Wednesday 25 Sep 2013

Living on the boundaries of LEP-land...

Our voice of Buckinghamshire Business this week is:
David Marlow, from Third Life Economics

As a resident of Stamford, within around a ten minute stroll, I can be in any one of four upper tier local authority and three LEP areas – Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire and Peterborough; Greater Lincolnshire, Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough (GCGP), and Northamptonshire LEPs. Stamford was recently named by the Sunday Times as the 'best place to live in Britain'. Although I hardly see my world view through ST spectacles, it is indeed lovely and economically vibrant.

Stamford is confirmation – if such were needed – that being pulled in a number of different geographical directions is not an overriding barrier to place-based success. And I could certainly make a compelling case (if asked to do so) that  my adopted home town is, in economic terms, by some margin in the most inappropriate of both its upper tier local authority and LEP geographies.

All of which brings me to Buckinghamshire Thames Valley (BTV) LEP. I must declare an interest here. In recent months I have had the opportunity to work with three of your neighbouring areas (both LAs and LEPs). This has allowed me to think about the geography of LEPs in the London 'mega-city region' (MCR). This, arguably (e.g. the POLYNET studies of the mid-noughties), stretches to the south and east of a line from Peterborough to Oxford, Swindon and Bournemouth / Poole.

Extraordinarily, sub-national leadership of this geography, accounting for well over half England's growth, is now divided between London, and thirteen LEPs varying in size from the 4 million population South East to BTV. Every type of LEP geography is represented – pan-regional, radial, administrative and ceremonial counties, and even a (very) small number that look something like coherent functional economic areas (FEAs).

From the outside looking in, this doesn't come across as a sensible way to lead, plan and manage change in a world city region. Some of the contradictions of this laissez-faire strand of government's localism is played out in the challenges facing BTV. Being pulled between three of the most dynamic and diverse sub-regions of the UK (and indeed north west Europe) – Outer London West and North West, Thames Valley, and South East Midlands – certainly dwarfs even the economic identity crises of my adopted home town.

BTV's leadership team has, in its very short existence, come across as distinctive (even idiosyncratic) and energetic. But in the longer run, perhaps the reputation BTV most needs to establish is one founded on spatial economics literacy!

David Marlow, from Third Life Economics

Photo credit: Lucas - Flickr

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