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Four things cities should do to make the most of clean growth policies

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In October this year the Government published its Clean Growth Strategy, aimed at growing the national economy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. These concerns were also at the heart of the Industrial Strategy launched last month, through which the Government hopes to increase productivity, improve business and industry efficiency and create good jobs, while protecting the climate and environment.

As city leaders put together local industrial strategies in the coming year, they will need to identify quickly which clean growth policies work best and are most appropriate for their places. However, there is little evaluation evidence available in this policy area, as measurement is not consistent in different places, and can often be biased by the need to demonstrate actions taken more than results achieved.

The answer to this problem is for local leaders to carry proper policy evaluation as they consider and implement clean growth policies.Whatever the outcomes, places can learn from each other as they experiment and learn from evidence on the experiences of other places. Robust evaluation has many advantages, from identifying what works, to ascertaining what works best to reach policy objectives.

Last year, the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth has published a series of blogs on how to evaluate. Four points stand out in particular when it comes to making the most of clean growth policies:

  • Start early and take a clear approach to get all the advantages of evaluation.Good evaluation should be embedded in the policy design process. Deciding how the scheme will be evaluated means thinking about what data will provide the most accurate picture of the impact of the project, and will help clarify which objectives are the highest priorities.
  • Define success, to understand which policies are most effective – both in supporting and increasing local economic growth and reducing local and global emissions. Clean growth policies have two different objectives that need to be clearly defined to really assess their impact.
  • Compare with places which aren’t taking the same policy approach, to see if your outcomes might have happened regardless. Some places are already in early stages of policy implementation on clean growth initiatives. For example, local leaders in Tees Valley are testing the potential for carbon capture usage, while cities such as Bristol and Derby are taking part in the Go Ultra Low Cities Scheme (trialing initiatives such as giving ultra low emission vehicles free parking and access to bus lanes). These places should compare their progress with what’s happening in other places not pursuing the same policies. A counterfactual is important to compare the outcomes and benefits of a localised policy before and after implementation.
  • Collect the right type of data as soon as the implementation starts, to best capture outcomes. As well as deciding which type of data will best demonstrate each outcome, places also need to consider how it will be collected from the outset of the program and throughout its duration. This will enable them to gain short run indicators to determine whether to keep going with the program.

Evaluation is crucial in identifying which policy works best to achieve any outcome, at the best price and in the shortest time possible, especially when it comes to reducing emissions. A good policy needs to be recognised as such, but so does a bad policy.

In the coming year, as city leaders put together their local industrial strategies and consider which clean growth initiatives are right for their places, they need to put out robust evaluation at the heart of their plans. This will be crucial in ensuring they can deliver economic growth which protects – not harms – the environment.