Place – the final growth frontier? (Part 3)

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Episode 3: Putting policy in its ‘place'

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.

We've looked previously at the five basic tests LEPs should use when developing interventions and provided a reality check on the level of funding being devolved. Today we turn to what LEP interventions could look like on the ground in some important areas for growth.

Transport infrastructure

This not only has a natural spatial dimension, but through both EU and SLGF funding will have dedicated areas of expenditure. LEPs would be able to add value by providing business insight to where strategic interventions on the road network are needed to smooth freight and other business traffic. Additionally, the ability to recruit and retain talent often relies on a reliable journey to work, something in many parts of the country which can't be guaranteed.

Strategic interventions and linking the local road network with national corridors and gateways will help to reduce the barriers to local growth. Action in this space is sensible and would be of even greater value when collaboration is done across LEP boundaries.

Skills and employability issues

On skills, youth unemployment is a major part of the talent pipeline which does not have the same level of focus as other areas. Within manufacturing, the implementation of the Richard Review will see employers play a greater role in skills provision, similarly Industrial Partnerships will take end to end responsibility for the skills system in line with sectoral needs – these are issues above the LEP level and are not concentrated in certain geographic areas.

Youth unemployment does however have a distinct place based dimension; highly skilled talent is highly mobile talent. Those who are less skilled are more likely to remain in ‘place', unlocking and developing this latent talent is a natural area for LEPs to operate within.

In two areas the government has already indicated to LEPs that they will gain some role in Further Education skills provision through skills pilots and the FE capital funds as part of the Single Local Growth Fund. It is important in these areas that LEPs have a real focus on their comparative advantages and ensure these are the focus of any activities in their area, bolstering existing provision with a firm evidence base for business need.

Business support

Local signposting may not sound glamorous, but if your focus is growth and not just about getting into the headlines, it is an invaluable service for businesses. Business support comes hand in hand with good business engagement, knowing what the local business demography looks like and fostering collaboration to embed these businesses and supply chains in ‘place'.

Business support shouldn't be seen as a one way activity, but an ongoing dialogue where challenges faced by businesses are fed back to ensure barriers to local growth are reduced. Linking this area with the relevant opt-in EU schemes would really add value and ensure a strong focus on local comparative advantages.

Innovation

Innovation is a crucial part of growth and competitiveness, but ‘spreading the jam' as was often the case with previous RDA innovation spend, reduces the impact and if not tightly controlled could end up with duplicated effort across multiple areas. As a result we have advocated for strong central control over how innovation funding is allocated.

In this space our argument for a strong comparative advantage before any activity is done is supported by the EU requirement for a smart specialisation framework, where genuine EU-wide comparative advantage is sought. The Government have already made clear that a focus on the national industrial strategy and the eight great technologies are areas where LEPs should prioritise action and this is a call we would reinforce.

An activity LEPs could then focus on would be boosting existing innovation infrastructure already in place and working collaboratively across LEPs to ensure that resources are put to best use rather spread too thinly. This collaboration should focus on the commercialisation and embedding of available research, the innovation activity with the lowest possibility of encountering duplicated effort.

These are just some of our initial thoughts which we will be developing in greater detail over the rest of this year.

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Head of Business Environment Policy

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