All posts from: August 2011
Local Economic Development is as much about setting the conditions for future success as immediate short term gains. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), have to look beyond the immediate national and global economic concerns, build up power and ignite a process toward a longer term shift in the economic destiny and resilience of local areas.
Of course, all the LEPs differ in size and history, and the challenge for each Local Enterprise Partnership (LEPs) is very different. In some areas, LEPs have emerged from pre-existing economic partnerships and groupings, with staff, some existing resources through Local government, and well established plans of action. However some LEPs are new, have no heritage, cover new economic geographies, and have limited experience of joint working.
In some areas, LEPs are building on existing growth, as they cover areas which have some economic success and a diverse range of successful businesses. However, in many locations, due to decades of de-industrialisation and the failure to tackle systemic local economic problems, there is no short term fix. Their journey will be harder and longer.
Nevertheless, they all share the possibility of doing good, through the ‘traditional’ standard fare open to them as set out in the Local Growth White Paper.
The 22 new ‘enterprise zones’, include incentives via tax breaks and simplified planning. There is also stimulus funding via Regional Growth Fund (RGF) and Capacity Fund, and greater connections with national priorities around digital and transport infrastructure. I am confident that some Local Enterprise Partnerships will be make a difference. However, even in relatively successful areas, these policies still need to avoid the pitfalls and be used effectively.
In other areas, these policies will struggle for traction and impact. This potential struggle for all LEPs is of course framed by national and global economic turbulence. However this is beyond their influence. Therefore, they must grab real influence on the key pistons of local growth- capital, labour and have a focus on local economic inputs such as innovation which are often ermbedded within local culture, place and society.
Many areas are starved of capital investment. The funds through the RGF are welcome, but for some areas, offer up a meagre appetiser, to the hearty meal which is needed. That is why LEPs’ working with Local Authorities and private finance must also strive to establish their own investment funds. Furthermore, the idea of an ‘area growth budget’, devolving Whitehall budgets to areas (as outlined in the city finance commission report), would be an excellent means by which LEPs, working with Local Authorities, could potentially achieve greater weight around investing for growth
Many parts of the England, in their industrial heyday, prided themselves on having a uniquely skilled, inventive and productive labour force. This is clearly no longer the case in many areas. The RDA’s made little impact into skills; and nationally we have reorganised and tinkered with the ‘skills game’ with little success. LEPs must not make the mistakes of the past. They must prioritise skills, forging significant links and influence over the Skills Funding Agency ensuring that employers lead on skills.
Finally, whilst mindful of mission creep, LEPs need influence over the life of place and place-based factors which nurture creativity and innovation energy. This includes relationships with the community and voluntary sector, and factors including social capital, investment in public realm, quality of life, culture and the arts.
These aspects, may be seen as irrelevant and a distraction by some. They are also clearly the kind of things which are most likely to be forgotten or ignored by LEPs.
However, the ways in which businesses identify and have connections with the ‘life of place’ are well established inputs and conditions for growth. These need to be seen as powerful and are exactly the type of things which can create real penetrative and enduring depth to economic development work. Place policy is economic policy.
LEPs must move one step beyond the opportunities afforded by the standard policy fare. Whilst short-term growth is sought, they must consider the deeper underlying economic conditions and be mindful of economic resilience in the long term.