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Local employer engagement or distant elites?: Local enterprise partnerships and employment and skills in England

This paper investigates the responsibilities and membership of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in England in the light of devolution of employment and skills responsibilities. Through the theoretical lens of ‘hollowing out’ and a direct comparison with the late-Thatcherite Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) of the 1990s, the paper argues that LEPs represent a fresh, market-driven attempt by the government to alter the institutional framework for meeting local labour market needs through ‘local business leadership’. However, through a synthesis of publicly available data across all LEPs, the paper shows that while LEPs assume important strategic and practical roles, their structure, resourcing and sectoral affiliations are poorly aligned for the engagement of local employers. Rather, it is argued, LEPs may be characterised as distant business elites, with only weak connections to local employment and skills priorities. Conclusions are drawn about the implications of distant and elite LEPs boards for future employment and skills policy.