A nationwide survey of local councillors across England and Wales has highlighted the need for far greater private sector involvement to ensure the success of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), a key part of the Localism Act introduced in November 2011.

Carried out by ComRes on behalf of Willmott Dixon, the research tested local government views on the impact of localism, and the drivers and barriers to local investment and development.

While councillors are largely supportive of LEPs, over two-thirds believe they will struggle in practice to support local economic development without greater engagement from private companies.

The findings are the culmination of a year-long programme of Willmott Dixon events for local government focusing on localism, encouraging councils to discuss the challenges they face and to explore potential solutions. It also coincides with the launch of Willmott Dixon’s programme to encourage closer working between public and private sectors to create more development opportunities that will unlock local jobs.

Asked about their views on barriers to local development, 25% of councillors pointed to financial constraints, such as a lack of funding and budget cuts, with 18% citing housing. Nearly half of councillors point to low level of skills in the local workforce as the main barrier for inward investment, with 41% also highlighting concerns over transport links – a key area under review by the government as it looks at ways to kick-start the economy. Also featuring was low levels of education, 31%, and a lack of suitable property options at 30%.

John Frankiewicz, chief executive officer at Willmott Dixon Capital Works, said: “While many councillors feel it is too early to give a definitive judgement on the impact of the Localism Act, the research shows unambiguously the areas of concern for councillors and the principal barriers to growth and investment.

“We also take from this the strong message that for Local Enterprise Partnerships to fulfil their potential in supporting local economic development, both public and private sectors need to do more to build trust and cooperation. While the private sector needs to play its part in making it easier for local government to engage with, local government too needs to look at how it can be more commercial and entrepreneurial minded to drive joint venture opportunities. It’s about building mutual recognition of the respective strengths of both public and private sectors in creating development opportunities that create growth and jobs.”


1. ComRes surveyed 411 local councillors online in England and Wales in July 2012.
2. Data were weighted to reflect the exact composition of local councillors in England and Wales.

Summary of key findings
• Councillors cite poor skill sets, transport links and suitable property options as a barrier to local investment
• Two biggest challenges in meeting local needs are financial constraints and housing
• Councillors have a negative impression of private companies, but think LEPs would benefit from greater private sector involvement and will only succeed if private sector partners can be engaged more meaningfully by local government
• 52% of councillors believe the Localism Act will have a positive influence on the way that councils work, but 52% are concerned it will have a negative impact on bureaucracy when asked about the level of bureaucracy
• 40% of councillors who responded to the question about the private sector said private companies do not help LAs with local economic development, but regeneration is an area where councillors think private companies can make an impact.
• Legacy of the Localism Act is yet to be determined; councillors are uncertain how both the Localism Act and HRA reform are going to affect their councils

Survey results

Alongside financial constraints, housing is seen to be one of the top two biggest challenges in meeting local development needs
o 25%: Financial Constraints
o 18%: Housing
o 7%: Infrastructure
o 6%: Cuts to services

Poor skills and transport links are the key barriers to investment in local areas, as are low levels of education and a lack of suitable property options
o 46%: low levels of skills in the local workforce
o 41%: poor transport links
o 31%: low levels of education
o 30%: lack of suitable property options
o 19%: limited potential for further growth

A significant majority of councillors believe that LEPs will only succeed if private sector partners can be engaged more meaningfully in economic development by local government
o 71%: agree
o 8%: disagree
o 12%: don’t know