Contributors comprise: Professor David Bailey (University of Birmingham); Professor Lisa De Propris (University of Birmingham); Dr Felicia Fai (Bath University); Sally Hardy (CEO, Regional Studies Association); Paul Hildreth (UCL); Professor Ron Martin (University of Cambridge); Professor Philip McCann (University of Sheffield); Professor Raquel Ortega Argilés (University of Birmingham); and Dr Philip Tomlinson (Bath University).
We respond to a number of questions below (we combine responses to questions which we feel are linked). Our key, overarching point in response to the BEIS Inquiry is the development of Local Industrial Strategies (LIS) is a useful first step BUT needs to go much further and better link places, sectors and technologies and requires a commitment of resources requisite to meet the scale of the challenge that the UK faces. Effective institutions and resources at a meso-scale (i.e. regional) scale are essential in joining up these dimensions and delivering LIS objectives.
What is the role of the Government in addressing regional disparities for businesses across the UK? Does the devolution of powers, including City and Region Deals, the Northern Powerhouse, and Midlands Engine, provide LEPs and other bodies with the tools they need to deal with the issue?
Is the Government prioritising the right areas for early Local Industrial Strategies? Will the Strategies enable areas to tackle productivity and growth disparities within regions?
Local Industrial Strategies (and the over-arching UK industrial strategy) aimed at enhancing productivity can only be effective if they connect with the underlying realities of the UK economy. Amongst large OECD economies the UK is almost unique in the extent to which productivity problems are geographical and regional problems rather than sectoral problems. In the UK’s core regions – London plus its immediate hinterland – almost all sectors perform well while in the rest of the UK’s non-core regions and cities only a few sectors perform well (Martin et al, 2017a). Indeed, the degree to which productivity spillovers do not transmit or operate across such small distances between the core of the UK economy and the rest of the UK is almost unprecedented amongst the OECD.
Yet, in terms of governance and connectivity issues, the UK’s highly centralised institutional set-up is only appropriate for a country which is internally homogeneous, whereas for the UK it is the worst possible set-up, thereby greatly limiting the effectiveness of policy. Indeed, even with the recent devolution deals, the majority of policy – even in the devolved areas – is still largely created in Whitehall, and over 20 million people in England (around half the population) still have no devolved government at all (Caden, 2018).
For example, the combination of an overly London-centric UK transport infrastructure system along with a similarly structured UK governance system seems, if anything, to have inhibited London-centred productivity spillovers from spreading further outwards. The result of this has been that in the era of modern globalisation, London and its hinterland has become largely decoupled from the rest of the UK. The UK regional productivity problem is therefore now the UK national productivity problem (McCann 2016, Martin et al, 2017), but the current institutional and infrastructure settings give government very little traction for addressing the problems, notwithstanding the development of LISs. The UK institutional set up has for decades been almost entirely blind to the geographical realities and therefore many policy initiatives are largely unrelated to the problems at hand.
On their own, LEPs are currently inadequate for the task of delivering effective LIS’s, and the current fragmented devolved structure (i.e. CA’s/LA’s and LEPS) may even exacerbate spatial divides (Fai, 2018). Indeed, resources for individual LEPs differ significantly, depending on location and underlying institutional capacities. Less endowed LEPs are often run by a skeleton staff of five or six and propped up by staff and resources from local authorities (whose prime responsibility is to actually deliver local government services). In contrast, some of the more dynamic LEPs have around 25-30 employees, and benefit from wider private sector involvement and hitherto can draw upon a wide range of business, scientific and policy expertise (Bentley and Pugalis, 2013).
A significant issue relates to accessing funding streams and the plethora of different funding pots available. In England, funding streams were available through competitive bids to the Regional Growth Fund which was replaced by the Single Local Growth Fund, Growing Places Fund, EU Structural Funds (which will no longer be available, post Brexit) and the recently launched ‘Strength in Places Fund’. In addition, LEPs can draw on funding from a variety of local authority controlled schemes; Tax Increment Financing (TIF), Community Infrastructure Levey (CIL), Local Sustainable Transport Funding, Business Rates and City Deals (available to some cities, subject to certain conditions and contractual agreements). Moreover, some LEPs cover areas that have designated Enterprise Zones, that give preferential tax breaks to resident businesses. There are also a range of funding schemes available for the private sector such as the Business Growth Scheme and Venture Capital Loan Fund (for full details of these funding streams, see Bentley and Pugalis, 2013).
