John Spence on being chairman of South East Local Enterprise Partnership
The first chairman of "son of SEEDA" admits to
"de-Essexing" himself for the role - and welcomed some early
John Spence, a man from North of the Thames, has guided
the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) through its
He accepts that it was greeted with cynicism and suspicion
in some quarters but can already point to early
It's not strictly true to call it an offspring of the
South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) which was scrapped by
the coalition government.
It covers a smaller area - Kent, Greater Essex and East
Sussex - and its budget is tiny by comparison. But its overall
ambitions are similar - promoting the region for economic growth
investment and prosperity.
What it lacks in cash it makes up for in political and
business muscle that appear to punch with some effect in
Spence, a former senior Lloyds TSB banker, took on the
role to "see this thing work. I want to see businesses staying at
the table and driving with the councils the enterprise and growth
agenda rather than leaving it all to other people. That's what I'm
The LEP has 48 board members, which sounds unwieldy but,
he insists, works. "We achieved unanimity across those 48 people as
to which two enterprise zones [Pfizer in East Kent, and Harlow in
Essex] we should recommend to government." Both were agreed - the
only LEP to achieve a brace of zones.
The region generates 17% of England's GDP and has
undoubted scale, but much of that value is switched to other parts
of the UK.
Spence is reluctant to speak of "us and them" but lets the
government know in no uncertain terms that the region should not be
viewed merely as a cash cow for others.
"It has its own resource needs that should not be
"We have to educate government on just how important this
region is to the whole economy," he says.
Spence dismisses any suggestion that his organisation is a
mere talking shop. "We will focus all the time and be relentless
about enterprise, growth, prosperity. I'm not going to stay around
if I'm not adding value."
The Third Thames Crossing is high up the LEP's agenda, and
Spence is committed to understanding where the "blockers" to
growth, enterprise and investment are.
Spence has to ensure even-handedness across the patch. "I
have been busy de-Essexing myself," he says, and has warm words for
Kent. "They are market leaders, among the top echelons in England
for the quality of the dialogue between business and local
authorities. Kent best practice can be cascaded to other parts of
"Kent and the other councils are doing some super stuff
and we're not going to compete. We will only
He adds: "Don't think of it as a universal panacea but we
will try and come up with some specific solutions."
He says SELEP's success should be judged against three
n Did we only do the things we should have
n Did we add value?
n Did it retain the engagement of business and councils
round the table so the partnership was truly effective?