“People will feel sad it’s the end of NEP”: Outgoing chief executive defends her organisation’s record

Chief executive of NEp, Jo Lappin says the organisation has been worth every penny since its 2011 inception.
Chief executive of NEp, Jo Lappin says the organisation has been worth every penny since its 2011 inception.

As a contentious business partnership in Northamptonshire prepares for a merger with its regional sibling at the end of the week, its chief executive has hit back at the critics - saying it has been worth every taxpayer’s penny over its five year life-span.

The Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership (NEP) was set up in 2011 and received £2.2 million a year from the county council up to 2013 and then £1.45 million for the past three years.

It also had a £200,000 a year office in Brussels, which led some to question its value.

However last month it was revealed NEP would be merged with the regional enterprise partnership - SEMLEP.

But speaking as folders were packed into filing boxes at its Billing Road headquarters this week, chief executive Jo Lappin, said NEP has been worth the funding.

She said: “We were actually quite a lean organisation in terms of our running costs.

“The best measure we feel is the amount of money we have levered for Northamptonshire.

“Through the Growth Funding Deal, we have levered tens of millions, which is more than we would have pro rata.

“There is no part of this organisation that is not focused on supporting businesses, skills and young people.”

Ms Lappin said the £9 million investment NEP managed to lever for the new road bridge at Stanton Cross will rank as one of its major achievements.

The scheme in Wellingborough had stalled for more than a decade before NEP secured funding from the Government’s Local Growth Fund and the Public Works Loans board.

Funding for the Northampton to Daventry link road, phase one of the improvements to the A43 and the expanded Silverstone Metrology Centre, can all be attributed to money levered by NEP.

But what legacy will the organisation leave?

Ms Lappin said the real test of how successful a local enterprise partnership has been “the return on investment.”

“In terms of jobs creation, unemployment is at the lowest it has been in Northamptonshire,” she said. “We’ve had a significant number of business start-ups.

“It has helped to raise aspirations and ambitions.”

None of the 19 staff currently working at Billing Road will transfer over to SEMLEP’s Milton Keynes offices, mainly because of the added distance commuting.

“I think people feel sad it’s the end of NEP,” Ms Lappin added.

“But they also feel satisfied having some fabulous things.”

Though the chief executive said the merger will mean Northamptonshire having to shout louder for funding, with SEMLEP covering Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire as well.

“It is now beholden on Northamptonshire to put forward a good case for funding,” she said.

“They are now fishing in a much bigger pond.”