Analysis  ⁄  Economy & enterprise

Will a new South West industrial strategy deliver what it promises?

Our business-led Local Enterprise Partnership appears committed to a new approach to driving growth which its CEO describes as "game-changing".

Heart of the south west lep   Centre for progressive policy   Inclusive growth   Local enterprise partnerships   Regional funding  

The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) new local industry strategy featured prominently at its annual conference in Torquay on 4 November despite it not yet having been published.

It has been signed off by all the partners and seen by other stakeholders, but will remain otherwise unseen until it receives ministerial-level clearance in Whitehall.

What are Local Enterprise Partnerships?

In 2010 the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government published its blueprint for managing local economic growth. It abruptly replaced the nine appointee-led and locally unaccountable regional development agencies in England with 38 LEPs, which were to be business-led and reliant on local authorities and academic institutions for support.

The blueprint was very much a do-it-yourself affair, part of the coalition’s initially warm words towards devolution of decision-making away from Whitehall.

LEP boundaries were not prescribed centrally, which led to the idiosyncratic patchwork of LEPs that now blanket the country, often owing as much to the politics of local identity as to functional economic areas.

The purpose of a LEP is to bid for money for its area from various central government funding streams, such as the local growth fund, and to use this to leverage local match funding. If successful, the LEP then allocates the money to local projects in line with the commitments given to central government and its own assessment of priorities.

Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership annual conference promotional material Heart of the South West LEP annual conference promotional material

The LEP for the “Heart of the South West” covers the local authority areas of Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay. To date it claims to have pulled in over £323 million from central government and a further £460 million in locally raised match funding, which includes local public sector sources.

For publicity purposes, and as set out in its 2019 annual report, the Heart of the South West LEP likes to imply that it is itself responsible for achievements such as building 4,431 new homes in the region.

However in reality the LEP neither lays a single brick nor grants planning permissions for housing developments.

Various reviews by central government, the National Audit Office, parliamentary committees and other organisations have highlighted concerns about the performance of LEPs, while recognising that central government support has at times been inconsistent with devolutionary principles.

For example, LEPs have to reconcile their view of local investment priorities with central government policies which themselves pull in different directions, such as the deregulation of the planning system versus the need to control carbon emissions.

They have also been accused of a lack of transparency and accountability, and of paying insufficient attention to the social and environmental impacts of their decisions. Many of the Heart of the South West LEP’s projects thus far have been road transport development schemes.

Local industrial strategies

In 2018, central government instructed all LEPs to prepare local industrial strategies. A handful have already been published following government approval.

The unpublished Heart of the South West local industrial strategy was described at the LEP’s annual conference by David Ralph, the chief executive appointed in June 2018, as a “game-changer”.

His justification for this claim was that the strategy would focus on growth which was both “inclusive”, in the sense that its proceeds would be distributed more equitably among the area’s population, and “clean” because low carbon projects would be favoured.

In other words, the LEP’s approach is no longer to promote economic growth for its own sake. Instead, growth will follow a net zero carbon route map.

Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership annual conference Local Industrial Strategy panel discussion Heart of the South West LEP annual conference panel discussion

Perhaps the most striking indicator of this new approach was a presentation by Charlotte Aldritt, director of the Centre for Progressive Policy and formerly a key player in the RSA’s inclusive growth project.

Aldritt argued that the traditional measure of economic success - GVA, a shorthand for gross value added - is no longer fit for purpose, as it reinforces an economic model based on achieving growth first then deciding how to distribute its proceeds later.

A high GVA figure for a city may be caused by highly skilled inward commuters, who are rewarded commensurately, while disguising the presence of residents who are excluded from earnings benefits. The persistence of low wages, as in Exeter, is evidence that this model does not work towards eliminating inequality.

In contrast, Aldritt argued, investment should also encompass social infrastructure, such as education and skills, which tends to be excluded from the conventional view of infrastructure as physical provisions such as roads and broadband services.

Factoring in social infrastructure investment enables a wider range of people to participate in the opportunities created in changing economies. GVA therefore needs to be reframed as an indicator which measures the quality of growth, including the extent of its distribution and improvements in the quality of jobs.

Heart of the South West LEP compared with other areas Heart of the South West LEP compared with other areas

Charlotte Aldritt’s argument is not new, since progressive analysts have been encouraging changes of this sort for several years. What is significant is its deployment as the keynote speech at this year’s LEP conference.

CEO David Ralph said that he intended further collaboration with Charlotte Aldritt. She said she judged the unpublished local industrial strategy to be “superb”.

On the evidence of this conference, the Heart of the South West LEP considers combining inclusive growth with clean growth to be a winning strategic formula.

Is this a promise to deliver real change or simply some Whitehall-friendly window dressing? The answer will come in three parts.

First, the extent to which local people and the councils that represent them recognise that the LEP is more than a businessmen’s club.

Second, the continued ability of the LEP to attract funds from central government, local public sector bodies and the private sector.

