“But surely the growth will happen anyway, we don’t need to do anything?”
I was at a meeting of senior stakeholders a few weeks ago when one of them said “but surely the growth will happen anyway, we don’t need to do anything.” I almost fell off my seat. Firstly, we were sitting in an office in a very successful creative and innovation workspace which had benefitted from tons of government funding. Secondly, in a place which had had hundreds of millions in public regeneration funding which had transformed the city’s riverside. Granted, this locality had done well on job creation over the past 5 years. But then, if it didn’t have the Grade A office space and top class creative business spaces that directly resulted from public investment over 20 years, this wouldn’t have happened.
As it happens, this locality still has a lot of impacts of restructuring of various industries such as financial services to deal with, and has significant challenges of educational attainment and worklessness in half of its neighbourhoods.
Most of all, I could think of similar localities in the UK and internationally who were definitely not standing still, but were planning, investing and evolving – and the public sector played a necessary role.
You need to set a firm course in the right direction – it is no use just treading water whilst the tide pulls you onto the rocks, or out to sea
Here’s the rub: even if you stand still in policy terms, the tide is moving your further back. Other localities are leaping ahead with implementing projects like Smart Cities. Greater Manchester has combined its science parks and R&D assets into Manchester Science Partnerships (MSP) now the largest science park operator in the UK with four sites across the North West. There is talk of a new national innovation agency in Wales. Liverpool City Region and the North East LEP have cracking innovation strategies. Many localities are starting to put in place Careers and Adult guidance services, recognising that it is an integral long-term solution to labour market integration and moving young people, particularly those who choose not to attend university into meaningful careers and work.
Particularly as Brexit starts to bite – localities will need to compete twice as hard for international investment and markets
Let’s face it, many FDI projects are here for the UK access to the European Market, and WTO default tariff barriers will make some of our firms’ exports less competitive in Europe and other markets until the UK manages to put in place trade agreements of its own.
This means that all stakeholders in a local economy will have to work even harder at securing international investment and promoting exports. I think that doing nothing will make you half as competitive as you are now in a few years time. The world trade and investment environment will have moved on, leaving your locality behind.
Business rates retention, and a likely increase in competition between UK localities, regions and cities is another reason why standing still is not an option
Local government in the UK has been hammered by cuts over the past six years. There is no sign of a reversal. As local government becomes more and more reliant on its ability to expand its business base for local business rates (taxation) and its ability to build more houses to increase council tax receipts, expect competition for businesses, jobs and talent to hot up within the UK. Its not necessarily the incentives that will matter, but the main business location factors or high quality premises, top class international connectivity, workforce access and local skills. For talent to be attracted and retained, it will be a matter of good career opportunities for professional development, and high quality of life and amenities. So… standing still is still an option? I don’t think so.
You need something in the ammunition belt when government policy shifts in new directions
I’ve been critical before about government policy, this is nothing new. What happens regularly is that government shifts the goalposts, introduces a new policy announcement or a fund.
The UK government has tended to negotiate and fund the localities that have ambitious plans and credible projects or prospectuses for investment first. End of story. Do nothing, get nothing.
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