Here are my initial thoughts on the Heseltine report. I wrote them as soon as I read it. I just haven't been brave enough to publish them until now... I decided not to reread...please excuse any typos / contradictions... as ever, I may change my mind!
No stone unturned.
My first impression is that I very much like the cartoon on the front of the report.
Within the 'so what now?' s.28 'how many MPs have considered the impact on the behaviour of civil servant s on their insistence that every detail of every decision is recorded so that it can be scrutinised in a parliamentary question? such a discipline would bring the private sector to its knees' has got me thinking about the public sector more widely. We often speak of regulatory burden and red tape for business but never of the burden on the public sector. To make the public sector the most innovative and exciting business in the country, which attracts the brightest minds perhaps it should be run more like the private sector. It is the largest employer nationally and affects all our lives. Why isn't it the most exciting employment option and how can we make it so? What changes need to be made to the public sector to help enable growth?
'A blueprint for the future' s.30. I like the idea of a National Growth Council which joins up government departments around the growth agenda. Perhaps this could be replicated more locally in Councils. There could be a 'growth' department in which all services from across the council which have anything to do with business or the future of LAs sit. This could help make councils more customer focussed. If you are a business you deal with one contact in one team. In addition these 'growth' teams could be directly linked to LEPs and provide local delivery for LEP priorities. This could go one step further and the growth team or part of it could have a trading arm to provide LAs with additional revenue.
Devolution of funds to LEPs is a good idea. They know how to have the greatest impact locally. LEPs would need to be trusted to deliver. No one would want onerous monitoring and evaluation rounds.
LEPs rightly need to have a statement of strategic priorities and plans. Equally government needs to stop being shy about saying what exactly they are looking for from LEPs. The "do what you want, if we don't like it we will tell you to stop" would be good if it were actually true. Continuous bidding rounds where some areas have no chance of success needs to stop. It is waste of resource and not all areas were created equal. The second wave of city deals is an opportunity for central government to be upfront so informed decisions can be made as to if all 20 areas should put resources into the bidding process otherwise some areas which haven't been successful in any round of bidding thus far may start to question central government support of their area.
Sector policy is useful but there are always new and emerging sectors. SIC codes don't keep up and how do you have a policy for the next big thing? A policy doesn't go far enough, we should work to continuously improve business sector engagement and local and national government relationships.
s.1.28 refers to 'no boom in growth can be achieved without a significant rethink as to how we develop skills in this country - both funding training and its delivery. I may be reading too much into this but perhaps this refers to the skills funding agency...
s1.38 states 'it is not the relative difference between the contributions of different regions that matters most but the ability of all regions to grow their wealth and prosperity'. I'm intrigued. Are we now just trying to help everywhere to grow and accept regional disparity. This policy may indicate that areas of disadvantage are no longer advantaged in funding bids. Areas that demonstrate growth potential may be the new focus. Interesting when thought about in terms of LEPs and bidding rounds. Not all LEPs were born equal.
s.2.5 LEPs are well placed to have the holistic overview of a place that is missing centrally.
s.2.11 would suggest that district councils and county councils should be merged. This should happen everywhere. We will be left with a system of unitary's. The next stage of this is to develop 'super unitary's' that match LEP geographies which are based on FEMA (although clearly some LEPs boundaries need to be revised).
2.15 anyone who watched 'Heroes' knows that with great power comes great responsibility. while incentives and competition do have their role to play in places I'm not convinced that this need to be applied in every situation. People who work in the 'Places' really do want the best for their areas. there is a danger that playing to your natural strengths also limits ambition for places. Perhaps 'natural strength' is a more fluid concept.
2.19 Regional Growth Fund isn't an example of efficient government process. RGF would have been more effectively delivered via a process more similar to Growing Places Fund. While RGF was focussed on those areas most effected by public sector cuts areas with more diverse sectoral employment were penalised for being resilient. Perhaps a future round could be focussed on business growth and job creation rather than job protection and damage limitation.
