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Don’t throw the LIS out with the bathwater

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It looks like the government is saying goodbye to the Industrial Strategy, introduced in 2017. But its more place-based kin, the Local Industrial Strategies (LIS) are alive and well.

Local policymakers will be salvaging something from the Industrial Strategy exercise. Many spent much time and effort developing their Local Industrial Strategies in 2018 and 2019. This effort involved bringing together Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), Local Authorities, Combined Authorities, businesses, universities and third sector institutions. Wise places used the LIS mandate to identify priorities for local growth. In their final report this week, the Industrial Strategy Council said such joint ventures had been a “particular strength of the 2017 industrial strategy”.

What Works Growth worked with a dozen cities to develop guidance for places on how to maximise the impact of LIS. And we will be salvaging a great deal from that guidance, which can be applied to any economic growth strategy.

A summary of the ten-step guide we published might read: 

  • get all your stakeholders and some experts together
  • bring them the data about the state of your economy and how it is developing
  • think about whether help is needed on the supply side (more skills?) or demand side (new jobs for local graduates?)
  • agree common goals and targeted policy interventions
  • scrutinise the policies considering the potential impacts on incentives, competition, and inclusive growth
  • share the risk of implementation

That makes it sound overly simple; anyone who has been through it will tell you that it isn’t. But the beauty of this process – as anyone who has been through it will also tell you – is the relationships and knowledge which grew out of it. It left places with a strategy for local growth that the key players understand and support.

Local policymakers are revisiting their LIS in light of the pandemic, and the demise of the Industrial Strategy, and many are deciding that the strategy still gives them a clear set of priorities and policies. There is no reason for the evidence gathered, relationships built, and priorities agreed to go to waste. Maybe some of them will update the name, but the process involved in developing the LIS is one of those experiments which time will deem a success.