Radical change is needed for sustainable growth

Published 22nd January 2014 at 9:18am

At the end of last year economic prospects finally started to pick up for UK plc. However, continued economic growth in 2014 mostly depends on what happens in the City – which in turn still relies heavily on the American markets.

The clear need to fix this reliance on financial services has been pressing for some time now. For more sustainable economic growth, and to avoid a return to the economic problems of the last five years, the UK must re-build its economic powerhouses outside of the City of London. Local business growth must be at the heart of this.

This urgent need is coupled with a recognition that too many of the economic levers needed to boost economic growth outside of the City are currently held by Whitehall mandarins – with little or no experience of what is needed to unlock industrial and business growth north of the Watford gap.

Since 2010, the Sheffield City Region LEP has shown that local leaders are in a better position to decide what interventions will best benefit local businesses. Through projects like the local Regional Growth Fund programmes, the Enterprise Zone and Skills-Made-Easy, we have shown that local leaders can use their local business knowledge to use public money to better effect.

This year, we expect to see greater responsibility for driving growth at a local level handed down to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), which are partnerships between the best of the private and public sectors.

Last month, our Sheffield City Region LEP published its Growth Plan. This plan puts business growth at the centre of growth at a local level. The Growth Plan asks Government to devolve the powers and funding we need to ensure our City Region fulfils its economic potential. In a nutshell, our plan aims to transform the City Region’s economy by significantly growing business activity over the next decade.

The plan sets an ambitious target of creating 6,000 new businesses, generating 70,000 new jobs and fuelling £3 billion of additional economic output in the City Region by 2023.

The LEP’s business-focused plan includes:

  • A new initiative called the ‘Top 1000’, which will focus on giving intensive support to the local businesses with the highest potential for economic growth
  • A ‘Skills Bank’ to enable businesses to access a range of training and skills options, making it easier to take on an apprentices and graduates
  • Financial incentives and promotional activity to attract 20,000 new jobs to the City Region from the UK and overseas
  • An ultramodern public transport system to connect urban centres and key development areas
  • A bold housing plan, which will see the Sheffield City Region manage funds to unlock key housing sites.

Through the Growth Plan, the Sheffield City Region LEP is bidding alongside the other 38 LEP areas for a slice of Government’s national £2 billion ‘Local Growth Fund’ for 2015/2016. Our plan will be assessed against three key criteria – ambition and rationale, value for money and delivery and risk.

2014 will see our LEP enter negotiations with Government over wider freedoms, flexibilities and influence, and crucially how much money we have to help businesses grow. These powers and funds will form a ‘Growth Deal’ – which we expect to be ready to sign by the summer.

It is crucial that the Government arms our LEP with the resources we need to deliver growth and jobs for our communities. Sheffield City Region businesses have the leadership, ambition and potential to create one of the UK‘s economic powerhouses and, with Government support, this can become a reality.

In 2014, our LEP will be much more visible at a national and particularly local level. Growing our private sector businesses is at the heart of our Growth Plan and support from the local business community is essential to our success. This year, we will continue to work with all our partners to develop our Growth Plan. From what I have seen over the last three years as Chairman of the LEP, businesses in the Sheffield City Region are undoubtedly up for this challenge.

This article was written for the Yorkshire Post and appeared in print on Tuesday 21 January 2014.

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