A sunny morning greeted more than 40 representatives from across business, local government and LEPs to the Manchester Launch of the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth last Tuesday morning.
The roundtable was an opportunity for participants to hear from the Centre’s Director, Professor Henry Overman, and two leading figures in the world of local economic policy-making about what the Centre will be working on over the next year, as well as a chance for them to advise on how it could be most useful to local and national policy-makers.
David Frost, chairman of the LEP Network, set out the current landscape of LEPs across the country. He reminded us that LEPs should not be viewed as some homogeneous group, but rather as they are: a collection of divergent organisations with significant disparities between them. He also reminded us that geography, scale and institutional continuity from previous development structures have all played a part in the variation we see among LEPs today. This means that the kind of work the Centre will produce, especially its early focus on skills and business development, will be in high demand as LEPs look for successful policies to implement and unsuccessful policies to avoid.
Mike Emmerich, Director of New Economy Manchester, highlighted the financial hole that will appear in local government finances after 2015, and the financial and political imperative that this will create for leaders to radically reform the way public services are designed and delivered. He set out the case for maximising the efficiency and effectiveness gains that can be achieved through better using evidence in the policy development process. He recognised that to do this requires local authorities to regard evaluation and impact assessment as an investment not an expenditure and this wasn’t a universally held perspective. Setting out the case for such a perspective and providing practical support to build the capacity of local leaders to implement it will be a vital element of the Centre’s work over the next three years.
The discussion covered questions about the nature of the Centre’s evidence reviews and their ability to determine what works where; as well as how it will work to engage with as wide a range of decision makers as possible.
All in all it was a great event. As well as being an opportunity to promote the Centre, it provided another chance for us to call for evidence from any source relating to adult skills and business support.