Recovery and renewal: Adam Bryan

Features Posted 08/11/21
Things are changing for SELEP, but CEO Adam Bryan is optimistic about the organisation’s role in boosting economic growth. Zoë Fryday reports

At just 35 years old, Adam Bryan was named chief executive officer of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), the biggest LEP in the country. Five and a half years down the line, he’s as passionate and ambitious as day one, ready to embark on the next phase of the organisation’s journey.

SELEP is one of 38 LEPs operating across the UK. Encompassing East Sussex, Essex, Southend, Thurrock, Kent and Medway it works with the business community, educators, local authorities, government and other agencies to encourage economic growth and secure future funding and investment. Nine universities, around 180,000 VAT-registered businesses and eight ports have a footprint in the region, and when you take the population of the area, which is a good 4.2 million people, it’s bigger than Croatia – a fun fact shared by Adam. “It’s a massive job but we’re a small, well-oiled machine,” he explains. “We’ve developed systems and a way of working that is really fit for purpose for the area and we have an excellent reputation for delivery.” 

Since its inception in 2011, SELEP has managed a £500 million growth deal, which has seen the organisation invest in some major, large-scale commercial and infrastructure projects. It has supported schemes that have created new jobs and new homes, provided state-of-the-art facilities and courses at colleges and has backed research that enables local areas to better understand their economy and needs. 

In 2021, LEPs are shifting their focus away from the big infrastructure schemes and more towards sustainability, business support and economic recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We’re using our relationships and intelligence to set the direction for what is needed in the South East for a successful future economy,” says Adam. “It’s going to be interesting and the next six months will be vital for SELEP.”

With the specific aim of supporting local businesses and the recovery of the economy, SELEP took £4.4 million of funding and repurposed it to create the Covid-19 Recovery Funds Programme. The initiative centres around investing directly in areas across the South East most affected by the pandemic and providing businesses with the tools they need to build back stronger. Adam explains: “We’ve looked at the gaps in government support and are offering something specific for sectors that have been badly hit, such as hospitality and tourism, bringing small injections of cash to businesses to help them overcome challenges and grow into the future.” 

 The programme also addresses the digital divide the pandemic has intensified by helping business owners and staff expand their digital skills and capabilities. “This direct support is about recognising where the gaps are and encouraging businesses to take that leap,” he adds. “We want to do more of this if we can in the future.”

 I ask Adam about his own Covid-19 experiences. He explains that, in terms of managing the team, it has been an adjustment, but thankfully everyone can undertake their jobs remotely. “In some ways, it has brought us closer together than we were before,” he shares. “We’re based all across the South East and having regular catch-ups via Teams has been positive for us.” On a personal level, Adam, like many others (including myself) has taken the opportunity of being at home more to get a puppy, which we bond over and exchange training tips.

 On the hard infrastructure side of things, Adam has led some hugely successful projects of late. Just over a year ago, the government introduced the Getting Building Fund, which is being channelled through LEPs. It focuses on investing in ventures that are oven-ready and will have an impact on pulling us out of the worst effects of Covid – driving economic growth, creating new jobs and supporting green recovery. “There was £900 million available nationally, to be distributed amongst all 38 LEPs,” states Adam. “SELEP got £85 million – one-tenth of the national pot – which is amazing! We had lots of projects ready to go so were able to provide the government with a long list of ideas very quickly. Our area is unique; there’s major economic opportunity but also intense deprivation, so the funding has translated into lots of real-life improvements.”

 Some projects are delivered, some are underway and some are on the horizon. “One of the best examples is Kent and Medway Medical School, which we helped get over the line, and is welcoming its first intake of students this autumn,” says Adam proudly. “We’ve also invested into a project called Riding Sunbeams, the world’s first MW scale solar farm directly powering the DC railways, plus much more.”

Adam reflects on one of the best decisions he made over the past year – establishing the Sector Support Fund. £3.5 million was available to SELEP to expand the workforce and have a bigger operation, but Adam and the team believed it could be put to better use. Instead, the money has supported all kinds of sectors and a vast range of creative projects, including the Buy Local South East campaign. “We filled a gap that no one else was filling. This is one of the things I’ve been most pleased with, and we’ve developed a good reputation as a result of it.”

For Adam and the team, there’s a lot to be proud of. As the LEP changes over the next six months, they hope it changes in a way that makes sense and means the organisation still has a real influence on things. The focus, Adam points out, will be on maintaining work on the unique, exciting agenda for the area; ensuring the LEP’s new future-facing role is meaningful and has a direct impact; and influencing government on economic growth policy. “There’s real opportunity and real challenge in the South East, and this is the key message we want to get across to government.”

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