The government’s Industrial Strategy is taking shape at local level and now is the time to engage

Duncan Neish, 13 November 2018

Productivity is a longstanding UK weakness – yet it’s a vital determinant of prosperous people and places. As Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman famously said, ‘Productivity isn't everything, but, in the long run, it is almost everything.’

The Industrial Strategy aims to boost the UK’s productivity, and much of what’s needed to do that will be contained in Local Industrial Strategies. These are now being developed and I think housing associations should be involved in shaping them.

The Industrial Strategy sets out five ‘pillars of productivity’: ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment, and places. It emphasises support for ‘left behind’ communities as well as investing in established strengths. This touches on the concept of inclusive growth – something we’re exploring through our Great Places programme.

Housing associations are well-placed to pursue inclusive growth. They can be important ‘anchor institutions’ in communities whose challenges – such as worklessness and insecure, low-paid work – are rooted in economic fragility and low productivity.

All parts of England should have an agreed Local Industrial Strategy by early 2020. Some are already advanced – the pioneer areas of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are consulting on theirs – others less so.

How to shape a Local Economic Strategy

Engaging with Local Industrial Strategy leaders is the first step. In most places, that’s the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). In mayoral combined authority areas, the mayor leads.

The Government is urging these leaders to harness the evidence and contribution of a wide range of local stakeholders. LEPs’ record on this is mixed, though, so don’t wait to be asked!

It’s important to have a good story to tell, and housing associations do. Many are major economic players in local communities, and deliver important economic and social development activities (including, according to a recent report, £70m per annum on employment and training programmes). They often operate in challenging areas, and may act as trusted intermediaries for others seeking to effect positive change.

Consider collaboration with other housing associations and local stakeholders. Not only can it help share the load, but much good regeneration is delivered this way. Just this week I’ve been looking at the regeneration of Goscote Lane, which brought together a housing association, a local authority and an LEP, drawing on European Structural Funds to support activity beyond physical reconstruction in pursuit of economic and social regeneration too. Or, in other words, creating a great place.

Is this going to be worth the extra work?

There’s no avoiding it – partnerships need investment of time. But wise investments reap rewards, and there are good reasons for engaging:

  • There’s a big job to be done. We’re familiar now with the concept of places and people ‘left behind’. Better housing is part of what’s required but there’s much more besides – some of which housing associations can do, and some of which they can help others do.
  • Resources ain’t what they used to be. Local authority cuts are savage. LEPs aren’t resourced like the development agencies they replaced. There is less funding, and perhaps less still without EU Structural Funds. The forthcoming Shared Prosperity Fund is unlikely to match these, and may not even be targeted at the people and places who most need it. What it does support, however, will be influenced by the Local Industrial Strategy.
  • If we don’t act, others will – and for different reasons. Funding for Local Industrial Strategy delivery won’t be short of bidders and business-focused LEPs might not prioritise inclusive growth. I’m not against building business parks and bypasses – but they should be designed to contribute to inclusive growth, and part of a portfolio that delivers for everyone.
  • It helps us help ourselves. Partnership benefits aren’t always predictable – but canny operators understand investment in relationships pays dividends in many forms. Preferential access to knowledge, land or funding, for example, may arise through deeper connections with key players. You probably know of these people – but do you really know them?
  • It can be done. Our Great Places work has found places – like Seaham in County Durham – have been turned around, given new purpose and hope. It’s not easy, quick or guaranteed – but shared commitment, expressed through good local strategy, backed by adequate resources, is our best bet.

Want to know more?

I hope I’ve convinced you that Local Industrial Strategies are for you. If you’d like to know more, find out about the Federation’s related activity, or share your experience, please get in touch.