Tristram Hunt led off the most recent Culture and Creative Industries breakfast session, bemoaning the lack of clarity in government policy on localism and democratic renewal.
He wasn’t against much of what is being developed – and, indeed, the Local Economic Partnership (LEP) model was identified as a potentially ground-breaking way of focusing energy and resources around industrial and demographic requirements, rather than arbitrary borough or regional boundaries – bringing together public and private sector to develop long-term programmes for growth.
But the main threat to the regional and local infrastructure that underpins cultural and creative activity is the lack of funding, and the absence of any top-down co-ordination of local initiatives. Local authority funding cuts are severe and uneven – and do not appear in any way to reflect recent LEP selections.
There’s a view that RDAs have become bloated bureaucracies, but at least they brought a clarity and co-ordination to economic development – and they have been absolutely instrumental in fostering and promoting a new energy and enterprise regionally: whether it’s Media City in Salford, the London Design Festival, or initiatives such as ‘Own It‘ or DoTT in the south west and north east.
It would be foolhardy to think that under-resourced LEPs can somehow provide a lean-and-mean substitute for much of this. There are no plans, for example, to transfer the specialist staffing, knowledge and resources within many RDA teams; and, despite getting a government imprimatur, it’s clear that the LEPs won’t necessarily get any Regional Growth Funding, which will be distributed via a completely different system. Approving plans for a LEP in Somerset isn’t much use, if central government is cutting back on the local authority funding which supports the arts in the county.
Locally-driven visions for growth are to be welcomed, and a new compact between the public and private sector focused on economic renewal could provide a real platform for new ideas (take, for example, the proposals emanating from some of the city-regions such as Bristol/West of England and Stoke-and-Staffordshire). But their success will depend on clear leadership – and investment – from within Westminster and Whitehall, and a long-term plan for growth.
3 thoughts on “Localism and leadership”
Graham, it’s not clear from the post whether the description of RDAs as ‘bloated bureaucracies’ was yours or a quotation from Tristram Hunt – whichever, the evidence points a different way. NWDA achieved ROI of over £5 for every £1 invested, and that return was higher in areas where we were able to focus resource on specific challenges such as provision of skills to the digital media work force and efforts to redress the imbalance in the UK economy by attracting new foreign direct investment to the North. Admittedly, the LEPs may have it in their DNA to do better – but it seems unlikely that they will get the initial £1 with which to continue to invest in sectors with proven growth potential, including digital & creative industries.
There currently seems to be a consensus across much of the Westminster poltical elite that RDAs were ineffective and inefficient, yet as Iain suggests, none of these claims seem to be evidenced at all. Not every intervention worked (when does it ever), but plenty of things worked very well indeed. People need to urgently restate the case for regional investment in economic development because half-baked LEPs and poor local authorities are never going to provide the ‘export-led recovery’ or ‘rebalanced economy’ that everyone is so desperate to see.
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