On Thursday, I had the pleasure of being in Hull to attend two events organised by The Humber Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) that were designed to illustrate the work of the LEP and its partners over the past year, and to also showcase a blueprint for a new local industrial strategy that the LEP is putting out to public consultation. Both meetings were part of the annual ‘Business Week’ programme.
The backdrop to the discussions at Hull’s Doubletree Hilton Hotel was how The Humber is leading the drive nationally towards the UK increasing substantially the amount of energy generated through renewable sources. Major investments by global firms, including Siemens and Orsted, amongst others, have highlighted the attractiveness of The Humber as a focal-point of the UK’s offshore wind sector, and it is understandable that the sector is being afforded a pivotal role within the emergent Humber local industrial strategy. Evidently, there is a wealth of talent and expertise locally that is committed to making sure the offshore wind sector acts as a key driver of a more productive and more sustainable local economy.
In listening to the different contributions during the course of the morning, a number of issues are apparent in relation to the new local industrial strategy.
First, the University of Hull is a classic example of an anchor institution which, due to its relative size and scale, functions as a major economic actor, a key source of science and innovation and vital contributor to skills development within the local labour market. In addition, the university takes seriously its civic responsibility to help build and sustain vibrant and inclusive communities in Hull.
Second, the university and the LEP refuse to be constrained by ‘LEP boundaries’, and are actively pursuing partnerships and collaborations within The Humber, across Yorkshire, the north of England, and nationally and internationally in pursuit of realising a set of ambitions being laid out in the emergent local industrial strategy.
Third, the highly-centralised nature of the UK, coupled with an uneven and ad-hoc approach to decentralisation and devolution in England, means that The Humber still lacks sufficient tools, mechanisms and resources to create the fundamental step-change in economic performance. The fact that The Humber LEP has decided to develop an industrial strategy without waiting for formal central government guidance is a positive statement of local ambition.
Fourth, the prospect of further institutional upheaval arising from the government-led LEP Review, whilst well-intended, should not undermine existing effective strategic partnerships across local authority boundaries.
Finally, on a day when the LEP was setting out its plans, House of Fraser announced the closure of 31 stores in the UK and Ireland, including Hull and Grimsby, with the potential loss locally of over 200 jobs. It is a sobering reminder that external forces often lie outside the control of national government, let alone local and regional development policy. Equally, however, such news also provides compelling evidence as to why local and regional development institutions, including universities, are needed, and why they cannot afford to be complacent, but instead continue to move forward as the Humber LEP, equipped with its local industrial strategy, is clearly seeking to demonstrate.