Paddy Bradley, Director of Swindon and Wiltshire LEP explains how Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) across England are working on Industrial Strategies relevant to their areas and co-produced with government
The aim is that by March 2020, all areas of England will have produced Industrial Strategies that are focussed on the recognisable economies and natural capital of their place, increased rates of growth by linking to relevant Grand Challenges, improved the productivity of UK plc by strengthening the foundations of productive endeavour and taken an inclusive approach to building prosperity.
The co-ordination of local industrial strategies, guided by a national framework, covering the whole of England is a huge step forward and one which is welcomed by LEPs. Our raison d’être is sustainable economic growth so this is our opportunity to make a significant difference to our country.
“Local” knowledge and understanding are at the core of effective “local” industrial strategies. We know the importance of our natural environment, the contribution of and the challenges facing the rural economy as well as the need to create exciting spaces for new ideas to develop. LEPs are business-led organisations but work in a public-private sector zone of influence. Each partnership needs to understand the role of all the partners and especially the way Local Authorities and LEPs address economic development. It is the responsibility of LEPs to produce Local Industrial Strategies and it is LEPs which will be accountable to the government for their implementation.
Our strategies need to build resilience in our local economies. For example, Salisbury has suffered a significant economic shock because of the major incidents in 2018. The ancient and beautiful city has a strong dependence on retail and tourism, both badly affected over this last year.
Through our strategy, we will take Salisbury beyond recovery to growth through investment in digital connectivity, a revitalised retail offer, enhanced provision for higher skills in in-demand sectors and transforming the visitor and night-time economies.
Salisbury is a great place to live for the people taking up the thousands of new, high-value jobs we anticipate being created in South Wiltshire due to the tremendous opportunities provided by defence, security, life sciences and aerospace.
The government has set LEPs the task of ensuring anyone can recognise the “place” within each local industrial strategy. LEPs are working to achieve this by building a robust evidence base for change which is independently verified. The government has provided financial and technical support for this which is very much welcomed. Our strategy will include priorities that businesses and residents want and will reflect growing local trends in employment and exploiting technology to produce new products and processes.
In Swindon and Wiltshire, we are building new workspaces for digital talent using the draw of our heritage and natural environment; and supporting the growth of exciting engineering talent to help restore the importance of a “makers” economy.
All places are looking for that which is unique – by definition, there are few examples in the country. In our case, we do have one – Porton Down and our Local Industrial Strategy will seek to work with DSTL and Public Health England on the commercial opportunities provided by the research and development they undertake.
Our local knowledge and understanding includes knowing the granular detail of our economy and where the strengths and weaknesses lie. It is crucial that businesses are at the heart of the development and successful delivery of local industrial strategies. Our local economies are not constrained by LEP or local authority boundaries and cross-LEP working is a natural outcome of giving 38 business-led organisations the responsibility for improving productivity and sustainable economic growth.
Swindon and Wiltshire LEP has great connectivity east and west; room for improvement north and south and we know we will not grow sufficiently if we do not help businesses to strengthen their existing links beyond our boundary. The physical distances are minuscule in this country compared to other nations of the world. Digital technology can make some irrelevant.
In Swindon and Wiltshire, we look to the east to the Thames Valley and the Oxford – Milton Keynes-Cambridge arc for life sciences, advanced engineering and improved transport links, including to Heathrow and the City. We are working with LEPs in the south-west to implement the recommendations of our joint Rural Productivity Commission, identified as an exemplar in the National Industrial Strategy.
To the north, we want to build on our cyber resilience alliance with GFirst, The Marches and Worcester LEPs. Looking both east and west, including into Wales, we wish to use the marvellous economic opportunity of the M4 to build a corridor for new energy vehicles and exploit further our expertise in hydrogen technology. The southern ports are essential to our export potential and improved road and rail connectivity will be much-needed additions to our strengths.
No LEP wishes to write a well-argued, impeccably researched local industrial strategy that remains unopened due to lack of resources. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is vital and we await the final details on this. Brexit plays its part! Clearly, the means by which we disengage from the EU, or engage for a little longer or whatever is decided are determining factors in the way the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is positioned and resourced.
What is apparent, however, is that LEPs will need to be cognisant of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund as this will be a major resource to implement their local industrial strategies. The previously circulated ideas underpinning the UK Shared Prosperity Fund ensure that LEPs embrace inclusive growth in their strategies and enable bids to the fund to have strong hooks into the locally determined priorities. We hope for a mix of revenue and capital, giving a sustainable financial future to LEPs and building on the successes of the Local Growth Deal.
However, notwithstanding our local prioritisation, we cannot deliver our objectives without:
- A commitment by government to deliver the road and rail strategic transport priorities already confirmed – in our case A303 – probably through some public/private financing model;
- Accelerated delivery of the universal service obligation for broadband (by 2025);
- Funding and greater devolution to sub-regional areas (through Combined Authorities and LEPs) commensurate to the scale of the area and existing Local Growth Fund and European Structural Investment Fund allocations;
- Sector Deals include at their core recognition of place as has been achieved although not yet implemented in the Nuclear Sector Deal; and
- Greater recognition of the importance of retaining sovereign capability particularly for example in defence – once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Having produced local industrial strategies, LEPs are very well placed to manage the delivery of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund in their areas.
Please note: This is a commercial profile
Swindon and Wiltshire LEP