Consequently, due to their initial internal capabilities, some LEPs have become more adept than others at building local coalitions to apply for and gain access to external funding streams. This has arguably created a two-tier LEP structure, which makes it difficult to reduce spatial imbalances and for weaker places to pursue a place-based industrial strategy (see Bentley and Pugalis, 2013). Indeed, the nature of the various funding streams can inherently favour stronger regions. For instance, in the case of S3 and EU funding, smart specialisation projects are more likely to be identified in stronger regions, which boast a strong entrepreneurial talent pool and associated business networks (Barzotto et.al, 2019a and b).
Inter-LEP networking offers the potential for building institutional capacity and collaboration – this is especially the case for infrastructural projects (such as transport/wireless technology) where coordination across geographically proximate LEPs is necessary. Some LEPs have begun to recognise they need to also leverage capabilities in other LEPs in order to innovate, build supply chains, or facilitate new business opportunities. These LEPs may be geographically proximate (e.g. M3 LEP and its focus on digital technologies in the Innovation South region), or quite geographically distant (e.g. HoTSW and Cumbria LEPs with respect to the nuclear industry).
There is, of course, more scope for these regional relationships to form a detailed part of proposals for sector deals and bids for Industrial Strategy Challenge Funds. In the White Paper the language is a little ambivalent: “Where [sector deal] proposals have a strong link to local economies in particular parts of the UK, we would expect any analysis about their impact to be backed and informed by the areas themselves…”  . Ideally, there should be an explicit requirement for sector deal applications to stipulate how the proposal links to local economies. This requirement should not just be in terms of leveraging existing capabilities within specific clusters of strength (which would lead to continued polarisation between regions), but importantly how they will help to develop emerging capabilities in regions traditionally outside the core clusters, perhaps in capabilities required across the broader supply chain.
While there is some scepticism that the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine are ultimately ‘brands’, and Combined Authorities duplicate some of the responsibilities and tasks already established by LEPs (e.g. skills development), those LEPs which do not link into such meso-level regional constructs sense it is harder for them to attract attention from government and other investors. As such, there have been numerous attempts by various LEPs to generate meso-level regions such as ‘The Growth Corridor’. Innovation South is a similar attempt to create a meso-level region although not specifically between LEPs.
Furthermore, in many ways the UK’s ‘national’ strategies have been a large part of the UK’s productivity problem. An over-emphasis on space-blind and sectoral-type thinking in central government for three decades, combined with a (mistaken in hindsight) belief that a dynamic London will drive the whole UK economy, has allowed the geographical issues to be largely ignored, or at least heavily under-played for decades.
It is critical that the government’s current industrial strategy trajectory does not again repeat these recurring mistakes, by excessively focusing on national sectoral issues. Fostering innovation, productivity, skills and entrepreneurship in the current UK context without seriously considering the spatial and institutional factors underpinning them will just repeat past mistakes. Only a more place-based approach to industrial policy – where policy is intentionally place-sensitive, place-aware and emphasises bottom-up policy design and tailored policy responses driving entrepreneurship and innovation (‘smart specialisation’) – will overcome this.
Indeed, building a place-based approach offers the potential to link themes such as R&D, supply chain and skills in a place-based institutional approach. One of the key objectives of such an approach should be to promote the tradable base of each region in the UK. Every region bar London has seen a progressive erosion of its tradable base over the past four decades. Reorientating and rebuilding the tradable bases of the regions and their constituent cities must be an integral feature of any meaningful industrial strategy (Rowthorn, 2010; Martin et al, 2017b).
