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Member blog – Addressing the gaps: Local Industrial Strategies

 

At December’s IED Annual Conference, entitled Mind the Gap – Productivity, Place and People, Lichfields sponsored and led a workshop on Local Industrial Strategies (LIS).

We posed some key questions to delegates and, facilitated by IED Directors, these were explored by public and private sector members in the form of individual roundtable discussions. This blog captures and summarises the key points raised in these discussions.

What should be the broad objectives of a LIS?

This question was explored by two groups. Delegates in the first group were in agreement that a LIS should be focused on the locality, driving inclusive growth and prosperity for all, and leading to further investment from emerging or future successful industries. However, it was clear that the broad objectives of a LIS would not be the same in every location – and nor should they be. In addition, the need for clear prioritisation in a LIS should make the final document from every area look and feel different. Some delegates felt
that distinctiveness was lacking from some Regional Economic Strategies and Strategic Economic Plans in the past.

The second group also emphasised the need for local distinctiveness, but questioned whether different areas would be susceptible to making similar claims around key industries and opportunities; some way of defining the ‘best’ ROI would therefore be needed in order to evaluate where effort should be focused. Delegates also discussed the need not to have too many objectives, and suggested there should be a stronger emphasis on skills through an LIS. Generally, both groups viewed skills and education as key underlying principles for every LIS.

Legitimately, groups queried whether existing economic development resources would be sufficient to support LIS development over the relatively short timeframes involved. The balance between government potentially seeking ‘quick wins’ in terms of outcomes versus addressing the long-term economic challenges and opportunities was also debated.

Strategies come and go, so how do we build accountability into the LIS?

The question of accountability was discussed, and ultimately who ‘owns’ a LIS. It was agreed that Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are essentially the responsible bodies. However, delegates felt that different structures in different areas could make it difficult to achieve consensus around an LIS, even where a good track record of partnership working already exists. The hierarchy of strategies that operate across upper and lower tier authorities – and other arrangements such as existing City Deals or Growth Deals – have the potential to bring confusion or conflicting priorities. It was agreed, however, that having proper representation from local areas and from a variety of partner organisations was a must, to help build consensus.

In time, every LEP is creating a LIS cascaded from the UK’s Industrial Strategy. Is this devolution and what should devolution mean in economic development strategy and structure?

On the question of whether LIS represents devolution, delegates agreed that whilst LIS sets a broad direction of travel it is not a ‘catch all’ economic development strategy, and would not obviate the need for local areas to continue to progress their own strategy development in support of local projects and planning.

Delegates considered that LIS is about putting the focus on key sectors and raising standards across whole industries and their supply chains nationally, looking beyond local boundaries. It was felt that devolution should give direct power and resources to functional economic areas, and provide the opportunity for localities to have direct conversations with relevant government departments to actively support their objectives.

At Lichfields, we have identified four key ‘building blocks’ for developing a successful LIS (see more at https://lichfields.uk/media/4652/industrial-strategy_advice-and-support-to-shape-local-industrial-strategies.pdf):

1. Identifying economic clusters and priorities

2. Partnership working, leadership and governance

3. Allocating resources and prioritising investment

4. Monitoring delivery and evaluating success

We work closely with a range of different partners across the country to evidence and shape their collective economic narrative, vision and strategy to enable places to thrive. We can help by bringing our extensive experience and track record in supporting our clients to articulate their economic case, secure investment and assess their impact.

Ciaran Gunne-Jones is Senior Director and Head of Economics at Lichfields. Lichfields has also produced a blog following the IED Annual Conference: https://lichfields.uk/blog/2019/january/9/institute-of-economic-development-conference/