SMALL firms are being overlooked by the county’s enterprise agency, a business leader has warned.
Bob Bradley, president of the Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce, has called on the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to spend more time addressing the needs of the smaller companies which make up the majority of firms in the county’s economy.
But the head of the LEP has defended its record, saying it has been responsible for co-ordinating potentially more than a billion pounds of investment into the county with smaller firms able to benefit accordingly.
Mr Bradley said: “The concept of LEPs to engage businesses with local authorities to promote economic growth is great but the reality leaves a lot to be desired.
“The Oxon LEP is doing a good job with the agenda of Oxfordshire as a key player on the global stage but that’s not enough.
“They need to look after local businesses more by removing barriers such as transport and broadband issues.
“Things like ‘Can I get to work on time?’, or ‘Have I got broadband of a decent speed?’ That’s what’s important.”
The LEP, on which the Chamber of Commerce is represented, was established three years ago.
Mr Bradley was speaking after a national report by the County Councils Network found more than 75 per cent of local authorities see LEPs as “unaccountable” and half think they are poorly structured, do not communicate enough with local business leaders and are not inclusive of local communities.
LEPs replaced the old regional development agencies and were set up by the Government to boost economic growth.
The Oxfordshire LEP’s biggest success has been securing the multi-million pound City Deal, which includes the creation of more than 50,000 jobs, major transport schemes, 7,000 new homes and could attract £1.2bn of investment during the next five years.
Other projects include its EU strategy and the Growing Places Fund, which encourages investment to create jobs.
The executive board is a mix of councillors, academics and private sector business leaders.
Chief executive Nigel Tipple said: “We have to work hard to make sure communication is clear.
“For example, the EU programme is structured for small businesses and funding will be available. We are strengthening links through the Federation of Small Business and the Chamber.
“In terms of transport, there has been a significant investment at Didcot Parkway railway station and we are looking to run a quality bus service between Oxford and the business parks.
“And with broadband we are working with the county and district councils to look at alternative technologies in more rural locations.”
Mr Tipple added that local authorities were on the board of the LEP and initiatives such as the City Deal went through full council cabinet.
He said: “The relationship between partners is maturing and we have a much greater understanding of pressures, more robust partnerships and stronger dialogue.
“We have much more of a Team Oxfordshire approach to bring all the parties together and present Oxfordshire as an investment proposition.”
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