2.21 £300 million of RGF may have been allocated to LEPs to help them support SMEs but this resource hasn't been allocated to all LEPs hence only some LEPs are able to support their SMEs grow. A national programme would be welcome. Only 22 LEP areas have an enterprise zone. This makes the job of those without much more difficult.
2.21 Business rate retention isn't what it first appears. Local Authorities will only be able to keep a percentage of any growth achieved once a base line has been set. The percentage of the growth each LA can keep is different. In addition some areas don't have many empty business premises further reducing the opportunity this 'incentive' appears to provide.
2.21 reform of the planning system could be a good thing. In addition competing LA services could also be examined. For example when an enforcement officer suggests a chimney/flue to a business to stop neighbours complaining of bad smells and then planning deny this due to the business being in a conservation area doesn't help business. I'm sure there are many similar examples.
2.23 In light of these comments all areas that request a city deal (invited or not) should have this wish granted? How can Whitehall know what will and won't work locally...
2.27 I like Annex C.
2.29 I agree that a single pot would be a good approach. my only concern is the potential increased role of LEPs. Everything is related to jobs and growth but if the single pot is to go to the LEP do they want housing to be part of this?
2.31 Could we work to the assumption that all areas asked to bid for a city deal could be given a 'basic' version. Some may opt to only take this basic version whilst some will want a more deluxe model which include a focus on a indentified challenge/opportunity?
2.33 The problem with the completion element is that Whitehall judge bids based on their criteria and perceived knowledge about an area. Not all areas have the same starting point. The competition won't always be fair. This doesn't incentivise anyone and in fact is a little insulting that volunteers on LEPs Boards or Local Authority employees need to be incentivised to do their best? RGF criteria and application forms changed round on round, it want only the projects that changed. section 2.23 states that "no one in Whitehall can know how to solve the specific challenges facing a particular local area" yet Whitehall will be setting criteria and judging bits to achieve exactly this?!? In order to raise ones game one has to be given the same tools as all the other competitors in advance of being branded 'in need of help'?
2.45 resource will need to follow a plan... there is little point having a strategy if you have no way of implementing it... I would suggest that most LEPs do in fact already have a strategy / plan / framework or similar which they developed using start up funding.
2.47 are bidding rounds to government to be based on need or opportunity?
2.48 there is a danger that public consultation will be necessary for every LEP bid. I hope this isn't the case. A side effect of competition is that it limits the willingness to share best practice. Presumably a LEP business plan will have to be aligned to national growth priorities to make the LEP eligible for economic growth funds? How does this empower LEPs?
2.49 I'm starting to think about Regional Economic Strategies and RDA monitoring frameworks - do we really want LEPs to have to go down this route? I hoped we had moved into a time when delivery is king not appraisal and monitoring and evaluation.
2.52 Plans Plans Plans. I would hope that LEPs don't just plan and chase money for the next 3 years. LEPs have a role in helping the public sector work better. The Leicester and Leicestershire and, Greater Birmingham and Solihull regulatory pathfinder demonstrate how LEPs can make a difference to Business and LAs and cost very little more than officer and LEP time. This is the sort of thing that should be encouraged.
2.53 it is right that as the role of LEPs increases so will their need for additional resource - including bid writers!
2.54 The private sector are already on the LEP Board. Do we really need to hire private planners to develop strategic plans? So LEPS are to get more money to buy in consultants? it should be an option to LEPs but for them to decide. It is also a little insulting to the public sector that it is felt that the experience / expertise isn't present there.
2.58 currently some LAs have chosen to be in more than one LEP. It makes sense to me that overlaps are removed. To take this a step further perhaps some LEPs need to be joined up too.
2.59 we should not forget that in many cases LAs delivery the LEP priorities. In fact the value of having a forum where LA leaders agree on a common approach to issues with this business community should not be underestimated.
2.84 perhaps all city regions should have a combined authority.