Cities Team Researcher
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) bring together councils, businesses and other organisations to agree regional economic priorities and have a key focus on job creation. They set the strategic direction for their region, coordinate funding bids and invest in project delivery on the ground. York and North Yorkshire LEP has made cutting emissions a major focus.
In 2020 the Climate Change Committee reported that LEPs are an underused tool for delivering national carbon reduction targets – notably, their role in skills development could be an important lever for promoting green jobs.
There are 38 LEPs in England, and they vary in size, ambition, resources and priorities. Historically, LEPs have had a weak record on the environment. However, LEPs have recently identified net zero emissions as a key value for the future, which should give elected councillors more leverage to align LEP spending and decisions with climate targets.
LEPs have been in direct receipt of significant UK government funding, and EU funding in the past. This is changing due to a review of LEPs and EU exit, but LEPS still have the ability to coordinate funding bids to national government, helping local authorities to compete for funds as part of regions.
Representatives from local authorities sit on the board of every LEP. Where LEPs are not achieving their full potential, local authorities can hold them accountable and push them towards a greener agenda – including investing in green jobs. In York and North Yorkshire, these representatives come from the City of York Council and North Yorkshire County Council.
The York and North Yorkshire LEP’s vision is for the York and North Yorkshire economy to be greener, fairer and stronger. This includes a target for the region to be net zero by 2034, and to be the UK’s first carbon negative region by 2040.
York and North Yorkshire LEP has developed several strategies, covering energy, natural capital, farming and the circular economy. The York and North Yorkshire LEP is currently leading the development of Y&NY’s Routemap to Carbon Negative to provide a co-owned plan for local authorities, businesses, charities, academia and communities to come together to deliver carbon reduction at the necessary pace and scale.
This case study focuses on the Circular Economy Strategy to minimise waste and pollution, and related activity on green procurement and green skills.
A circular economy is an economic system where raw materials, components and products maintain as much value as possible over their lifetime. Everything is re-used, repaired or recycled, and the system-level approach means every industry involved in the provision of this economy is considered and included. For example, repairing goods, using renewable energy or active travel transportation of goods.
The LEP began its Circular Yorkshire campaign in 2018 and was the first LEP to implement a strategy for a circular economy. With a 2030 target, the LEP wants to adapt a circular model pioneered in cities including London and Glasgow and replicate it in rural contexts, particularly towns.
Local authorities were strongly involved in developing the Circular Economy Strategy, which was a bottom-up process. Two large workshops attended by over 80 stakeholders were held during its creation.
Since the strategy was adopted in 2019, three towns in the region have become ‘circular’, implementing practices from the strategy.
Ryedale District Council has overseen the experimental Circular Malton initiative, a pilot to trial circular principles in a town setting including tackling food waste. Lessons learned from Malton and elsewhere have been brought together in the LEP’s Circular Towns Guide including case studies from repair workshops, refill projects and a bike repair workshop.
A circular towns toolkit will be published in 2022, and Scarborough and Selby will be the next towns to ‘go circular’.
Going circular involves assessing and rethinking supply chains, and the LEP has appointed sustainability consultants Eunomia to review how carbon reduction could be built into local authority procurement across Yorkshire. A baseline assessment revealed that procurement was not being used as a lever to reduce council emissions, despite the massive impact this could have. To change this, Eunomia has worked with the LEP and its local authority partners to create low carbon procurement toolkits.
Green skills and jobs
Green skills and jobs must be a top priority at all levels of government for a successful transition to a circular low-carbon economy. The LEP’s Circular Economy Strategy pledges to work with education providers from nurseries all the way up to universities to begin growing knowledge relevant to the circular economy.
This will include technical skills in sectors like engineering and construction as well as transferrable skills like leadership and systems thinking. There is a strong demand from North Yorkshire authorities, who are increasingly encountering the green skills gap as a barrier and are now pressuring the LEP to address this.
The LEP is committed to building on its existing work on green skills and jobs. This includes the ReBiz programme, run by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which has delivered consultancy and free audits (worth £1,200) to 40 businesses, focusing on reducing waste and cutting energy use.
In November 2021 City of York Council ran its 11th annual York Business Week, which focused on the theme of sustainability. The LEP was involved in running sessions exploring green skills investment across different sectors.
