Monday, 17 December 2012

Expert round up: is government holding back local economic growth?

Whitehall aims to promote local growth, but is it restricting progress? Our council experts share their thoughts

"Whitehall civil servants will have breadth but not necessarily depth" Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Neil McInroy is chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies

The government must grasp a new narrative: Instead it is locked into aged thinking and is actually ignoring the seeds of new forms of growth, resilient economies and place success, which is happening around them. This includes the rise of social alternative financial models, appreciation of a social return on investment, new forms of exchange, production and consumption cooperatives, social businesses, self sufficiency and altruistic practices.
Does economic growth have to mean building over the countryside? I see it as a symptom of desperation and am dismayed by it. To just relax planning and build could assist in some instances, but come on! Surely, we must have a more sophisticated narrative of how england's economy is to develop and how it relates to social trends, demographic and environemntal challenges?
Local economic success: Michael Heseltine's work largely fails to appreciate that local economic success is predicated on inputs of commercial, social and public sectors within the guiding hand of a national economic plan which stewards us away from finacial services, towards manufacturing and local entrepreneurship.
Taking baby steps: In an international sense the city deal process is actually a baby step in terms of true economic decentralistaion and rise of vibrant city states. For it to accelerate it would need a much deeper and alternative economic narrative for England. This is not being advanced.

Tom Bridges is chief economic development officer at Leeds city council

Fundamental questions: It is easy to get overly focused on governance and funding mechanisms and debates about economic growth, and lose sight of some of the more fundamental questions, such as where are the new jobs going to come from? How do we harness the huge waves of innovation that we will see in future years?

Adam Fineberg is an independent advisor on local public services

The way forward? Perhaps a more local "growth coalition" tied in with local authority areas – unitary or second tier – with pooling of all the local monies for growth is the way forward. If there is no local pooling mechanism to drive growth and integration of services then we have to do our very best in terms of integrating mainstream services, across the spectrum of needs, so that the resident is at the heart of everything we do.

David Hunter is a consultant with solicitors Bates Wells and Braithwaite

It is not possible to pursue every opportunity: It is still preferable for councils to identify where they believe they either can – or most need to – make a difference. Often, they can actually do a lot more than they might think if they are bold and innovative.
Do we all mean the same thing by "economic growth"? Are we merely talking about increasing GDP, or each area's contribution to this? All this measures is 'busy-ness': a woefully inadequate measure of a thriving society. So it may not just be about creating jobs, but the nature of those jobs, and who may be suitable candidates for them.
Be radical: One of the most effective interventions local authorities can make at this time is resist the pressure to do less of the same and take the opportunity to be radical; to look at whether preventative services can be commissioned and, if that means other public entities benefit from the savings created, then using the social outcome fund to help subsidise them.

Gwen Swinburn is a local economic development adviser based in York

We should be looking at economic development, not just growth:Even the most right wing person should be able to appreciate the economic value of ensuring economic growth benefits less advantaged members of the community.

Simon Neilson is assistant director, strategy and policy at Essex county council

The long grass: Heseltine's single pot idea for many is welcomed, however like the aviation debate, the government's long grass stance of placing it into the post-2015 pile means that we will all be distracted by process for a couple of years, while the need for growth is pressing now. I just hope the bidding process learns the lessons from the Regional Growth Fund experience.

Allison Ogden Newton is chair of the Transition Institute

The signs are less than encouraging: Very little seems to be thought about or understood beyond limited tax breaks for large manufacturing and a sustained welcoming environment to maintain the continued presence of the big banks and financial institutions.
Side effects of complex commissioning: One of my overriding worries is the culture of complex commissioning we are creating will mean that only those good at writing bids will get contracts. The complexity of even the most straightforward commissioning process, fraught with the anxiety of getting anything wrong together with the emphasis on best price, is seeing local providers being wiped out and employee-led start ups think again.

Iain Reeve is assistant director, economy, transport and planning at Surrey county council

The debate should not be just about the cities: At Surrey we can't help a little smile when we hear that cities are the powerhouses of the UK economy. Non-city areas such as Surrey and the Thames Valley actually contribute more to the UK economy and the exchequer than any city other than London.
Ideas need to come from central and local government: Whitehall civil servants will have breadth but not necessarily depth, agile thinkers who will do better in the general knowledge bit of Mastermind than the specialist subject round. By contrast, local government staff are more likely to be professionally qualified and have much more specialist knowledge.
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