We need a joined-up approach to local economic development

Matthew Jackson new webThere is a problem with local economic development policy in England. Local enterprise partnerships (Leps) – the key vehicle for developing local business and economic development policy – are sometimes detached from small business concerns.

In a report produced by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (Cles) for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), we found that Leps are largely perceived to be dominated by big business; have not on the whole effectively consulted the small business sector; are not delivering the types of activities that small business expect; and that they lack transparency and lines of accountability.

The findings have been derived through surveys of Leps, local authority representatives, FSB members and development managers.

There has been much uncertainty and confusion surrounding the remit and purpose of Leps, so perhaps the findings are unsurprising. However, it is evident from this work, that, three years since their introduction, they are still work in progress. This matters because local economies need local businesses who provide decent jobs which improve the social and economic fortunes of employees, families and communities. However, for this link to work effectively, public policy must be both receptive to local business needs and reflective of the bespoke local social and economic context.

The work also augments broader concerns which I have about the state of economic development policy in England today. Lep activity has become overly focused on delivering the priorities of Whitehall, with an emphasis on a narrow set of ideas about economic growth via strategic infrastructure.

This is important, but Leps also need to give due consideration to local concerns as regards procurement, supply chains etc. They should also be thinking through how any local economic growth translates into social forms of growth and the addressing of key challenges around worklessness and health inequalities.

Our findings and evidence from wider discussions with economic development officers in local government suggests a lack of joint working across Leps, local authorities and other stakeholders on economic development activities. Leps have not fully taken advantage of the data analysis, interpretation and strategy development skills of local authorities; nor have they necessarily aligned activities to those of other economic development deliverers such as the work programme providers.

I would argue that Leps need to join up their activities with other stakeholders so that more of a whole place approach to economic development is adopted. This means: recognising the role and importance of local government; complimenting and adding value to existing economic development strategy; and working with organisations across the public, commercial and voluntary and community sectors to deliver better economic and social outcomes.

  • More information about the work with the FSB can be viewed here.



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Mike Riddell
Mike Riddell
9 years ago

I agree with the majority of what Matthew writes here. But having spent time working in one of Wigan’s community centres and experiencing first hand how the public sector and third sector interact with such community groups, there is one thing I have to disagree with.

Local authorities should step out of the way. Too often they steal ideas from community groups in an attempt to shore up their own revenue streams and too often they combine funding (of such groups) with politics as a way to retain control.

In the end I’ve concluded that local authorities are self-serving and stand in the way of funding intended to help make a difference to people’s lives and places they live, and the physical act of making a difference which ultimately must be carried out by community.

As an infrastructure provider they’re rife with politics and consequently inefficient and ineffective.

If they were more resourceful, they would find a way to turn underused resources like under- or unemployed people into productive assets and or find a way to reward pro-social or pro-environmental behaviour.

But they aren’t.

They don’t understand resourcefulness and are gradually becoming unsustainable infrastructure providers.

Same goes for the CVS.

Their systems are analogue when they need to be digital.

Other than that, Matthew is bang on. The need to transform the way in which we connect society’s goodwill to the communities and causes that really make a difference is one of the biggest business opportunities that has presented itself this century.

If not the biggest.

It isn’t just a business opportunity for business, it’s a business opportunity for community.

Community is slowly becoming more enterprising. Local authority is slowly becoming more enterprising. Everyone is having to become more enterprising, including I’m sure CLES and its clients.

Enterprise is the order of the day and enterprises which help not hinder the production of community are in the right place from a revenue point of view because we the people are demanding more community, more resourcefulness, more accountability and more common sense.

Politics is done for.

Enterprise is where it’s at and England’s north west has the chance to prove it.


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