Those of us with the honour to represent district councils understand that better lives depend on our local economies being as strong as possible. As the District Councils Network’s slogan puts it: “Better Lives, Stronger Economies”.
Without busy, bustling high streets, strong rural economies and communities built for business, we cannot stimulate growth in our local areas, curtailing the investment we can attract to them and hampering the essential services our residents need.
A cornerstone of a strong local economy is a strong local enterprise partnership (LEP) working closely with district councils.
In our ‘Transformation in Localities Toolkit’, the District Councils Network outlined what made for the most successful collaboration between LEPs and districts. With 23 out of 38 LEPs in England featuring direct representation from districts, we are grasping this chance to both shape places and boost money flowing into local areas.
It was heartening to see the government recognise in its recent policy paper that economic areas often cross administrative boundaries. But we are concerned about proposals to remove overlaps.
It is vital to ensure that new LEP geographies – including possible mergers – fully reflect functional economic areas across England and that districts continue to influence all LEPs in their areas.
The policy paper set out a requirement that every area have a local industrial strategy. This planning at the local level can ensure that economies reflect local needs, and it’s crucial that districts, as the core housing, planning and local growth authorities, play a central role.
That means we must be fully represented. As such we were concerned about the guidance to reduce the representation of the public sector on each LEP to a third of board members. The business expertise and democratic accountability that district councils bring to the table should be considered.
District councils uniquely understand their areas. By necessity they are of the place and environment in which they are based. This also gives them the insight they need to ensure the correct enterprise and economic measures are put in place to encourage growth.
We now need the government to provide the leadership to support local economy growth.
As devolution minister Jake Berry said in a recent parliamentary debate: “The role of district councils has never been more important in delivering growth across our country, and we need them to be fully engaged with our industrial strategy to ensure that LEPs have the right governance structure, accountability and capability to take a leading role in driving economic growth, and that all local partners, including district councils, have a voice.”
That’s all true. But it’s time for the government to recognise this key role, by ensuring we are equipped with the tools to deliver this economic growth, allowing our local marketplaces to become stronger.
Mark Crane (Con), leader, Selby DC and stronger economies lead for the District Councils Network