The Impact of Brexit on Local Economic Development: Practitioner Workshop

The Impact of Brexit on Local Economic Development: Practitioner Workshop

Thirty economic development professionals from across the South West attended this IED hosted workshop discussing the early implications of Brexit. The workshop considered three pieces of research:

  • A survey of Local Authority and LEP responses to Brexit
  • The role of LEPs in planning and economic development
  • What can we do about underperforming towns and cities?

Local Authority and LEP responses to Brexit

The first session saw Dr Gareth Jones of Hardisty Jones Associates share the findings of an IED/HJA survey of Local Authorities and LEPs in the South West region. Responses had been collected from more than half of all Local Authorities and LEPs in the South West. More than 80% of respondents noted some form of impact of Brexit already, whether positive, negative or both, including a number reporting approaches to businesses in their areas to relocate to continental Europe. Whilst uncertainty reigns, 60% of respondents were already responding to Brexit in some way. However, it was clear that for the vast majority the current and near future response is reactive rather than proactive. The ensuing discussion highlighted the need for proactive leadership, but there are challenges to delivering this. Firstly, there is a need to find a balance between waiting for some data on clear impacts to emerge on which to base decisions, and the risk that by that time the picture is clear it will be too late to deliver an adequate response. Secondly, there was clear concern that economic development structures are not sufficiently well equipped to deliver on this. With economic development being a non-statutory function it is constantly at risk of further cuts, and with LEPs woefully under-resourced there are major challenges. There is also a clear need for resources to be identified to replace EU monies. Calls also came for stronger leadership from the business representative bodies to make plain the risks of Brexit, and particularly hard Brexit, to the economy.

The full results of the survey can be found here.

The role of LEPs in planning and economic development

Professor Chris Balch of the University of Plymouth presented findings of research undertaken on behalf of the RTPI South West on the role of LEPs in planning and economic development. This set out the need for LEPs to be more engaged with forward planning if local growth is to be delivered, and the need to plan for Brexit. The research identified that the most successful places in the UK over the last 30 years had been those with the most directive planning. The research also raised some significant concerns about the functional geography of some of the LEP areas in the South West region, and it had highlighted that new joint local plans were actually leading to a new administrative geography at a far more functional level. The discussion again returned to the issue of leadership (or lack thereof) at a national level and the need for clear and effective governance structures locally.

The full research report can be found here.

What can we do about underperforming towns and cities?

Keith Burge, Former Chair of IED presented research that he led for the Commission for Underperforming Towns and Cities, which included the IED, RICS, RTPI and Association of Town & City Management. Keith highlighted the fact that underperforming towns and cities are not getting the attention they merit, with the current focus on ‘growth’ coming at great cost for some areas. In response he called for every town and city to have an inclusive partnership and bespoke plan alongside public investment and a return to area based regeneration. Keith also shared his own personal views on Brexit, the key theme being that ‘there is nothing good about Brexit,’ which to anyone who follows him on Twitter will come as no surprise! The discussion yet again picked up on the issue of leadership, conflict at Westminster between differing camps, and a call for boldness.

The full report of the Commission can be found here.

Conclusion

Overall there was an overwhelming sense from the event that Brexit would be negative for the economy. Uncertainty is currently all-pervasive and there was concern that ever increasing uncertainty will be common for years to come. In response, the recurring theme throughout the workshop was of the need for strong leadership at all levels, i.e. Westminster, LEP and Local Authority. However, at present the evidence suggests that this leadership is lacking. When coupled with insufficient resources the challenges are clear, but the solutions less so.