Outgoing LEP chairman’s reflections on a tenure of growth and investment
PUBLISHED: 06:33 20 September 2017 | UPDATED: 08:24 20 September 2017
Archant © 2017
After three-and-a-half years helping the region’s economy to grow as chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Mark Pendlington will step down from the role today. Doug Faulkner spoke to him about his reflections on his tenure.
From securing millions of pounds in investment to supporting colleges to teach the skilled workforce of the future, Mark Pendlington has overseen a period of growth across Norfolk and Suffolk.
And as the outgoing New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) chairman steps down today, he looks back with satisfaction on a tenure which has connected businesses with government funding, and helped our region carve out its place on the economic map.
During Mr Pendlington’s three-and-a-half years at the helm, the LEP estimates to have created 43,500 jobs, 5,700 new businesses, 18,850 homes and pulled £267.2m of private investment into the region.
Those successes include securing the £1.4bn new Great Eastern Mainline franchise as well as channelling investment to projects such as Norwich’s Aviation Academy, Easton and Otley College’s construction centre and East Coast College’s energy skills centre.
“We promised to do a lot and, in the last three years, we have put meat on the bones,” he said. “The beauty of the LEP is it knows where the best opportunities for investment are; because we are local and we are really well connected on the ground.
“We can go to John Last [vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts] and say: ‘Here’s £200,000 for the Ideas Factory to get young people better connected to the world of work’.
“He can work wonders with £200,00 but if that decision was in Whitehall how would they know that John Last could do that? Decision making at its most local level is really reaping benefits for the region’s economy and that is exactly the role of the LEP.”
Mr Pendlington said he was particularly proud of the amount of private investment the LEP had brought to East Anglia and said the region must find a stronger voice to sell itself to investors from across the world.
“This part of the world is outgrowing all the parts of the country that seem to shout louder than us – the Northern Powerhouse, Sheffield, Birmingham, Leeds – we are a more successful economy than those places,” he said.
“People didn’t get what ‘the East’ is, and what was our unique selling point. We set about establishing that.
“We are now very well placed. Many of the world’s top brands are located here, many more want to be located here. We have 60,000 small businesses who all want to be part of the supply chain for those industries and they want to grow and employ talented people so all the various elements of the economy come together.
“We are all investing in growth opportunities, skills and saying to young people you don’t have to leave here in order to have a fantastic job and career.
“This is one of the best places, I think, in the world to work and learn and we have relentlessly been about proving that across a range of skills and sectors.”
While Mr Pendlington can look back on many successes he said his one regret is the failure to see devolution through, with councils voting against the government’s proposals in November last year.
He said: “I think history will judge that to be a missed opportunity because it denied us the opportunity of more than a billion pounds over 30 years of new investment in all the things which are so precious to this great county and the region.
“A lot of people, including me, put heart and soul into making that work. It didn’t, so we dusted ourselves down and now we are looking to revive the economy in a different way.”
Mr Pendlington has also been called upon to defend the LEP over whether it operates in an open and transparent manner, given that it distributes public funding.
“We are wholly accountable, not only to government but to local authorities and businesses across the region,” he said. “Every penny we spend is very heavily scrutinised, there is a very through process.
“But still six years in I think we have still got a lot to do to help people understand what the LEP is all about, what its role is in the two counties. I think there are a lot of people that need the support of the LEP that haven’t heard enough about us yet.”
Mr Pendlington said there were three areas he would like to see the LEP more involved in going forward: social enterprises working with the most vulnerable such as Great Yarmouth’s Centre 81, connecting the region via transport and communications infrastructure, and developing the region’s reputation as a digital hub.