Find out how City of York Council and North Yorkshire County Council used their collective power within a Local Enterprise Partnership to push for regional net zero targets and launch a Circular Economy Strategy to minimise waste and pollution. Using council membership in Local Enterprise Partnerships to ensure all decisions contribute to a green economy is part of Action 42 of the 50-point Climate Action Plan.

10 Mar 2022

How is Action 42 tackling the climate crisis?

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.

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 as well as EU funding in the past. This is changing due to a review of LEPs and the UK exiting the EU, 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.

York and North Yorkshire LEP's vision

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.

What impact has the project had

Circular towns

There are three pilot places in the region implementing practices from the strategy implementing practices from the strategy: Circular Malton, Circular Coast (Scarborough), and Selby.

  1. Ryedale District Council has overseen the experimental Circular Malton initiative, a pilot to trial circular principles in a town setting, including tackling food waste.
  2. 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.
  3. A circular towns toolkit will be published in 2022.
  4. Scarborough and Selby will be the next towns to "go circular".

Green procurement

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 transferable skills like leadership and systems thinking. There's 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 it.

The LEP is committed to building on its existing work on green skills and jobs which includes:

  • The ReBiz programme, run by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, delivered consultancy and free audits (worth £1,200) to 40 businesses, focusing on reducing waste and cutting energy use.
  • The 11th annual York Business Week in 2021, which is ran by the City of York Council and 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.

What made this work?

Regional coordination

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.

Evidence base

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:

  • Support local workforce training focusing on circular economy related jobs.
  • Further research to increase circularity through industrial recycling of materials like glass, plastics and aggregates.
  • Establish local markets for the end products of the agricultural sector.

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.

Equal partnership

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 has invested heavily in feasibility studies, which are often an inconvenient barrier for councils. This has enabled initiatives to get off the ground quicker and has ensured a strong pipeline of carbon cutting projects for the region.
  • Between November 2019 and April 2020, Scarborough Borough Council partnered with the University of Hull to produce research on evolving a circular plastics economy. This was prompted by the council’s desire to become a single-use plastic free authority but provides useful evidence that will feed into the LEP’s circular economy priorities too.

Regular communication

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).

What resources were needed

Between 2014 and 2020, the York and North Yorkshire LEP invested £220 million in the region. This supported a range of work, from flood defence improvements to digital connectivity and green public transport. The LEP used core funding from central government to fund its circular economy work.

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.

Things to look for

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.

Capacity

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.

Funding changes

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.

Organisational changes

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.

Devolution

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. The government's Levelling Up White Paper has confirmed that it will be encouraging the integration of LEPs into devolution deals.

"All local authority services, from waste collections, to street lighting to planning and public transport have impact on the environment. Within the LEP’s strategic team for Low Carbon and Environment, an enormous amount of research has been done to understand ‘what’ needs to change and ‘how’ to achieve our environmental ambitions for the region. The Carbon Abatement Pathways work has been especially helpful and enabled me to prioritise activities to support York and North Yorkshire local authorities. Working together we’re developing and putting into action plans that range from staff training, to help build carbon reduction and circular economy thinking into strategy plans, to sustainable procurement across all local authority services, from school dinners to building materials."

Jos Holmes, Local Authority Climate Action Coordinator at York and North Yorkshire LEP.

"Collaboration, having that equal level partnership and open conversations with our local authorities, has really made a difference to our work as the LEP. On our end, we’ve looked at what the opportunities are and have provided the economic case, which has been important for helping us embed low carbon across our work."

Katie Thomas, Senior Strategy Manager for Low Carbon & Environment at York and North Yorkshire LEP.

Useful information

To find out more about the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, contact Katie Thomas at [email protected]

Other examples of LEPs include:

  • The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, which has championed Cornwall as a leader of the UK’s green industrial revolution.
  • The Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, which also has a good record on tackling climate change.

Friends of the Earth's view

Councils should play a full part in encouraging and helping local and regional bodies to address the climate and nature emergency so its good to see York city council and Yorkshire County Council working with the LEP to deliver a circular economy strategy. Councils can have a bigger impact through convening others and encouraging ambition

York and North Yorkshire LEP needs. to ensure that all its decisions are aligned with legally binding national Net Zero targets and that it fully embraces the opportunity to create high quality green jobs in the area.

Friends of the Earth is show casing specific examples of good practice in tackling climate change, but that doesn’t mean we endorse everything that council is doing.  

This case study was produced by Ashden and Friends of the Earth.

Climate Action