In this regard, it will be critical that LIS’s will learn from the experience of the Strategic Economic Plans (SEPS), which were aimed at providing a blueprint (or agenda) for economic growth (for individual LEPs) over the next decade. These became the basis for ‘growth deal’ negotiations, with funding awarded from the new Single Local Growth Fund. A common criticism of the SEPS was their homogeneity in identifying key strengths and sectors to develop; most, for instance, push claims to advance specialisms in artificial intelligence, digital and advanced manufacturing (Localis, 2017). While this may, in part reflect local aspirations, in truth the SEPs were used as a marketing document for external funding bids and most were undertaken by the same external private consultants working to a set template.
This generic approach made it difficult to identify the unique place-based capabilities to develop, and it is clear that the new Local Industrial Strategies will need to be more granular in creating a suitable evidence base on which to design effective policy. LEPs and CAs will need a more granular data/evidence base that cuts across traditional sectors (and SIC codes), and instead identifies emerging specialisms and capabilities. Nesta’s Arloesidur database (https://arloesiadur.org/data) for Wales offers a possible template.
A problem here is that ‘place’ was largely absent in the government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper – the ‘place’ element only really comes into the White Paper at the very end, whereas in the UK case they link with and underpin other productivity drivers. As such, these key features of the UK economy and polity need to be better reflected throughout the government’s industrial strategy. Institutions are key to joining up sectors with regions and places. Fragmentation and uneven capacities mean that LEPs are unlikely to serve as an effective framework for delivering this holistic approach, as noted above.
In order to do this, the UK has to make some major and long term policy and institutional steps away from the view or vision that enhancing London’s performance is in the ‘national’ interest. London and its hinterland has already largely decoupled itself from the rest of the UK economy, and the benefits of productivity gains in London remain largely in London and its hinterland.
This will require the building of new regional meso-level institutions or coordinating systems. This is the most important challenge ahead for UK Industrial policy to address and also the most difficult to achieve.
Much of the UK is currently trapped between policies being set at a national level – which is typically far too large to be meaningful – or at local levels such as LEPs which in most cases are too small to be meaningful. Going back to our over-arching point, institutions are key to joining up sectors with regions and places. Fragmentation and uneven capacities mean that LEPs, for example, are unlikely to serve as an effective framework for delivering this holistic approach. It is the critical meso-level of governance and policy – in which industrial and regional policies are largely symbiotic – which the UK lacks. As such, UK governance is often either too large and distant, or too small and local, to be effective.
Most other successful economies (USA, Australia, Germany, Canada, Belgium, Austria, France, Switzerland Japan) have or are heavily upgrading meso-governance levels spanning populations of 3-5m people. This allows for genuine local and bottom-up policy-making in conjunction with national top-down policy frameworks. The alternative model evident in many smaller economies (Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Denmark) is that ostensibly centralised national governance systems are in reality very bottom-up in nature with local policy inputs being incorporated in national frameworks. The UK has until very recently had neither of these features.
The recent movement towards city-regions (Combined Authorities) plus the infrastructure expansions (and the National Infrastructure Commission) and Local Industrial Strategies (LISs) are all good steps in the right direction but are by no means sufficient. Yet, for many issues such as energy, FDI, or interregional transportation systems, these city-region scales are also still far too small. Moreover, the relationship between the city-regions and also between city regions and their hinterlands needs to be established. Otherwise we risk the creation of a new (and in the long run) unbalanced and eventually an even more dysfunctional level of governance.
For a country like the UK with such large interregional inequalities over tiny distances and in which the core region is decoupling from the rest of the country, the only governance set-up which is worse than a top-down centralised and space-blind system, is a devolved system which is primarily dependent on local finances. Another problem with the current approach to devolved city-regional entities is that it is an arbitrary process, largely left to local authorities to define their own new entities, and far from being a nation-wide network. Finding ways to encourage decentralisation and devolution (in order to foster local development incentives, accountability and engagement) without weakening the UK’s (already limited) interregional fiscal stabilisers, is a critical balancing act.
The principles behind the design of new meso-level institutions are that they should foster and enhance local, city and regional leadership which links across institutions, stakeholders, and political affiliations. Building cross-party, cross-stakeholder and cross-institutional alignment is the most important role for local, city and regional leadership and this should be aimed long-term at maximising civic engagement. Some of this is already developing at the city-region level, but city-region types of set-ups are only realistic for a minority of UK localities.
