Kevin Curley: Sector leaders should look at what local enterprise partnerships can offer

The sector has a real chance to influence LEP spending plans, writes our columnist

Kevin Curley
Kevin Curley

With more than £5bn of EU structural and investment funds to spend over the next seven years, the 39 local enterprise partnerships in England are a rare exception to the steep decline in public funding experienced elsewhere.

The government has told LEPs to spend at least 20 per cent of their money on social inclusion projects, which should result in £1bn of new funding reaching the sector from the summer of 2014.

Oli Henman, head of the EU and international team at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says: "It's vital the local voluntary sector talks to people at their LEPs between now and the end of December as they draw up plans."

I took a look at conversations around England and the picture is mostly positive. Charlie Mitchell, founder and director of Creating Space for You, a community interest company in North Yorkshire, set up Training for Good, a project that enables staff and volunteers from 25 charities in York to benefit from free places on private sector training courses. She went to Leeds LEP and has been "surprised by its positive response". She says there's a good chance the LEP will fund the project's expansion as part of its approach to skills development rather than a commitment to social inclusion.

Mitchell says it's important to make early contact with LEP officials. "Don't wait until your product is ready," she said. "LEPs are writing plans for 2014 now."

Claire Mould, chief executive of Open House, a charity providing housing and education for homeless young people, and a member of the LEP board in Gloucestershire, says: "My role on the LEP is to focus on social inclusion, and it's taken very seriously by all board members."

There is recognition that the LEP must not invest in "high-level growth" alone, leaving the voluntary sector to struggle to help marginalised people without resources.

It's also a positive story from Tees Valley, where Keith Bayley, manager at HVDA in Hartlepool, has a place on the LEP's investment panel.

"I'm confident there will be money to enable the voluntary sector to build the small groups that reach people who are furthest from the labour market," Keith says.

It isn't easy everywhere. Sajid Hashmi, of Voluntary Action Stoke on Trent, represents the voluntary sector on the Staffordshire LEP's finance sub-group. "It's been difficult to convince the private sector people that our sector brings significant investment and is a major employer, but we are getting there," he says.

There is a real chance here for voluntary sector leaders to influence LEP spending plans and make new money available to local voluntary organisations for their work with the unemployed and, through what government is calling community-led local development, for area regeneration work. Here is some good funding news at last. Now is the time to call your LEP.

Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser

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