If there is an upside to the worst economic crisis of modern times it is the emergence of an audience for deep seated and radical proposals. They distrust talk of isolated initiatives or quick wins. An ever more competitive world will only become more competitive not less. The structures and attitudes of yesterday did not work that well then and certainly will not cope with the new world order.
All my experience confirms that competitive funding is key to unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit in local areas. It injects a surge of excitement and incentivises communities to seek a wider and much more ambitious vision to anything they had thought of before. A healthy rivalry between areas comes into play. It drives collaboration, creativity, commitment and ambition. I therefore believe that the single pot of central government funds for economic development should be made available to local areas on a competitive basis.
The Government will need to set out the requirements that LEPs must meet in their bids to secure funding. It should consult LEPs, local authorities and the business community in doing so. It is important that this framework is focused on high level outcomes and does not become detailed and prescriptive. This would rein in the creativity of local areas and undermine the benefits of local empowerment. However, there will be some essential criteria which have to be met for government to devolve such significant funding.
LEPs should therefore be given additional funding, specifically to develop their new strategic plans. This must be used to hire professional private sector planners as part of a deliberate attempt to spread best practice, engage private sector expertise and avoid LEPs being entirely dependent on the already stretched planning departments of their local authorities.
This leads to the conclusion that we should bring together civil servants from different departments whose work impacts on the economy into Local Growth Teams so they can work seamlessly together, closer to the people and agencies affected by their work. They should facilitate both economic development matters that straddle LEP boundaries and partnerships around and between functional economic market areas