Genuine local choice calls for new ways of doing things
The economic development landscape is rapidly evolving as Local Enterprise Partnerships and local government partners finalise their Strategic Economic Plans and prepare to negotiate funding and devolved powers ‘deals’ with ministers.
For anyone involved in the SEP process, it has presented a number of challenges.
Every LEP area has diverse strengths, challenges and growth propositions, but there are also common themes emerging.
Skills, innovation, business support, place-making and infrastructure are all challenging issues.
Each area has also developed its own partnership approach.
Some have drawn heavily on the perspectives of the business community; others have relied more on local government officer support.
Some are heavily dependent on data analysis and others on building broad consensus.
So does this diversity imply creativity or confusion?
And do partners respond to this new world by arguing or by learning together?
In this challenging new world, there is the opportunity to transform our thinking about how localities plan and deliver economic growth.
Past certainties based on national or regional structures to ‘guide and inform’ growth have gone.
Genuine local choice – and the resulting responsibility for success or failure – calls for new ways of thinking and doing.
Promoting local growth is a complex business. It needs a deep understanding of business drivers, innovation, people and their skills and the importance of liveable places in our economies.
It is important to avoid over-simplistic conclusions about the challenges – for example that building roads always delivers more jobs.
By building ‘rich pictures’ of how various policies can work together in spatial terms, partners can deliver sophisticated and adaptable programmes of measures that lead to real change on the ground – as opposed to theoretical projections of Gross Value Added.
Complexity also means recognising and embracing the wide range of perspectives from different stakeholders, using these different insights to draw together a deep understanding of how it all fits together, and what might work in different contexts.
It should be possible, even in the heat of the moment, to draw out and embrace the complex challenges and opportunities in local areas.
But this approach also calls for creativity, finding patterns in the noise, an ability to listen to different voices and sheer determination to learn by doing. Just don’t look for a neat linear process from a flow chart.
Jonathan Foster-Clark and James Llewellyn, senior management consultants, Atkins