In the past few months the Works Centre for Local Economic Growth (WWG) has worked with a group of local and combined authorities, LEPs and central government to understand the challenges all parties face in designing a Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) that is evidence-based and builds upon the existing Strategic Economic Plans that areas have in place. From this, they have pulled together a set of ideas about how both local and central government might address some of those challenges. These 10 ideas are presented in the ‘Developing effective local industrial strategies’ guide, which was launched in London on 25 June, and I was there to hear what the experts had to say about it. Here are some of the key messages I picked up.
Lord Henley, Minister for Industrial Strategy, pointed out that economic growth doesn’t just happen in isolation, but it materialises in specific places. He emphasised that each LIS should reflect local strengths and weaknesses, and build upon local opportunities and place-based initiatives. The emergent strategies must be underpinned by granular and robust evidence and showcase nuanced understanding of local areas. Crucially, the strategies are to be long-term and aligned to the national strategy via the grand challenges or to key sectors. The nature of the relationship will depend on an individual place, and because of this each LIS is bound to be different and contingent. So, it was good to hear the reinforced messages from government and others about the significance of place. On process, the expectation is of an announcement before the summer recess on the next wave(s) of LISs. This was backed up by Stephen Jones, Director of the Cities and Local Growth Unit, who said that they expect all areas to have a LIS developed within the next two years.
Professor Henry Overman, Director of the WWG, talked us through the ten things to consider when developing a LIS in detail. He warned of some tricky trade-offs that are inherent in the process of aligning a LIS with the national strategy, and in particular avoiding duplication. Some difficult decisions will need to be made, because local areas cannot do everything, everywhere, hence prioritisation will be crucial. Overman also pointed out the challenge in balancing targeted (vertical) interventions with more general (horizontal) support, such as skills and employment training programmes that are cross-cutting. He also advised local institutions to avoid high-level numerical targets in terms of aspiring for ‘better jobs’ or ‘higher-skilled jobs’, given that these are hard to define and do not help with prioritisation or accountability. Focus should be placed on identifying well defined and measurable objectives (e.g. through the definition of ‘better jobs’) that can be directly linked to specific interventions. Much more on this can be read in the report.
We also heard from the trailblazers’, such as Greater Manchester and the South East Midlands LEP, about their experience to date in developing a LIS. The main advice was to be clear about what you want to do and what you can offer, as adopting this approach is more likely to attract government funding. They were also clear about the fact that the process takes time, and that it can’t be rushed, because specific proposals need to be honed and agreed and used as a basis for informing future policy development.
One message that resonated throughout the day was that this process is not simply about chasing funding – although investment is important – but that it is also about developing a shared commitment to place amongst local partners and between local areas and national government. And I suppose the PM’s first meeting of the Council of the LEP Chairs on 19 June was held in the same spirit. Then again, given how local areas and local institutions are expected to bid for pots of industrial strategy-based funding, this process remains highly-competitive.