Let’s have joined –up Government
Despite Brexit being in full, or at least half, swing it’s interesting to see that European funding is still filtering down to promote further economic development. As an example I came across a statement recently announcing that £14.35M was being granted by the European Regional Development Fund to the Local Enterprise Partnership ‘Coast to Capital’. Part of this included a commitment of £4m to support low carbon technologies and industry.
Whilst this must be applauded it’s hard not to feel concerned that the long term effectiveness of such development will be affected by the drying up of these funding sources. As a comparison the EU baseline funding for the 2014-2020 was £10bn whereby the UK Government spend between 2010 and 2015 was only £6.2bn.
More importantly than that however is the need for the UK to plan more strategically so that future funding and development really creates positive long term change.
At present the bodies through which development planning can be facilitated are fragmented to say the least. This view is supported by a number of economic commentators. For example in a recent blog entitled ‘what future for UK regional development after Brexit?’ Professor John Bachtler agrees that the ‘context for regional policy is not favourable with a fragmented approach to regional and local development. He argues that a once powerful domestic, UK-wide regional policy has been whittled away with divergent approaches to regional development and institutions since 2010, superseded by local and urban initiatives with variable resources, coherence, co-ordination or permanence. These include the devolution deals, the proposed Northern Powerhouse, the Midlands Engine, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Enterprise Zones.
He goes on to say that the asymmetric path towards devolution has left the UK without mechanisms for co-ordinating policy objectives and instruments for territorial imbalance.
The formation of the LEP’s is a prime example of this fragmented approach. This originated from the Tory Government’s desire to reduce central control and bring in a bidding system to local business areas. This, not surprisingly, has led to cherry picking with LEP’s’ representing already well developed economic areas at the expense of those more needy deprived districts.
The facts do tend to back these up. For example The Manchester Institute of Innovation and Research discovered that while the UK is home to the richest region in Europe 31 out of 40 UK regions have GDP below the EU28 average.
A more strategic approach is one that is favoured by a number of continental European countries. In addition the conditions surrounding much of the European development funding encourages a more strategic approach. For example a considerable amount of funding was offered through the EU Cohesion Policy, which demanded collaboration between Local and Central Government and the EU.
If we are to tackle the challenging issues of the 21st century, such as adopting an effective low carbon economy, creating fairer opportunities for all, and creating transport infrastructure fit for our times we need to develop a culture of co-ordination and joined up thinking.
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