in local economic growth and to lead on strategic economic planning for the county.
‘We will also continue to have a core convening role with all partners at a local level in the development and delivery of local economic strategy.
‘This would include working with local authorities to shape any potential devolution deal and the impact it would have on businesses and the private sector.’
Ruth Dooley, chairwoman of GFirst LEP, said: ‘This is really good news for GFirst LEP and shows that Government clearly recognises the vital role LEPs have played in sustaining local economic growth through the pandemic and supporting businesses throughout the country.
‘A big thank you to the LEP board, all our business group members and of course all the staff for their continuous hard work.”
Owen said the Levelling-Up White Paper ‘marked a milestone for LEPs by embedding our role in draft policy for the first time’.
‘They are now central to the new policy agenda that government is taking forward,’ he said.
Key points of focus outlined in the White Paper, published on Wednesday 2 February, include jobs, investment in research and development, transport, technology, education, skills, happiness, local pride, housing, tackling crime and the devolution of power from government to local authorities.
Ahead of publication Dooley, and Owen met with Neil O’Brien MP, parliamentary under-secretary for state for levelling up, and Paul Scully MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state for small business, consumers and labour markets, to discuss the LEP’s role.
By Andrew Merrell