In the UK, for example, we should be very cautious about simply trying to copy messages regarding the role of city mayors in other countries. In USA, Canada, Germany, Australia, Austria etc. it is the relationship between the local actors (i.e. city mayors) and the meso-level actors (i.e. state/province governors, länder minister-presidents) which are the most important relationships. These are the very governance relationships which do not exist in England and which will need to be constructed.
While limited in their ambition, the recommendations of the 2012 Heseltine Report No Stone Unturned and the 2012 IPPR North Report ‘Northern Prosperity is National Prosperity’ provide outlines of how we might proceed.
Overlaying all of these issues is now the post-Brexit danger that the UK’s weaker regions will be disproportionately adversely affected by Brexit. The UK’s non-core regions are more economically dependent on the EU than the UK’s core regions (Los et al. 2016) so the risk is that the inter-regional inequalities will be further exacerbated by any post-Brexit arrangements which reduce access to the EU Single Market.
Outside of EU Cohesion Policy the UK has had very little by way of place-based types of policies, and the Cohesion Policy move away from regional to towards ‘national’ frameworks for England, Scotland etc. was a mistake, as this reverted us back to the basic problem outlined above. In the post-Brexit context the UK has to find ways to massively decentralise and devolve, but in ways that do not hamper the weaker regions. If the post-Brexit repatriation of formerly-EU powers is associated with further centralisation in the name of consolidation this will make the underlying situation even worse.
Finally, it should be stressed that competitive public funding might be awarded using a model structured around regional coalitions, which would help to build capacity at the regional level and, in particular, encourage applications from across the country so as to ensure such funding is not concentrated in leading regions which appear to have the best projects. In this regards, the green paper is largely silent on regenerating formerly industrial areas, and might have been more explicit on how to revitalise these ‘left behind’ regions.
Are there barriers to new businesses being established in less-productive areas? How does clustering affect other businesses in that region, for example: are Catapult Centres widening or limiting investment in their local areas?
It is widely acknowledged that new business and high value investment is primarily attracted to places not on the basis of transient tax/subsidy inducements (such as Enterprise Zones – that can actually lead to the displacement of activities), but on the underlying fundamentals that a place can offer. In this regard, the competitive characteristics of place are typically its unique knowledge capabilities and specialisms, strong business, knowledge and social networks, and a high level of technical and generic skills that underpin the regional eco-system. A regional anchor tenant, such as a university or large private firm with a strong research base, may play a critical role in facilitating this eco-system. Exemplars are Japan’s Kohsetsushi Centres run at the regional level (offering support to small and medium sized firms (SMEs) in accessing new technologies and providing opportunities to participate in joint applied research) and the regional German Fraunhofer institutes (see Bailey et.al, 2018; 2019).
Because the government’s industrial policy fails to effectively bring together sector, technology and place, the Catapult Centres can be seen in part as implementing de facto place based innovation policies (as a regional anchor) even though this is not what they are designed to do. It should be stressed that the Catapults have no place-based remit; they are in fact geared to provide business with ‘specialist technical expertise and skills across sectors to SMEs and supply chains, access to high value specialist equipment, facilities and infrastructure, technology and sector leadership, and long term investment in technology platforms or demonstrators’ (BIS, 2015).
But because the technologies they support are often intertwined with particular clusters, they in practice often support investment in particular places. There are several examples of how Catapults have been demonstrating their ‘additionality’ in this regard (see Bailey and Tomlinson, 2017 for more detail). For instance, Hauser (2014) reports how the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult worked closely with ReNeuron – a leading UK cell therapy firm – on successfully developing (and validating) the manufacturing processes for the CTX stem cell line to be commercially ready. This enabled the company to attract £33 million in new (private) funding allowing it to establish itself as a global leader in stem cell development, while the Catapult acquired new expertise in this area. ReNeuron had been considering relocating some of its operations overseas, but have decided to remain in the UK to maintain the partnership with the Catapult. Indeed, it is anticipated Catapults will act as an anchor for new investment into the UK, as (global) firms will seek to locate their operations in economies with high tech facilities and expertise. A key role of the Catapults is in the testing, demonstration and in validation (at scale) of new technologies (for wider societal benefit) in a collaborative process. Thus the Future Cities Catapult in its ‘Cities Unlocked’ project have been instrumental in bringing together leading private sector actors and charities to test new technologies which assist visually impaired people to better navigate cities. Such partnerships bring different and unique skills (and perspectives) to the innovation process, and build confidence in the technology.
