When the coalition came to power they invoked, like many changes of political power before them, a flurry of change, sweeping away the structures of their predecessors. Everything went in the bin, both the things that were not helping society and were political follies, and the things that had proven their worth and which were ditched, essentially because they were ‘not invented here’. One of the significant parts of this change was the strategy for growing the economy. It was a twin track approach which had been developed under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and strengthened under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Local government was tied into regional structures establishing a bottom up effort through the Regional Development Agencies (RDA’s) and a top down approach came from the various Whitehall Departments. Sometimes these met in the middle with a good match, sometimes they complemented one another and occasionally they missed each other by a mile and the potential synergy was lost.
The Conservatives signaled ahead of time that they would sweep such structures away and indeed they did so as part of the coalition. They then set out to create their own local ‘sub regional’ agencies called Local Economic Partnerships. Some of the LEPs though are almost as large as the RDA’s were. The Government then instructed these LEPs to develop their bottom up strategy in much the same way that RDA’s had done before them.
When Theresa May took over from David Cameron she decided, once again that change was needed and called upon the LEPs to immediately suspend all they were doing in terms of setting a patchwork Industrial Strategy and instead she would ensure it all became top down. As most people in Business would understand, it takes time to set strategies for small businesses let alone for large industrial organisations and when one is attempting to do so for a whole nation, 9 months is a relatively short time, particularly when a Government is distracted by how to deliver a Brexit and keeps on fighting MPs and the country in an attempt to keep ones cards close to ones chest. The Green Paper was launched on 23rd January and the consultation ran till the 17th April. Two days later Mrs May announced her road to Snowdon conversion and called the election. We still don’t know what the outcome was and there is a real risk that the whole thing might get ditched. The manifesto refers to ‘our modern industrial strategy’ yet no one knows what that is. The manifesto makes two specific references, one is to the amount of Government procurement going to SMEs increasing from 25% to 33% but as I have written before when the manifesto first emerged, unless the Government differentiates between micro enterprises (up to 9 employees) and medium sized businesses (up to 250 employees) this may all play into the hands of a small number of businesses in real terms. The other reference is to the Parker review of ship building. Clearly another significant element, but these two between them do not form a national Industrial Strategy. Meanwhile the LEPs are waiting around in Limbo trying to look busy, but not sure what their role is supposed to be. The Tory Manifesto mentioned LEPs as often as it mentioned Foodbanks. This appears to be a major failing in the case of both words.