South West Forum is urging the region’s new Local Enterprise Partnerships [LEPs] to work with and involve voluntary groups and social enterprises.
In a report, The Vital Link, launched at the Valuing Voluntary Action conference, the Forum reveals that while there are instances of good practice, most of the LEPs being set up to drive local economic development are not connecting with community and voluntary groups in their area.
South West Forum’s Isabel Livingstone believes this is short sighted.
“Voluntary groups and social enterprises are a substantial business sector employing over 65,000 paid staff in the South West,” said Ms Livingstone. “They are also critical in delivering training, skills and support for people seeking work. Our research shows that many LEPs are missing a trick by not making use of the knowledge, experience, flexibility and innovation of social purpose organisations.”
South West Forum is concerned too that while the LEPs are supported by government money and are expected to have an increasingly important role, many of their decisions seem to be made ‘behind closed doors’. The Forum is urging the LEPs to be much more open about who is on their boards, how they are recruited and how important decisions are made.
Ms Livingstone added: “LEPs need strong support from the communities they serve if they are to be successful and community and voluntary groups are a critical route to gaining that support. If voluntary groups and communities don’t have some involvement with LEPs then there is a risk that they will be seen as just another self-elected body solely serving the interests of big business.
“South West Forum wants to see LEPs develop clear and open communications, to link with the community through charity networks, and to work more closely with small and micro businesses.”