Third, and most crucially, the projects to which LEP funding is channelled in future and the criteria by which their success will be judged.


 is a contributing editor of Exeter Observer and a member of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

 


Recent stories
Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Bar chart showing 2020 pollution incidents per 10,000km2 for the nine privatised water companies in England

South West Water misses pollution targets for tenth year running

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat


Help power our public interest journalism

Never miss a story
on Exeter Observer

More Analysis
Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

All Analysis
More Economy & Enterprise
Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Analysis shows proportion of benefit claimants in Exeter in work is among highest in country.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

All Economy & Enterprise
News
Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Strategic vision places investment in roads ahead of decarbonisation despite acknowledging the region's high car dependency rate.

Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Analysis shows proportion of benefit claimants in Exeter in work is among highest in country.

Bar chart showing 2020 pollution incidents per 10,000km2 for the nine privatised water companies in England

South West Water misses pollution targets for tenth year running

Environment Agency says regional company's performance "drags down the whole sector's reputation" as report places it at bottom of annual assessment league table while company pays out millions in shareholder dividends.

All News
Comment
UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

Net Zero Exeter logo

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Review suggests alignment with Devon Carbon Plan, currently aimed at 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, citing "technical and financial challenges ahead", although change in policy would require decision by councillors after 6 May local elections.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

All Comment
Transport & Mobility
Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Strategic vision places investment in roads ahead of decarbonisation despite acknowledging the region's high car dependency rate.

Train at Okehampton Station in 2015

Okehampton to Exeter "Dartmoor Line" passenger rail service reinstatement confirmed

£40 million Department for Transport "Restoring your Railway" funding to enable trains every two hours by end of this year, with plans to increase to hourly service during 2022. Stakeholders combine to get South West infrastructure needs onto Whitehall agenda.

Pedestrians and people waiting at bus stop on Exeter Cowick Street

Council abandons temporary COVID-19 cycling and walking safety plans in Exeter city centre

Devon County Council cites "pushback" from traders as schemes on North Street, South Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street are scrapped. Meanwhile temporary changes in Topsham are dropped after "snap poll".

All Transport & Mobility
Planning & Place
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Existing planning approval will be factor in decision to return to earlier, rejected, vision which would mean 378 studios and "cluster flat" rooms along Paul Street.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

University of Exeter and Exeter City Council both ignore own policies in plans to demolish 30 buildings and construct 50,000m2 of new student accommodation, telling us more about their priorities than their climate leadership claims.

All Planning & Place
Arts & Culture
Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

Exeter Princesshay Debenhams closing down sale

Top floor of former Debenhams store to be converted into cinema

Princesshay owner's proposals for change of use to four screen cinema and cafe/bar have been under discussion since November 2019.

Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

All Arts & Culture
Climate & Environment
Bar chart showing 2020 pollution incidents per 10,000km2 for the nine privatised water companies in England

South West Water misses pollution targets for tenth year running

Environment Agency says regional company's performance "drags down the whole sector's reputation" as report places it at bottom of annual assessment league table while company pays out millions in shareholder dividends.

Extinction Rebellion climate activist Imogen May

Environmental activist Imogen May defiant after second liability order for non-payment of council tax

Extinction Rebellion demonstrated at Exeter Law Courts in support of Crediton lone parent who has withheld council tax for two years in protest over government climate crisis inaction.

UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

Exeter City Council in session at Exeter Guildhall - Inauguration of Lord Mayor

High Court rules council meetings must resume in person after local elections

Case seeking judgement to allow local authority meetings to continue remotely when temporary coronavirus regulations expire fails to override requirement for primary legislation.

All Democracy & Governance
Education & Skills
Exeter University & College Union strike third week rally at St David's Church - Billy Bragg concert

University of Exeter strike ends third week with rally and concert at St David's Church

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in four weeks of national industrial action over pensions, equal pay for female and BAME staff, increasing workloads and the use of casual employment contracts.

Striking University of Exeter history lecturers Dr Jennifer Farrell and Dr Gemma Clark

University of Exeter staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in a national eight day strike for fair pay and pensions, including equal pay for female and BAME staff, and against casualisation and increasing workloads.

Rhian Keyse speaking at Exeter UCU's anti-casualisation campaign launch

Education union challenges university to address widespread casualisation of teaching staff

Exeter University & College Union (UCU) launched an anti-casualisation campaign on Friday as a prelude to negotiation with the University of Exeter over academic staff contracts.

Community & Society
Kinder Exeter community festival on Cathedral Green

Kinder Exeter community festival brings compassion and colour to city centre

Week-long event bringing artists, academics, students and communities together for online and outdoor activities was first of planned annual festivals facilitated by Maketank artists' collective.

Great Western Hotel beside Exeter St David's railway station

Exeter rough sleepers in COVID-19 emergency accommodation face uncertain future

Exeter City Council has yet to confirm whether it will use any of the £2.15m Rough Sleeping Initiative funding it has received since 2018 to keep housing rough sleepers when government emergency accommodation funding runs out.

Night shelter for homeless and rough sleepers in Magdalen Street, Exeter (front)

Exeter rough sleepers night shelter to open all year round

Exeter City Council has approved plans to extend Magdalen Street night shelter opening from April to the end of September.

All Community & Society