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Gloucestershire Business News

EXCLUSIVE: Final chapter of GFirst LEP revealed

The final chapter of GFirst LEP has been written.

Details of how Gloucestershire's local enterprise partnership will be brought to an end and its work transferred to the council have been revealed.

It will see senior leadership roles and finance functions cut meaning the loss of 2.6 jobs.

Four staff from the education and skills team were transferred over to the council in September and in November CEO David Owen was seconded over as director of economy and environment.

A further 13 staff are still awaiting their fate, with consultation underway to decide how many will be brought over and council documents suggesting at least three roles will be cut.

The changes are expected to see annual operating costs fall from £1.3million in 2022/23 to £750,000.

Reserves of circa £500,000 will be transferred to Gloucestershire County Council and used to help fund the next two years of work to grow our county's economy.

The council expects £550,000 of government funding for 2024/25 and will top this up with £200,000 of transferred reserves.

However it is facing a potential £192,000 deficit in 2025/26 as costs are expected to rise to £792,000. Only £300,000 of government funding has been confirmed for Growth Hub activities and the remaining £300,000 of reserves will not be enough to fill the gap.

The council said the LEP board has agreed any shortfall in funding will be underwritten by Gloucestershire Infrastructure Investment Funding (GIIF).

It is one off funding provided to offer loans to unlock infrastructure projects which have stalled due to lack of funding.

Decision-making responsibility for GIIF, which currently has loan commitments of circa £8m, will also transfer to the council and a paper looking at its ongoing use for the promotion of economic growth in the county will be drawn up by summer next year.

The council will also look at whether it can use strategic economic development funding (SEDF) of around £250,000 per annum to ensure continuation of former LEP functions.

The figures were revealed in a Gloucestershire County Council report which will be presented to cabinet on Wednesday (Nov 22) and seeks approval for the transfer.

It also sets out the timeline for the changes with consultations with staff already underway and expected to last until the end of the year.

The transfer plan is expected by March and the transfer completed on April 1, 2024.

The Growth Hub team will transfer to the council and continue to oversee delivery contracts related to previous capital grants and the subsequent revenue commitments made by partner organisations.

David Owen, CEO of GFirst LEP and director of economy and environment for Gloucestershire County Council, said: "I am immensely proud of what GFirst LEP has achieved in the county, successfully bidding for over £113million of funding for new infrastructure - creating one of the best Growth Hub networks in the country, the Transport Hub in Gloucester, the AccXel Centre in Cinderford, investments at; Gloucestershire Airport, Hartpury University and Hartpury College, The Royal Agricultural University, the Elmbridge Court roundabout, Five Valleys Shopping Centre in Stroud and so many more right across the county.

"I would like to thank all LEP Board members and staff and County Council Cabinet members and staff for their support during these transition discussions. Change often brings innovation and growth, and we're excited to embrace this new chapter in our journey."

Mark Owen, editor and owner of Punchline-gloucester.com, said: "This is a sad end to GFirst LEP and the fundamental work it has done.

"We can only hope many of the excellent team get brought into the council as they have been a driving force for the economic resurgence of our county.

"Gloucestershire is looked to by other areas for how well connected its business leaders are and that is thanks to the hard work of GFirst LEP and its wonderful ambassadors."

HISTORY

GFirst was launched in 2011 with a mission to promote economic growth in the county, create jobs and provide real opportunities for businesses in the region.

The Growth Hub, facilitated by key stakeholders such as Gloucestershire County Libraries, Tewkesbury Borough Council and the Royal Agricultural University, has helped businesses scale up, boost performance and find new ways of working.

Milestone achievements have included Gloucester's Transport Hub and the AccXel Centre in Cinderford, cash boosts for Gloucestershire Airport, Hartpury's University and College and the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester and support for the Five Valleys Shopping Centre in Stroud.

WHY IT'S ENDING

The decision to integrate LEPS into local councils was first revealed by the government in February 2022 in The Levelling Up White Paper.

In November David Owen, full-time chief executive of GFirst LEP, had his role downgraded to one day a week. He was simultaneously seconded to a four-day-per-week role as the county council's director of economy and environment.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in the March Budget that funding for the national network of LEPs would end in March 2024, effectively killing them off.

In August it was confirmed that GFirst LEP would cease  to exist in April 2024.

At the time Mr Owen said it was not the end for economic development and growth in the county" but rather a "new beginning".

LEP FUNCTIONS TRANSFERRING

Growth Hub Business Support

-Government funding is expected to continue beyond 2023/24.

-Partner organisations that received capital investment from Growth Deal are contracted to

-continue delivery of Growth Hub services.

-It is proposed four of the six staff members will be transferred to the council.

LEP Board and Business Groups

-The board will transition into the Economic Growth Board (EGB) which is a government requirement.

-Business Groups provide the key conduit to the wider business community

-Two of the three staff are expected to transfer over.

Inward Investment & Promotion

-The EU funded programme ended in March 2023. One member of staff has been retained through use of reserves and a further part-time consultant is similarly retained.

-The programme will help implementation of a new economic strategy and a potential county deal.

-Made in Gloucestershire has proved invaluable support to the food and drink sector as well as promoting the county.

-Three staff will be transferred across.

Economic Research & Project Monitoring

-Provides the project monitoring requirements for growth deal funding and delivers independent economic assessments advising the LEP board (and in future the EGB) and business groups.

-This activity is vital to ensure compliance with Growth Deal funding reporting.

-One member of staff will be transferred across.

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