When I was director of strategy and communications at the Local Government Association, we were criticised for “cautiously welcoming” most government announcements.
The joke at the time was if ministers announced they were going to hang, draw and quarter council leaders we would “cautiously welcome” that too.
There was probably something in that criticism but local government’s churlish response to the industrial strategy was unhelpful. The LGA, it should be noted, was positive about the white paper. The overriding message from the sector, however, was “we’ve been snubbed” combined with a dose of anti-local enterprise partnership rhetoric.
Reading much of the response one would not think that council leaders are LEP board members. LEP boards provide a framework for the partnership between civic and business leaders, which the industrial strategy repeatedly argues is essential to enabling growth. We all know the best LEPs are those in which council and business leaders work closely together providing the type of leadership that none of them can deliver alone. If that relationship is not working, it is the responsibility of both parties to fix it.
One of the most important features of this industrial strategy is the focus on place. This was not the case with the equivalent documents produced by Peter Mandelson or Vince Cable. Councils, with their extensive statutory responsibilities and community leadership role, are best placed to deliver this place dimension. The combination of this with the rich business intelligence and focus on productivity that LEPs bring is critically important.
Civil servants are being honest that there is no blueprint for what a local industrial strategy should look like. There really is very little detail on how the desired link between sector deals and place will be achieved. All this is capable of being influenced.
My main criticism of the strategy is that it introduces numerous new funding streams and bidding opportunities. If local industrial strategies are to effective localities need as close to a single funding pot as they can get: funding for programmes rather than projects. The industrial strategy moves in the opposite direction with a collection of shiny new pots. Now that is something that is worth getting cross about.
Phil Swann, executive chair, Shared Intelligence