The role of the private sector in subnational governance: Learning lessons from England’s local enterprise partnerships

Gilbert, N 

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jats:p This paper seeks to learn lessons about the role of the private sector in subnational governance by analysing the UK’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). The paper outlines the public justifications for LEPs using documentary analysis, and then considers these against findings from interviews and network analysis, concluding that the justifications are problematic. LEPs were established on the assumption that civic and business leaders needed to be brought together in business-led institutions. However, network analysis shows most civic leaders also hold private sector roles, undermining the assumed need for a ‘bringing together’. Three further justifications of the LEP model are also challenged. Firstly, business leaders were supposed to enable knowledge flows, but analysis shows that this knowledge is skewed by unrepresentative LEP boards. Secondly, it was assumed that LEPs would catalyse networks, but the networks have been built around individual interests, without transparency. Finally, LEPs were meant to mirror business structures, but this has undermined democratic accountability. Taken together, these findings suggest that the creation of LEPs has attempted to solve the wrong problem in the wrong way. The paper concludes by proposing guiding principles for the role of the private sector in the Levelling Up agenda: representation, transparency and accountability. </jats:p>

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local enterprise partnerships, public-private partnerships, levelling up, private sector engagement, regional governance, English devolution
Journal Title
Local Economy
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SAGE Publications
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/T002468/1)
This paper is based on research produced by the Local Institutions, Productivity, Sustainability, and Inclusivity Trade-offs (LIPSIT) project. It has been supported by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) with Grant ES/T002468/1 from September 2019 to October 2021 as a joint project between the Universities of Birmingham, Cardiff, Surrey and Warwick and the think tank Demos.