Guest post by Christine Gaskell, Chair of Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership and is a member of the independent Industrial Strategy Council.
With the announcement of the Industrial Strategy a year ago, the government threw down a gauntlet to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to deliver regional business growth and innovation.
The aim of the Industrial Strategy is to boost productivity by backing businesses to create good jobs and increase the earning power of people throughout the UK with investment in skills, industries and infrastructure.
The Industrial Strategy is also, as Business Secretary Greg Clark said last week, the government’s long-term plan for preparing and investing in the post-Brexit economy.
To succeed, local’ must underpin 'national'
Earlier this year, my counterparts and I from across the country met the Prime Minister at Downing Street as her Council of LEP Chairs to map out key areas for cooperation under the strategy.
All of us reinforced our commitment to help deliver it, using our strengths and expertise to lead local strategies for economic growth.
I was again at Downing Street more recently as the LEP representative on the government’s Industrial Strategy Council to bring that required local perspective.
It is important that as work on Local Industrial Strategies (LIS) progress across the country there is robust evaluation and that they are aligned as best as possible to the government’s goals.
This is all about ensuring that the UK’s economy punches above its weight and to do so it must be place-focused, which was a key take away of the Industrial Strategy Council.
Decisions must happen locally
Each of the LEPs is best placed to advise on what is right for its locality and geography and all will need to ensure that any programme is suitably ambitious and delivers long-term economic growth that works for everyone.
When the LEP Chairs met Education Secretary, Damian Hinds separately in October 2018, he said 'LEPs have a vital role to play in delivering strong local economies.
'As business-led partnerships they are at the heart of responding to skills needs and building local industrial strategies that will help individuals and businesses gain the skills they need to grow'.
Our Local Industrial Strategies also have to be for the long-term if they stand any chance of succeeding and need to set out clearly defined priorities for how cities, towns and rural areas will maximise their contribution to UK productivity.
Celebrating our local strengths
In short, they will allow places to make the most of their distinctive strengths. We are also striving to have and maintain a more diverse, inclusive economy, resilient to economic shocks and which benefits all.
This process is well underway in my own LEP area of Cheshire and Warrington and with others follows the ‘trailblazer’ wave led by Greater Manchester, West Midlands and the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Corridor, all of which are due to publish in March next year.
In truth we have been planning for several months to ensure we were ready when the government called for more regions to submit proposals.
We have been keen to ensure that our thinking around our strategy is grounded in reality and our extensive consultation with businesses, public partners and civil society ensures that our local strategy reflects the key sectors and strengths of our region while meeting the foundations and grand challenges that the government wants to develop.
Also, through our Strategic Economic Plan we have discovered where we have ‘super’ strengths - high productivity, specialised, high value jobs - namely in Chemicals, Petroleum and Pharmaceuticals and Motor Vehicle Manufacturing.
We also have distinctive sectoral specialisms in high-value engineering, energy, and professional and business services, as well as growth potential in food, agri-tech and biological engineering.
Manufacturing sector accounts for 23 per cent of economy - two and half times more than the national average
We have also found out that we while our working population is more skilled than anywhere else in the north, it’s also is much older than other parts of the country, so our Local Industrial Strategy must address this and reflect where we concentrate our efforts to seize and exploit opportunity.
This process so far has convinced me that if each LEP, and Mayoral Authority, takes a necessarily robust approach to their particular audit then we will, as localities and a nation, be able to take a significant step forward.
And it’s great to hear that the third and final wave of local strategies has now been announced – meaning that 12 months after the launch of the modern Industrial Strategy the whole country is now united in a partnership, pushing for productivity and prosperity.