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LEPs need to develop resilient local economic futures

neil strelka photo 2I avidly follow anything to do with Local Enterprise Partnerships (Leps), so it was with pleasure that I read the important Review of Local Enterprise Partnership Area Economies 2012 and associated datasets.

The overwhelming majority of the report provides an excellent and solid review of the state of play within Lep areas. It tells us the health or otherwise of local economies. However, I am disappointed with the economic ‘resilience’ element of the report. The concept of resilience is too narrowly interpreted and falls short of adequately considering the capability of local economies to grow and the extent to which the economy could be resilient to adverse economic, social or environmental change.

For the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) – who have done extensive work into economic and place resilience – the key to an analysis of resilience is to gauge the strength of economic networks and collaboration in driving the capability for great local economies. For us, and for much of the academic literature on the subject (like this or this or this) – assessing resilience is about getting under the skin of the system of networks, relationships and bonds between elements which assist local economic capability.

For instance advanced manufacturing growth requires a series of relationships for success, as regards links between capital, land and labour as well as links between higher education, public agencies, policy and commerce. Any assessment of resilience, must ensure it provides an understanding of the health of this dynamic interplay and point to what the Lep – as a key connector or maven in the network – should do.

However, in this Lep report, no relationships or dynamic interplay are measured. It is fair to say that they do use indicators for place, community, people and business. But this is like measuring the strength of your football team by focussing on the size, weight and individual performance of the players grouped by goalkeeper, defence, midfield and strikers, with no understanding of how they work together as a section of the team or the team as a whole, how they are tactically set up, how they complement each other, or what the coach is doing.

As its stands, an understanding of the actual or potential for a dynamic interplay between local economic elements can only be vaguely guessed at. To assess the real stuff of resilience we would need a different set of indicators (social capital for instance, or public sector spend) and more importantly a qualitative understanding of the relationships and networks between component parts of the economy.

Building on our extensive qualitative work in this area, CLES has been working with Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) to measure the resilience of Lep areas. This is work in progress; but as in all of CLES’s resilience work it moves away from a standard set of economic understandings and gives an insight into what we call ‘the DNA of the local economy’. This work begins to tell us what Leps need to do to ensure a dynamic, networked and adaptable economy.

Our work suggests that areas which have come out with high performance/resilience ‘scores’ according to this Lep report significantly lack resilience in some areas. Similarly areas with low performance/resilience scores may have significant resilient qualities. This is vital information because a Lep must seek to build on its resilient qualities and strengths and not follow the areas of brittleness.

Leps have only been around for 15 months, they have voluntary boards, they have some but not a lot of resource. As such, their strongest potential asset is their ability to provide a means by which they can act as the glue and coagulant for drawing networks of business, policy and economic inputs together under key objectives. That is why a sophisticated insight into local economic capabilities is so important. And that is why an otherwise very good report falls short.

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