I asked to facilitate this topic as – at the risk of sounding desperately pompous – I think that the need to change the mix and nature of our economy is one of the most important issues we are facing right now. I’m not an expert in this area and so I’m going to working with people who are experts to help highlight the issues and challenge that Local Authorities face in trying to focus economic growth in their localities. I’m the CEX of a SME called Public-i and you can see what I am expert in here!
Most importantly I’m extremely lucky that I will be working with Sue Bruce, Chief Executive of Edinburgh City, and my next post will capture where she sees this debate being focused and who we need to talk to – she is an expert and will bring her knowledge and experience to the debate and I know I will learn a lot.
As I said I’m not an expert here but I am someone who is trying to run and grow a small business that works almost entirely with the Public Sector in some of the most challenging conditions you can imagine and know what it is to be on the receiving end of this process of economic development and I hope that this perspective will bring an immediacy and practicality to the conversation.
As it stands right now – before I speak in detail to Sue – I see four areas to focus on:
- A discussion of the proposed changes to local taxation and business rates – put bluntly who wins and who loses if business rates go local? At the same time we need to talk about the new LEPs and how they are working, where they are working. In a nutshell – Local Government will perhaps control more the levers of economic growth – how do we think they should use them?
- A discussion about whether we have the right skills in local areas – and some clarity about what skills we need to drive economic growth rather than to support pre-existing activity
- We need to talk about the fact that areas do not all start from the same place – the growth challenges facing economically weak areas (local authority administrative areas, travel to work areas, subregions, etc) are truly different than those facing prosperous areas. How does the role of local government change in these different circumstances?
- This will cross over with other propositions but I think we need to talk about what the impact of spinning out services to social enterprises, Mutuals and Partners might be. How could this drive local economic growth rather than just removing costs from the public sector directly and creating a buffer between the Public and Private Sectors – how do we make these new models part of the local economy?
There is another theme that I want to explore as well and I will be asking other people from the private sector – both entrepreneurs and established leaders – whether they share my concern that one of the inhibiting factors for local government in leading local economic growth is the ambivalent relationship which local government often has with the commercial sector. Are there the levels of trust and partnership between private and public sectors that will be needed to work together to drive growth really there – do we understand each other well enough?
This is intended to be a conversation and a chance for people to shape the debate that we will have in more detail in October at the Summit. The first question therefore is do you like the shape of the four points I am breaking this down into or am I already barking up the wrong tree?