Despite these promising signs, the Catapults still face significant challenges going forward. These primarily relate to funding, not only in terms of ring fencing and extending public funding but also ensuring funding portfolios are sufficiently balanced to protect the Catapults’ long term remit. Increasing pressures on the public finances could compromise this position. At the micro level, the Hauser review (2014) also notes the Catapults’ current lack of engagement with SMEs. Given the potential role of SMEs as facilitators of innovation, this is a missed opportunity. In part this reflects a lack of information and knowledge (among the SME sector) about the role of Catapults and how they can assist in SMEs in technology related (business) growth.
Overcoming such barriers will require Catapults adopting a dedicated SME strategy, which may include working closely with local government and business groups (possibly in regional clusters) to develop new (SME) partnerships. Similarly, the Catapults links with the research base (particularly universities) will need to become more consistently embedded across the (Catapult) network, with increasing collaboration with international university partners (and other research institutes) (Hauser, 2014). Accessing global sources of knowledge and fusing it with local knowledge expertise can enhance innovation and growth (Bathelt & Cohendet, 2014).
It should also be noted that the UK’s educational systems are still primarily centrally designed and controlled and this includes further and technical education which is still dominated by national accreditation systems. Much more room is needed for local businesses to help develop curricula and training which is tailored to local demands as most FE students remain very local. Germany offers a good template, whereby local educational institutions, firms and chambers of commerce all cooperate with länder governments to provide education-employment channels. Similarly, universities need to be given major incentives to engage with local actors. At present, the higher education research and teaching evaluation frameworks offer no such incentives, based as they are on national criteria.
A significant barrier to new business creation/investment is skills, and particularly skills mismatches. The issue of resolving skills bottlenecks is, however, more difficult at the local level since UK skills and education policy remains highly centralised (although the new Skills Advisory Panels may begin to herald a change). Indeed, responsibility for both identifying skills needs and delivery needs to be devolved to a meso-level governance level, with a city-region role where appropriate. Local areas and regions need to be given power to shape training programmes in line with spatially-specific needs and aspirations, as in the case of the new Ceramics Skills Academy in Stoke on Trent (Tomlinson and Branston, 2014). Skills should also be linked to other elements of the LISs, such as R&D.
Despite the constraints of centralisation, some LEPs have worked with local employers and Further Education colleges to devise courses that will meet the immediate needs of local business. There is, however, more variance as to whether the courses will meet the longer terms needs of employers in an ever-changing skills-demand landscape – for instance, with the growth of digitalisation and artificial intelligence. In addition, most of the skills initiatives have tended to involve only the larger employers, with little input from the long tail of SMEs in each area. This might act as a constraint on future growth (see Fai, 2018). There is hope for some progress in areas with new devolved powers, to develop skills provision for predominantly 19+ and adult learners, but for the Combined Authorities, it is too early to comment on what changes will be effected, let alone the impact that new devolution deals (which offer new devolved responsibilities on skills) has on breaking through the recognised bottlenecks.
Are businesses outside of cities able to access finance and attract investment? How has existing support from EU structural funds supported regional growth? Will new Government measures, such as the Stronger Towns Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund, provide effective support for growth in these areas?