The urgent green skills demand from councils has been useful for the LEP, because it provides evidence that helps the organisation target stretched resources effectively. A study commissioned in 2021 on the local green skills gap will be the foundation for transforming the LEP’s past work into a more strategic future approach. The LEP’s role will be to facilitate activity and better understanding of skills requirements by further education, local government and industry in the region.
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Working between local and national levels, LEPs are well placed to be a bridge between the two. By coordinating funding and action across boundaries, LEPs make action more coherent and impactful. An example is the dissemination of good practice to spread the circular towns concept.
The York and North Yorkshire LEP increases its influence through membership of the Northern Powerhouse 11, a group of 11 LEPs from the North of England.
In 2019 the LEP commissioned a major piece of work, the Carbon Abatement Pathways Study which modelled different scenarios for carbon emissions reductions across the five most carbon-intensive sectors in York and North Yorkshire: buildings, transport, industry, power and land use/agriculture and provided action plans for each. It included some high-level circular economy concepts, such as increased recycling and resource efficiency.
Recommendations for industry included:
Such studies are crucial for informed decision-making about climate action but can be expensive for councils to conduct or commission. The study has benefitted local authorities by providing an evidence base that allows them to draw up their own plans for decarbonisation. It has also lent credibility to these plans.
Effective outcomes are achieved when the LEP’s relationship with local authorities is a two-way street, not a top-down endeavour. In York and North Yorkshire, the LEP carries out work on behalf of local authorities and vice versa, for instance:
The LEP’s Local Authority Climate Action Co-ordinator convenes the climate leads from each of its member local authorities every other month. This forum enables the LEP to hear what challenges local authorities face and identify any gaps that the LEP can fill.
The Directors of Development group, consisting of councils’ directors for economic development and regeneration, meets every month to discuss and agree funding towards LEP-led projects.
This also helps align the climate action work of neighbouring councils. For example, a portion of a £100,000 funding injection agreed by the Directors of Development in 2021 went towards the LEP’s work on green procurement.
Effective board representatives
As representatives on LEP boards, passionate councillors and council officers can be a force for change. The Chief Executive of Harrogate Borough Council, Wallace Sampson, has been a low carbon champion and strong advocate for circular economy on the York and North Yorkshire LEP (and beyond).
Between 2014 and 2020, the York and North Yorkshire LEP invested £220m in the region. This supported a range of work, from flood defence improvements to digital connectivity and green public transport.
York and North Yorkshire LEP secured funding to create the post of Local Authority Climate Action Co-ordinator, which sits within its low carbon team.
The Circular Economy Strategy was developed collaboratively. Internally, the LEP has created the dedicated role of Circular Economy Officer and a cross-cutting group, the ‘C-Team’, tasked with embedding circular economy principles across all the LEP’s core teams and activities. Externally, it has established a Circular Economy Steering Group made up of key stakeholders and influencers.
LEP role and review
LEPs are voluntary partnerships not statutory bodies, and legally are tasked only with increasing economic growth. This does not have to be low carbon, energy efficient growth, as there is no formal mandate for LEPs to take responsibility for acting on climate change. This has resulted in the diverse range of approaches by England’s 38 LEPs. However, the purpose and funding of LEPs is currently under review by the government and tied to the proposals of the Levelling Up White Paper and the new Shared Prosperity Fund (which will replace some EU funding). Collectively LEPs have set out an intention to tackle climate change.
The main challenge for the York and North Yorkshire LEP is capacity. The size of the low carbon team does not match the high volume of demands the LEP receives from stakeholders, so staff members must make sure not to spread their efforts too thinly.
New funding, such as the Levelling Up Fund, will go straight to councils rather than to LEPs meaning a good, communicative working relationship between LEPs and councils important to delivering a green recovery.
North Yorkshire County Council and its seven district and borough councils are currently undergoing reorganisation into a single unitary authority. Each of the existing authorities already has its own climate action plan and it is unclear yet whether these will all be amalgamated into a single plan, or whether there will be an overarching plan for the new unitary authority with the more local plans sitting underneath.
This will create a degree of short-term uncertainty for the LEP, but it is also an opportunity for the new North Yorkshire authority to guarantee that climate is embedded across all its services. This will be the same for other authorities across the UK that are also experiencing reorganisation.
The LEP has supported demands for greater devolution and has been closely involved with drawing up York and North Yorkshire’s devolution deal with central government. This process has been ongoing for over two years with several delays. The LEP’s ambition for the region to be carbon negative by 2040 has been made the central selling point for the devolution deal and has been embedded across all the requests to central government related to it.
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