Many officers and members of Local Authorities will often espouse the uniqueness of their area and talk up the notion of localism and how they shape policy to let the ‘local’ shine through.
England is splendidly heterogeneous and we enjoy changes over small differences.
There is no M62 megalopolis - Hull, Huddersfield, Hattersley, Halton or Huyton are all splendidly different in so many ways.
However, intriguingly when it comes to strategic policy around the local economy, there is far too much generic thinking.
In many cases, local economic strategies (if there is one) will talk in general terms about growth, often with a focus on the knowledge economy, reflecting the national and global economic priorities of UK Plc and the policies of the Department for Business and Regulatory Reform and the Regional Development Agencies.
As a result, the local high street will have the usual chains and stores, there will be generic business parks, generic social economy plans and a planning process which is uniform across the country.
Should we not do more to create a local economic identity for our local places and be innovative in this?
In the last few weeks, prompted by in part by the downturn, I heard and witnessed a growing recognition of the importance of the ‘local’ economy.
In this, Local Government is starting to do the thinking as regard letting the local shine through and be allowed to create bespoke and innovative economic policy solutions.
Three separate happenings in the last few weeks have brought to light for me the importance of the local in economic success and the role of Local government in this.
Firstly, public service ethos which appreciates the economy.
The Association of Public Services (APSE) and CLES share interests and some projects. When meeting APSE and their members, I am always struck by the commitment, professionalism and dedication of those officers and elected members working to clean our streets, provide our swimming pools and look after our parks.
Whilst many are not economists, they have economic good sense, as they know that the delivery of these vital social goods have an local economic story - as they provide work, apprenticeships and trades - all of which - in these challenging times - serve as a bulwark for the local economy.
They know that sound shaping of place requires thinking which links the local provision and local procuring of services to the economic success of place.
Secondly, economic innovation.
Economic innovation is difficult to forge. However, it must be rooted in a local context where local identity, specialisms and personnel collide.
Visiting Norfolk County Council last week saw me visit EPIC (East of England Production Innovation Centre) in Norwich. This is one of the most advanced independent broadcast production facilities in the UK.
Previously housing the studios of Anglia TV, this resource through public money and a local and regional blend of partners have created a facility which builds on Norwich’s and Norfolk’s local creative industry sector.
Thirdly - Real devolution.
Early last week, CLES hosted a small round table discussion with Localis and our members on local economic success. In this, I was struck by a strong sense that in economic terms we need to start boosting the local and that forms of decentralisation such as MAAs, and economic prosperity boards are a great start but we need to continually push their powers and resources, so they are freed to be innovative economically at the sub regional and local economic scale.
Our fears were that they may be limited to just sub regions and not the local, and that the extent to which they get true devolution of power and resources, may be fettered or involve an overly bureaucratic process, which sees them continually working toward, UK plc’s perspective.
In all of this, lets push on more. The future economic upturn will be predicated on a public service ethos, local economic innovation and real devolution.
Neil McInroy is Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies
Neil McInroy has returned from a global study into securing local economic resilience about what we can learn in the UK. He visited Poland, Portland, USA; Culiacan, Mexico; Coimbatore, India; Haiphong, Vietnam and Yokkaichi, Japan.
Neil is chairing Economic Development in a Recession on 26 February 2009. Speakers include Local Government Association chair Margaret Eaton CBE and Pat McFadden MP, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.