GFirst LEP: that's it, but watch this space
By Simon Hacker | 8th August 2023
Gloucestershire's local enterprise partnership, GFirst LEP, will cease to exist in April next year.
In an anticipated announcement since Punchline-Gloucester.com reported on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's decision to kill off the national network of LEPs in March, the boss of Gloucestershire's scheme has hinted that the end of the era will mark "the start of a new chapter".
David Owen originally worked full-time as chief executive of GFirst LEP, but was assigned to the role for just one-day-per-week after a top-down national policy change in November which saw him seconded to a four-day-per-week role as Gloucestershire County Council's director of economy and environment.
Confirming the timeline for the county scheme's demise, Mr Owen said: "Friday saw confirmation that Government core funding for LEPs will end in March next year which means things are changing at GFirst LEP.
"We've achieved a huge amount over the last decade or so and demonstrated the power of partnership, collaboration, and a local focus. And when I say we, I mean the brilliant team of people that work for us, the board, the business community of Gloucestershire, our local authorities, the voluntary and community sector, our public sector friends, our educators, and our politicians."
The partnership had been "genuine", he added, but that the next eight months would be about celebrating its successes and outlining "plans for the future".
"And this is not the end, but just a new beginning for economic development and growth in the county that will remain routed in partnership and with a strong voice for business.
"The county's future will continue to need the brilliant support that the whole community has shown GFirst LEP and over the coming months we'll be working across GFirst LEP - Gloucestershire's Local Enterprise Partnership and Gloucestershire County Council - along with our partners - to develop a new economic strategy for Gloucestershire as well as to firm up how growth will be supported in the future."
The prime focus, he added, amid a period of uncertainty, was that "it is now time to move forward in a bold and positive way to keep delivering sustainable economic growth for the county."
Punchline-Gloucester.com says: As outlined in Punchline's Big Annual for 2023, the imminent end of GFirst LEP, which now has just seven months left to carry on with the great work that it achieved, will hand a large space and an important economic remit to any entity that attempts to fill it. As Ruth Dooley, chair and partner of Hazlewoods LLP said, the LEP prided itself on being politically independent and delivered business and infrastructure results for a decade, successfully bidding for more than £113m of new infrastructure.
When the end of LEPs was announced last year, we understood that the Growth Hubs will continue for at least another two years. The county's hub came out of a £106.6m allocation from government in the Gloucestershire Growth Deal and GFirst LEP built a network of Growth Hubs which empowered businesses to access enhanced services from Stroud to the Forest of Dean, to Cirencester, up to Tewkesbury and into all corners of the county.
The Growth Hub, facilitated by such key stakeholders as Gloucestershire County Libraries, Tewkesbury Borough Council and the Royal Agricultural University, helped businesses scale up, boost performance and find new ways of working. When Jeremy Hunt signalled the end for LEPs, Punchline-Gloucester.com made it clear that the move was a massive shot in the foot, with no apparent plan to replace this excellent work.
Further milestone achievements have included Gloucester's Transport Hub and the AccXel Centre in Cinderford, as well as cash boosts for Gloucestershire Airport, Hartpury's University and College and the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester. On top of that, the Elmbridge Court roundabout and support for the Five Valleys Shopping Centre in Stroud came from the scheme.
These are big shoes to fill. Who, and what, is going to step in?
What's your view on the road ahead for our shared business goals? You can send your thoughts to Mark Owen at email@example.com.
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