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Planning ahead for local growth

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With a summer election coming, local areas face an important challenge over the next few months. Whichever government emerges on July 4th, it seems clear they will be asking local places to work out new steps and strategies for boosting their economies. What can places do to prepare?

As noted by our colleagues at the Centre for Cities, it is hard for places to plan local growth strategies when unsure of the national growth framework they will be required to fit with. Given this, perhaps the best thing places can focus on now is working to build up an understanding of the fundamental drivers of – and challenges facing – their economies. This is a first step to developing local economic growth strategies. And if this work is done now, places will be in a stronger position to advocate for their needs to an incoming government and to understand how national priorities of a new government map to local issues.

Our 2018 resource on designing a local industrial strategy that is evidence-based provides advice on where to start. Drawing on conversations and work with a group of local and combined authorities, LEPs, and central government, the first three steps of this guide provide suggestions on: understanding the state of the local economy, thinking about how it might evolve using scenario planning, and distinguishing between supply side and demand side drivers of problems.

On understanding the state of the economy there are several points to consider, but one important element is to understand the sectoral makeup of the local economy. This helps give an idea of the pattern of skills demand, key sources of local employment (and so potential employment shocks), and how the local area relates to wider value chains and the national economy. Looking at the nature of the local services sector for example can help support thinking about the different types of strategies to consider and challenges which may arise – our blog on making sense of services sets this out in more detail. 

Looking at the right data indicators, and using these to pose the right questions, is key to understanding the local economy. Our local industrial strategy resource includes a downloadable guide on using data, and we are also launching a new two-part training course which will run-through ways of selecting and interpreting data to understand the issues facing a local economy. You can sign up to that training here.

Ultimately, we can’t know what the direction of travel or priorities will be for local growth until the election is over and new national strategies announced, but if places are prepared they will be in a better position to adapt quickly to, or even have more influence over, what those new plans might be.