Business secretary Greg Clark has indicated councils are to be given a formal role in delivering economic growth as part of the government’s industrial strategy.
The former communities secretary said he was “personally thrilled” at responses to the green paper, not just from the sector but businesses too, which stressed local leadership “should have particular prominence” in the final strategy.
A white paper is due to be published later this year around the time of the autumn Budget, said Mr Clark. He added that he wanted to work with the sector over the summer months to “test some of the proposals we are minded to put forward”.
Speaking at the Local Government Association councillors’ forum, Mr Clark said: “The industrial strategy with me steering it is determined to have the importance of councils and local leadership absolutely at the heart of it.”
He said there is an “opportunity…to embed in the policy of the country an approach that is not a temporary one but a permanent change in the role of local leadership in planning and securing our prosperity in the future”.
Mr Clark added: “If we can establish consensus, not just around industrial strategy generally but the pivotal place of local government within it, then we will have made in effect a commitment that is almost constitutional in establishing the importance [of local government] and reflecting what has already been done – that your local leadership role is not just as leaders of councils but as leaders of the local economy and to have that recognised formally is something I hope we will be able to do.”
There were nearly 2,000 responses to the consultation on the industrial strategy, said Mr Clark.
“One of the things coming through very strongly, obviously from local government but also businesses, is that they have said the importance of place and local leadership should be amongst all of the initiatives in the industrial strategy that should have particular prominence,” he said. “That has come through so strongly and as you can imagine, with someone who has pursued this agenda long before others were interested, that is really gratifying.”
In a question and answer session, Mr Clark was asked what he defined as “local”. He said there are “different levels for different purposes” and referenced combined authorities and councils working together informally.
“That has proved to be increasingly successful in terms of the identity and reputation of particular areas… We need to go further down that direction. I think it has proved fruitful,” he said.
During his speech Mr Clark said messages about the importance of infrastructure, especially in relation to broadband and mobile phone coverage, had been heard “very loud and clear”.
He said the country had to get better at implementing the ideas borne out of research, while transforming the technical education system is “something we can and should do”. He added: “It has to be absolutely at the heart of our economic policy during the years ahead.”