GFirst LEP: The beginning of the end
By Sarah Wood | 16th March 2023
The work of Local Enterprise Partnerships, including Gloucestershire's GFirst LEP, will come to an end in a year.
That was the shock announcement in the budget yesterday.
Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, said: "The Government is committed to empowering democratically elected local leaders at every opportunity. To this end, the Government intends for the functions of Local Enterprise Partnerships to be delivered by local government in the future. Therefore, the Government is minded to withdraw central government support for LEPs from April 2024.
"The Department for Levelling up, Housing & Communities and the Department for Business and Trade will now consult on these proposals, before confirming a decision. The government will publish an updated policy position to confirm next steps by the summer."
Ruth Dooley, GFirst LEP chair and partner at Hazlewoods LLP, said: "Ironically, this announcement came on the exact same day that all seven local authorities in Gloucestershire unanimously agreed to continue to support the excellent work of GFirst LEP and to continue match funding it for a further 12-month period.
"To make it clear, in Gloucestershire, we have both the leaders of Gloucestershire County Council and Gloucester City Council sitting on the GFirst LEP Board and the leader of Cheltenham Borough Council is our 'official observer' for the board. Equally as important, are all our additional board members sat around the table representing the private sector, the voluntary sector and academia - Hazlewoods, Renishaw, Campden BRI, Google, the University of Gloucestershire and Business West to name just a few."
GFirst LEP prides itself on being politically independent and impartial, listening to the business voice of Gloucestershire and yet working collaboratively with local authorities from all political persuasions.
Ms Dooley continued: "This news is even more disappointing following five years of reviews and multiple letters from ministers expressing their appreciation for our work.
"We are immensely proud of what GFirst LEP has achieved in the county, successfully bidding for over £113 million of funding for new infrastructure - creating one of the best Growth Hub networks in the country, the Transport Hub in Gloucester and the AccXel Centre in Cinderford, along with 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.
"As the independent business voice for Gloucestershire, we have no other agenda besides helping our county be the very best place to live and work. This includes generating inward investment opportunities, flying the flag for Gloucestershire on the international stage, providing business support through The Growth Hub, supporting education and skills development, and championing our local food and drink producers through Made in Gloucestershire.
"Our work will now focus on ensuring a smooth transition over to Gloucestershire County Council and we hope that none of the key assets of GFirst LEP, including the LEP Board, the business groups and the incredibly loyal and hard-working staff, will be lost and that an appropriate legacy remains."
Punchline said: "This is a really sad day for the business community in Gloucestershire. At first glance, this appears to be a massive shot in the foot by the Government. GFirst LEP has always prided itself on being politically independent and, because of that, the business community has backed it and worked with it.
"Councils across the country are generally not good at running business organisations and businesses are bound to be sceptical about working with them. Only time will tell if they can make it work in future.
"We can only hope that the excellent work across Gloucestershire by the GFirst LEP and The Growth Hub management and teams isn't undone and that they remain in post and continue the great work that they have done so far."
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