All posts from: October 2010
Party conferences are a roadshow for the party faithful. For independent and non partisan attendees like myself, they are a great snapshot of where policy thinking is up to. They highlight the ‘pulse of policy’, and cast a light on how prepared and ready (or not) we are for the local economic challenges ahead. In this I am alarmed. Across all three main political parties, I am now convinced we have a crisis in local economic development thinking, funding and practice. We need to do something about it. And fast!
A few speeches, but many fringes, talked and debated Local Enterprise Partnerships (usually how many and where), Regional Growth Fund (who gets it and for what), big society (what is it?), cuts (its going to be painful), public service efficiencies (outsourcing – v- insourcing).
The main regional cities should rightly have new powers and some fiscal economy. This is great news. However, a lot of this is institutional and structural, and is skirting round issues for the vast majority of places. In times of less money, cuts and faltering growth - what is the local economic and regeneration approach to places (including neighbourhoods and areas within regional cities)? Remember many places and parts of city regions were struggling, even when we had growth pre 2008.
Across all party conferences, I was on the look out for answers which went beyond new structures and institutions and small scale funds. I found some fragments and snippets. I heard some pithy dissection of the issues, critiques of past approaches and an acknowledgement that there was work still to be done on a new approach. However, a new compelling narrative for Local Economic Development and Regeneration? Thought through plans to tackle local labour market and job issues? An strategy to deal with lack of local investment for development? I am afraid not.
Most alarming, is the centralising tendency, that views local economies and local economic development policy, as peripheral, and by implication an inconsequential sub set to the UK economy. This is a problem. Local economies are the component parts to UK Plc. The likelihood of a return to 1980’s type, pre regeneration economies within our city region neighbourhoods, an adrift Barrow, a detached Hastings or a struggling Stoke, are not just local problems, though the pain will certainly be more acutely felt locally. No. These problems, if not morally felt, are in economic terms a drag on the UK economy. We cannot shift UK plc to new forms of manufacturing services, high tech, and a future of sustainable growth, without every part of the UK pulling its weight. We need every place and worker to help. The alternative is just a recipe for casting many places and people adrift.
How do we get the pulse growing stronger again? LEPS are a small part of the answer. They are just a new structure, with little funds, which in some instances lack detail on what they are actually going to do.
We actually need a revolution in local economic thinking and practice. CLES has been calling for some time for a new wave of local economic activism. Private, public and social economies need to forget and get over their differences and forge new local policy and relationships for the benefit of local place. Public bodies need to come together and sweat local spend for the benefit of local economies. Commercial companies need to energise their chambers and trade associations and start innovating with new forms of purchaser and buyer networks, and developing supply chains. The social economy, needs to commercialise wherever possible, and join up with public service delivery in new ways. We require industrial ideas and strategies, which are nuanced and bespoke, which reflect the variation in places. We also need to start thinking about de-growth and steady state strategies and contemplate managing decline.
Above all, all parties needs to stop talking so much about the UK economy as if it was one homogenous thing. They need to start listening, get tuned into local economics and start appreciating the local component parts.