Saturday, 10 September 2011

Leeds City Region needs enterprise, excitement and initiative - not sure that's what its getting

Yesterday – following their extravagant summit -  I wrote many a fine word about the problems with Leeds City Region LEP. The unrepresentative, public sector majority board, the Leeds-centric nature of the emerging strategy and the manner in which the ‘plan’ merely revisits the failed plans and strategies of the past thirty years. We appear to have learned little in that time and to have grown an exoskeleton of impenetrable regeneration babble to excuse that lack of learning.

But rather than a diatribe about this, I want to comment on how these bodies can be made to work – but only if we ignore the dominant ‘shiny regeneration’ approach to economic development.

If Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are to work, it won’t be through fine words and setting targets over which the Partnership has absolutely no control.  And it certainly won’t be by staging a few cosy fireside chats with self-selected business audiences or by buttering up some big property developers or retailers in the hope that they’ll wave their magic business wand and create that “dynamic, low carbon economy” everyone seems to want.

The clue – if we need one – lies in the name. In those two words – “local” and “enterprise”. This isn’t about the nonsensical and mythical “competitive advantage” game (that Porter has so much to answer for) or the Jane Jacobs for property developers that the Centre for Cities peddles. Success comes because people – local people succeed. Success comes from having an enterprising, creative and innovative population.

This isn’t about fast trains, enterprise zones or “City Region Strategies”, it’s about stomping around local communities talking to local folk, chatting with the corner shopkeeper, listening to the aspirations of these neighbourhoods. That’s where the growth will come from – not in revisiting the broken windows fallacy but in the enterprise and initiative of ordinary people.

If the LEPs simply become ways to divvy up grants and to farm the development taxes everyone seems so keen on (which are just another drag on economic growth), then they will fail. So a few bits of the ‘city region’ will benefit from this cash injection while the fundamental problem – our lack of enterprise compared to successful places – is simply not addressed.

Here are a few things I think that a LEP should do:

  1. Extend the successful community-based enterprise development work done in Bradford across the city-region
  2. Create a network of enterprise colleges under the ‘free schools’ model – concentrating this in the poorest communities
  3. Establish a business microfinance system – lots of businesses need a little as £500 to get going and the LEP could help support this sort of lending
  4. Sponsor and support business networking, local business hubs and enterprise support – working at the local level

The essence of this is that it is focused on people rather than on grand projects, big business or the ever elusive inward investment. If we have successful, exciting people, we will get successful and exciting businesses. And this will attract more excitement, more success and more business. And that growth in “gross value added” we all seek.

But most importantly, it will be fun.



Anonymous said...


That touched a nerve I now discover is still raw.

"The unrepresentative, public sector majority board, the Leeds-centric nature of the emerging strategy and the manner in which the ‘plan’ merely revisits the failed plans and strategies of the past thirty years"

Remember, Aireborough Urban District Council?

The children's playground equipment in the local park was so old and dangerous that it had been condemned.

The ratepayers of the area had paid up for a new set of equipment.
It had been delivered and was sitting, bright and shiny and ready to be installed in the council yard quarter of a mile away.

Then they were taken over by Leeds, who, I was told, took all the equipment to the inner city,leaving the local kids without.

I'm told they took the new bin lorry, apparently the small snow plough that was used to keep the pavements clear, I know that they demolished the greenhouses in the park that amongst other things, had been used to provide floral displays to the local schools on speech days.

And then not long ago they put up large signs saying "Welcome to Leeds" on the approach to villages.

Strangers to the area must have panicked wondering where they were. We were merely outraged.

They even allowed building all over the sledging field.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that after reportedly running it down for a few years, they turned my old grammar school into a housing estate.

Mike Chitty said...

A city region of around 3m people like Leeds would require a network of around 75 coaches to provide access to person centred coaching support for everyone that really wanted it, or, as you put it to stomp around local communities....

It would engage about 45 000 people in the process of providing direct hands on assistance to their peers.
It would provide direct assistance to about 16500 beneficiaries a year, the vast majority of whom would make significant progress in their personal journeys as a result of benefiting from a coaching rather than a coercive approach.
I would anticipate at least 750 sustainable business starts from this cohort every year. I would envisage business survival rates around the 90% rate after 3 years.
It would make a very real difference to the perceptions of some 20 000 people a year about the extent to which they feel that they ‘belong to’ and ‘feel supported’ in their community.
In addition to traditional ‘enterprise’ outputs I would expect substantial impacts on health and well-being as well as increases in volunteering, cultural productivity, mental health, fitness and so forth.
It would help to integrate the dual priorities of economy and community rather than treating them as separate and often incompatible determinants.
Within 3-7 years I would expect it to have made a sustained and measurable difference to the enterprise culture in the city region.
And it would cost about £3.75 million a year.

The price of a very rich wo/man’s house.

Will any LEP embrace such a decentralised, empowering and 'capital project lite' approach?