Full details of the Shared Prosperity Fund have yet to be published, but in designing LIS’s it will be important to avoid the mistakes of SEPs. As noted, the SEPs have been primarily utilised as a marketing document for bidding into the Single Local Growth Fund, and are largely homogeneous; the Shared Prosperity Fund needs to avoid this problem. A more granular and context specific approach to local growth is required. Of course, it is difficult to reconcile the ambitions of some CAs and LEPs around particular (new) technological fields, within a genuine ‘place-based’ industrial strategy – especially since so many (different) places claim to have similar competitive advantages in the same sector(s). At a national economy level, when places claim to have similar competitive advantages (especially in the same sectors), it can appear to pit place against place, leading to a potential waste of resources through duplicated efforts, and invokes a negative-sum game as regions compete intensely for central funding (see Christopherson and Clark, 2007). Indeed, competition between places may lead to a rather insular and inward looking local economy set up.
One of the aims of EU structural Funding is to revitalise lagging regions. Cornwall, has of course, done exceptionally well in this regard, receiving more funding per capita (estimated over £800 per capita between 2014-2020) than any other UK region. Most funding is tied to the EU’s Smart Specialisation programme, a place based approach which advocates supporting activities in particular technological fields with the potential for innovation and commercial exploitation. For lagging regions, such as Cornwall, such technological opportunities may be sparse, due to a weak base in terms of expertise, business and knowledge networks and an over-reliance upon traditional sectors. Nevertheless, some EU funded projects have led to a re-invigoration of Cornwall’s existing strengths. For example, ¡VAMOS! was a 42 month H2020 project aimed at developing an underwater, remotely controlled, environmentally viable mining system to enable the exploitation and rehabilitation of underexploited (and abandoned) European deposits of high grade minerals. It involved 17 industrial and academic partners from 9 EU countries, from lagging and leading regions, and fuses expertise from diverse fields including geology, robotics and mining. For Cornwall, the project has begun to open up the possibility of developing new specialisms in environmental marine mining techniques (with potential global application) that could in turn attract new investment and jobs. These type of (international) extra-regional collaborations are critical in advancing the technological frontier, and enabling lagging regions to access expertise and adopt new technologies from more advanced regions, while building upon their existing capabilities (see Barzotto et.al, 2019 a and b). Post Brexit, these type of funding initiatives need to be place if the UK is to be able to have an effective industrial strategy.
How does the mobility of businesses to relocate within the UK and overseas affect their investment in local areas? Should local and national Government be seeking to reduce business relocation?
Foreign Direct Investment can bring many benefits to a local economy in terms of technology, skills and management techniques. However, an over-reliance upon footloose multinational investment can potentially be destabilising. Large multinationals can threaten to shift production operations offshore, and this threat itself can serve to undermine undermine local and regional industrial strategies; MNEs can thus appropriate a better deal for themselves from government, policy-makers, regional suppliers and labour unions (Cowling and Tomlinson, 2011; Bailey et.al 1994).
Part of the answer to this challenge is to phrase the question, as to what extent a place is ‘sticky’ in terms of its ability to retain and attract dynamic businesses and investment? This relates back to the underlying (and competitive) features of a place’s regional eco-system noted above – the evolution of which, is largely achieved through building upon existing capabilities, and fusing synergies between new and old technologies and capabilities. More often or not, regional sectors evolve through ‘related diversification’ i.e. regions are more likely to develop new technological specialisations related to their existing knowledge base; so called ‘regional branching’. For example, North Staffordshire’s ceramics industry is evolving into one of material transformation, with ceramic technologies being utilised in a variety of other sectors from bio-inserts to mobile transmitters (Tomlinson and Branston, 2014). Such transformations can be supported through public funding initiatives such as public regional anchors and skills programmes that build upon the region’s existing industrial base.
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 Encompassing SEMLEP, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley, Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire LEPs)
 It is an M3 LEP initiative to create a network between 100 organisations with specific strengths in digital enabling technologies, across 8 southern counties outside London, running from Dorset to Kent.
 The EU is a heavy user of minerals, consuming 25-30% of the world’s metal production, yet it only accounts for 3% of global ore production. However, it is estimated the value of unexploited EU mineral resources at a depth of 500-1,000 metres is approximately €100 billion. The project seeks to contribute to ensuring the EU has a sustainable supply of raw materials, while developing innovations in alternative mining techniques – see: http://vamos-project.eu/partners/.