Our voice of business this month is:

Richard Harrington, Chief Executive Officer of Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership

The government landed its most significant domestic policy announcement for several years with the recent publication of the Levelling Up White Paper. In essence, it is a policy document that seeks to address disparity across the nation and outline the government’s cross departmental policy framework featuring four main objectives:

  • boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector,
  • spread opportunities and improve public services,
  • restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging,
  • empower local leaders and communities.

The long-awaited paper examines geographical disparities and considers the operation of economic factors as a backdrop for the wide ranging system reform that the government will establish through 12 Levelling Up Missions.

It is a wide ranging document in more sense that one, an initial Jericho reference to economic geography coming in at 7,000 BC, kick starts the evidence base informing the policy decisions.  The paper deals with policy, funding and structural announcements that represent part of the government’s sustained offer towards local area devolution and ends by summarising a decade’s worth of government funding retrospectively divided into the four objectives outlined above and further split into regional geographies including that of the greater South East.  There are very few new funding announcements in the paper, although the government does encourage thinking towards new areas where future funds may be raised for example through institutional investors or pension funds, that may not have featured as prominently to date.  It would be fair to say, that while the government intends all parts of the UK to thrive, there is a positive bias towards those areas that are considered to be lagging, weakest, lost and or lacking against the government’s four objectives.

With such great national challenges, how does a local conversation progress with government recognising that all areas have their own unique challenges to a greater or lesser degree?  Buckinghamshire has not been a main recipient of government support, even within the context of the South East. On the other hand we have a firm SME business base, growing an productive economy and a clear understanding of unique local assets and economic drivers that will growth the economy further. Relationships between public and private sectors, traditionally strong in Buckinghamshire, will be key as will the ability to attract new investors and commercial funds.  Considering national supply chains in sectors such as the Creative Industries, Space and Advanced Manufacturing will undoubtedly present opportunities to collaborate with other diverse regional economies. I would therefore suggest that the future has a familiar tone and rests as always on our entrepreneurial spirit to realise, manage and deliver upon our potential.

It was missed by many, but I wanted to conclude by congratulating the government on recognising the convening power of LEPs within the context of the White Paper.  Over the past decade LEPs have collectively used collaboration to inform and establish local strategy and invest in critical economic infrastructure. I am pleased that this work has been recognised and hope that government allow local areas to build on these solid foundations and partnerships and support local areas further by evaluating and responding quickly to the delivery lessons and impact of the new policy framework.