Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Roles Responsibilities and Review: Working with LEPs

27-07-2018

Jo Pitt, Principal Advisor, Local Government Faculty, CIPFA

Recently the government released the Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships report, which sets out changes to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs). LEPs are business-led partnerships between the private sector and local authorities that are established to drive economic growth in local areas. There are 38 LEPs in England and each has its own local structure. The government relies on the National Framework to ensure that individual LEPs are being managed appropriately. It is this framework that also ensures that LEPs have in place the effective processes to manage the delegated funding that they receive.

The role of the Section 151 officer is very important in this relationship as the local authority or combined authority acts as the accountable body for the LEP. This means that the Section 151 officer’s role includes overseeing the ‘proper administration of financial affairs’ of the LEP. During the summer, CIPFA will be releasing a set of principles supporting the role of the Section 151 Officer. These are specifically designed to support officers working in local authorities whose responsibility includes being the accountable body for their LEP.

The vast majority of accountable bodies have good work relationships with their LEP, however, the extra guidance has been welcomed by the sector as it will add greater clarity and awareness of the specific roles and responsibility held by the Section 151 officer. The call for improved guidance and clarity can be traced back a number of years. In May 2014, the Public Accounts Committee published the report Promoting Economic Growth Locally, which expressed concern on 'the lack of transparency of LEPs'. 

However, it was the 2017 report by Mary Ney on transparency and governance around LEPs that was the catalyst for CIPFA and Cities and Local Growth Unit developing these new principles.

The Ney Recommendations found that in some areas of the country there was a lack of clarity surrounding the role of the Section 151 officer and suggested that MHCLG and CIPFA should work together to produce additional guidance and clarification.

Working together, CIPFA and the Cities and Local Growth Unit have developed five principles which instill good and proportionate financial governance:

  1. enshrining a corporate position for the section 151 officer in LEP assurance
  2. creating a formal/structured mandate for the Section 151 officer
  3. embedding good governance into decision making
  4. ensuring effective review of governance
  5. appropriate skills and resourcing.
These principles define core activities and behaviours and will be supported by specific responsibilities agreed locally between Section 151 officers, the chair and chief executive officer of the LEP. They have been written to reflect the fact that, while the organisational structure may differ, the principles that govern the role of the Section 151 officer will remain constant.

In releasing them to coincide with the LEP Review, it is hoped that an improved understanding of the role will benefit all those involved.