Place – the final growth frontier? (Part 1)

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Episode 1: Where should Local Enterprise Partnerships seek to intervene?

Place… the final growth frontier. This is the domain of thirty-nine local enterprise partnerships. Their five year mission: to explore strange functional economic geographies, to seek out new ways to bolster growth and new collaborations, to boldly add value where no one has done so before…

We've written previously about LEPs, in particular their funding, how they could be held accountable and the kind of metrics they could use. The issue most missing from the debate however is how and where LEPs can actually add value; this is the subject we turn to in a three part series of blog posts.

Today we sketch out some basic tests LEPs should think about applying when looking at making interventions; in the second post we will look at the level of new funding actually being devolved and in our final post in the series outline the kinds of activities LEPs should be thinking about. Our five tests are set out below:

Adding value – avoiding duplication

LEPs could be a game changer in gearing local economic geographies toward growth. However they won't be if they simply duplicate activities already taking place at either a national or sectoral level. LEPs may be tempted to get involved at this level to piggy back on a number of quick wins to prove their worth. This should be avoided.

From a self-interested point of view developing solutions in areas where no one else is and demonstrating success will deliver greater credibility for the LEP, as well as follow the ‘No Stone Unturned' ethos. As an example, the Regional Growth Fund requires proof from private sector project bids that investments will not go ahead without funding from the Regional Growth Fund, ensuring that funding kick starts investment rather than replacing already planned investments.

Focussing on local comparative advantages

The decline in status and respect for Regional Development Agencies is often attributed to their contraction of ‘me too' syndrome. In an attempt to demonstrate their value regional initiatives were created across a range of areas without a strong focus on actual comparative advantages in those areas.

As someone working on one aspect of the LEP agenda recently put it, LEPs should not just seek answers to the question “What are we really good at?” but tackle the questions “What are we good at? Really?”

A whole place approach

LEPs were set up to have a focus on place, tackling issues from a spatial perspective. The best way to think about issues in this area is the concept of stickiness - things or factors which are difficult to displace from their functional economic space.

Removing local growth barriers

LEPs are a partnership between the public sector, private and voluntary sector. Given this private sector input hopefully LEPs will not need reminding that improving the local business environment and removing barriers is the best route to creating sustained growth, than the creation of a programme which artificially incentivises the creation of a market.

Articulating the business voice, action and insight into decisions made at a local level

Structures at a local level are geared toward seeking the views of and representing the council tax payer. How are business rate payers represented? LEPs should not forget that their main constituency are local businesses not only should their views be appropriately represented but they could also play a major part through their actions.

These tests will serve as a useful guide as LEPs navigate their way toward producing Strategic Economic Plans, EU SI Investment strategies and negotiate Local Growth Deals.


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