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The growth of Local Industrial Strategies shows that England is slowly waking up to the power of localism and local government

By Adam Cunnington, managing director of Public Sector Plc

While there has quite rightly been much debate about globalisation and nationalism there has been far less talk about localism.

However, the local government world should celebrate the fact that England has slowly and quietly re-discovered the importance of localism.

Last week, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, backed by local private and public sector leaders agreed England’s second Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) with the Government.

This move occurred less than a month after the West Midlands Combined Authority signed the first LIS.

England has belatedly woken up to the fact that centralisation has been one of the forces holding back our regional and national economy, while similar regional economies across Europe and the rest of the world have embraced devolution and grown faster than ours.

Our Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, successfully argued this point almost three years ago: “For too long, government policy has treated every place as if they were identical. What is needed in each place is different. In my view any successful industrial strategy has to be local.”

While it was pleasing to hear these words what’s more encouraging is that this process is now in full swing and local authority officers and leaders are at the heart of creating LISs through their positions on Local Enterprise Partnerships.

The Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Oxford growth corridor will be next region to publish their LIS followed by six more in wave 2:

  • Cheshire & Warrington
  • Heart of the South West (Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay)
  • Leicester and Leicestershire
  • The North East
  • Tees Valley
  • The West of England (Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset)

From Martin Gannon, the leader of Gateshead Council in the north, to Harvey Siggs, the leader of Mendip District Council in the south, local government – the most efficient part of the public sector – is central to this process.

The third stage will see every Local Enterprise Partnership in England create a LIS.

What can local authorities learn from the LIS’s signed so far?

People: People need to be at the heart of our local industrial strategies. LIS’s give each region the opportunity to drive stronger growth by aligning funding, planning, education and skills training to make the most of local business clusters, local expertise and local employment opportunities. While growth is important, inclusive growth is even more important and regions need to think through how growth can be maximised, captured and spread to maximise benefits for everyone, including creating opportunities for children, older people and the more vulnerable in society.

Places: Town centres the length and breadth of England have been forgotten and need to embrace a new vision to thrive with the decline of retail. We have seen first-hand how dynamic and entrepreneurial local authorities like Chester West and Chester are creating new masterplans for the regeneration of town centres to create stronger communities and better places to live and work.

Partnerships: For too long public private partnerships have tended to favour the private sector and not always delivered outcomes beyond a commercial bottom line. While they might sometimes need to insource skills, local authorities need to remember they hold more of the power and should explore new models that manage risk and deliver better returns, including creating new revenue streams in the age of austerity. Over the past decade Public Sector Plc has worked with 19 local authority partners to create a new delivery model, leading to the investment of more than £374m in new construction projects including the creation of more than 2,300 new homes, 110,000 sq. metres of commercial floorspace and 4,200 new jobs.

When it comes to delivering growth in local areas then local public and private sector leaders know best.

There is a lesson here for Britain’s next Prime Minister to score some quick wins: more devolution please.