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Solace blog

16th January 2015

Introduction to Policy Portfolio: Economic Prosperity and Housing

Nationally, the development of our economic growth policy is critical to ensuring economic recovery across the UK. Recovery is underway, but it is clear that this is fragmented, with significant geographical variation. It is also fragile and could yet be determined by broader Eurozone and global events.

Regionally, although all areas have seen growth since 2009, between 2011-12 the East Midlands GVA remained broadly flat and the South East saw its total GVA increasing by 3.3[i].

It is vital that we continue growth at a pace, and more importantly that this growth is shared across the whole of the UK. We must create a level playing field working to eradicate geographical inequalities in economic growth.

It is through my role as SOLACE policy spokesperson that I intend to be part of the national debate that makes this happen, on behalf of all Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers. Through the creation of this new portfolio, we now have a chance as SOLACE Members to drive forward the agenda with a fresh vision and new objectives.

Influencing the debate on future incentives for local growth, including New Homes Bonus, Business Rates retention, Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), Enterprise Zones and other ‘Earnback’ schemes, is critical to moving the policies forward.

Driving local economic growth is central to the devolution agenda. It is particularly important that Local Government has the ability to take on a leadership role in areas such as the changing role of LEPs and Combined Authorities, transport, skills, and housing. I am in no doubt that the economic growth policy landscape will continue to be uncertain over the coming months and therefore Local Government has an essential role in maintaining a consistent vision and focus on what is required for our areas.

Business and Local Government working together, with the right devolved powers and influence, can take our growth priorities forward – making well informed economic infrastructure and investment decisions to enable the distribution of growth across the UK. What better way to re-engage communities than to give the representatives they vote for the influence on how local areas flourish economically.

Greater Manchester, and more recently Sheffield have successfully secured the first steps in what I hope will be a far-reaching programme of real devolution across England. Devolution will undoubtedly look different in each area, with key drivers varying depending on the needs of local economies and communities.

Local Government is capable of contributing so much more. Devolution is about real things that can help shape economies across the regions of the UK. Revolving investment funds to lever maximum benefit towards ‘game-changing’ economic infrastructure; direct influence on strategy and spend over skills programmes tailored to the unique requirements of distinct economic areas.

Local Authorities have a vested interest in driving their economies – ensuring there is employment for residents, and reducing dependency on welfare, as well as increasing income through the retention of business rates. Our role in this will continue to be significant, whether in partnership with LEPs, through Combined Authorities or via other vehicles

Hand in hand with the growth agenda there is a need to ensure our local authorities, and those communities they serve, are supported through the changes to the welfare system so that we are genuinely helping those who can make the transition into work.

We must also ensure that our places are shaped to facilitate and support economic growth. We can do this by influencing national housing policy, particularly around increasing supply and affordability; empty homes; and recognising demographic pressures such as the needs of older people and those with care needs.

This is a wide agenda and I hope we can truly influence policies for the benefit of our local communities, rebalance the economy and deliver a more prosperous and ambitious future for all areas across the UK.

Therefore, the priorities we have set out for this network are:

– Shape the devolution agenda, to enable local government to take a strategic leadership role in economic growth, transport, skills, and housing.

– Lead the debate on future incentives for local growth and the nature of local government engagements with business.

– Support local authorities with the challenges of Welfare Reform bringing a focus to supporting more residents into employment.

– Ensure that national housing policy supports our economic growth and community wellbeing agendas and helping to meet the challenge of an aging population.

Policy Spokesperson: Martin Swales, Chief Executive, South Tyneside MBC

Deputy Spokesperson – Economic Prosperity: Simon Neilson, Executive Director, Regeneration, Walsall Council

Deputy Spokesperson – Housing: Manjeet Gill, Chief Executive, West Lindsey District Council