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Region's LEP forging ahead with plans

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: August 21, 2014

By GAVIN THOMPSON

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To say it's been a hectic period for the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership is something of an understatement. The body, which is responsible for coordinating and leading steps to create jobs and prosperity across the region, has had its hands rather full.

First it had the small matter of £25 million of grants to hand out to local businesses. Following that was the job of pulling together the strategic economic plan – a blueprint for growing the local economy and a business case for government investment in it. Then just before the Government was due to announce levels of funding, the LEP's chief executive Paul Wilson left suddenly to take up a role at Bristol City Council.

Now the organisation has appointed his successor, Barbara Davies. The 58-year-old takes on the role as the LEP moves into a new phase, having secured Government cash for some of the projects outlined in its blueprint, the focus shifts to delivering them. One of her tasks will be managing the sometimes fractious relationship between the four local authorities which make up the West of England – Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North-East Somerset. But Barbara says the relationship is strong.

"The three leaders and the mayor sit on the LEP board and everyone involved in the board would see the benefits of working together," she said.

"Any partnership is going to have debates and consider issues and that's one of the roles of the LEP is to do that brokering of the different groups to get a consistent story. A lot of what the LEP is trying to achieve is about getting money to the West Country and to do that we need to work together. We need to discuss issues and we need to find commonly agreed solutions, like any partnership."She added: "Although my career has been mainly in the public sector, I have worked with businesses in partnerships."

Barbara has brought partners together to deliver big projects in the past, including transport improvements for Bath and Weston-super-Mare, bus projects in Bristol and funding for the proposed Metro West suburban rail network. It may be no coincidence these projects have secured the biggest slices of Government money in recent years. She said: "The strength of the local enterprise partnership is the bringing together of a range of partners with common aims about growth and creating jobs so for me a large part of the job will be working with the partners and that includes the four councils, businesses and universities.

The LEP put its economic plan to Government in April. Although she wasn't in charge of the body at that time, she was the senior officer coordinating the plan, so the change in leadership won't mean any change in goals. "I was very involved in the plan," she said. "This was the first time we had brought a strong story about what the West of England could deliver to Government.My focus now is to make sure we get those projects lined up ready to be delivered and spend the Government money."

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