One of my key functions as Commissioner is to identify potential catalysts for change that can challenge ‘business as usual models’. As such I have been a keen follower of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and the twitter account of their Chief Executive, Neil McInroy @nmcinroy. So it was a pleasure to host a day for Neil to share the work of CLES www.cles.org.uk with a wide range of organisations working across Wales.
CLES are a charity committed to developing strategies that support local economic development as a complimentary or alternative to top down models of regeneration and economic development. Their work is focused on building resilient communities that have the capacity to bounce back from external shocks through harnessing the human, social, economic and environmental capacity of communities. This work has been structured into a capability assessment model which establishes the basis for future development. It has been piloted in 16 local authorities in England, in Scotland (linked to the Government’s Scottish towns review) as well as further afield in Melbourne and Adelaide.
This focus on a place based approach based on local strengths and assets, designed and owned locally is not necessarily reflective of the more top down, centralised regeneration and economic development strategies which have been common across the UK. It also questions the nature of top down economic models designed to deliver economic growth, but which have patently failed to deliver for many in our society – even in the good times for public spending.
It is this thinking which has been effectively applied to the renewal of places like Cleveland in the US, often ‘being inspired by a sense of hopelessness’ in policy makers who have invested years of public money in traditional models of stimulating economic growth without making any tangible difference. The focus on maximising the local economic capacity leads to building an approach based around local people, businesses, social enterprises, colleges etc. rather than placing faith in ‘big ticket’ regeneration or inward investment solutions.
This place based approach can be seen in elements of the current picture in Wales, but is by no means central or well integrated with different overlapping area based initiatives, often overshadowed by the sectoral focus of the economic renewal programme. It has been considerably weakened by the demise of the spatial plan, which despite poor implementation, provided a place based focus to development. There are points of light in the system - forward thinking local authorities such as Carmarthenshire, social enterprises such as PLANED and the Creation Development Trust and Town Councils such as in Mold - who have focused resources on supporting local economic development.
There is a need to put more emphasis on the place based approach to local economic development, not to replace the focus on the 9 priority sectors on the economic renewal strategy, but to compliment through using local resources and a sense of place. The opportunity may come through the next round of EU structural funds where the concept of Community Led Local Development is now enshrined as a means of connecting the different strands of EU funding to meet identified local priorities. There is no question we need to challenge any business as usual approach to the application of future EU funds as ‘if we do what we have always done we will get what we have always got’. However adopting this approach will need a very different model with more local ownership and delegation, but it will unlock the capacity of local enterprise to redefine the destiny of place.
I know Neil’s contribution will have inspired those that attended the sessions and it is now down to us to ensure we build momentum to promote local solutions that can create ‘local living economies’ – to use a phrase borrowed from another of my favourite catalysts for change www.livingeconomies.org
You can view Neil McInroy’s presentation slides here: