Latest Public Sector News

01.04.12

Local growth for local areas

Source: Public Sector Executive Mar/Apr 12

Lesley Kirkpatrick, head of regeneration and development at Powys County Council, makes the case for local growth zones in rural Wales.

For rural areas, the rigid structure of enterprise zones may not be the best option to drive growth and employment. This is the idea behind Local Growth Zones, first recommended in a report by policy institute Centre for Cities, and it has been enthusiastically taken on board by Powys County Council in central Wales.

Whilst other authorities were putting forward bids for enterprise zones in December 2011, Powys, in conjunction with neighbouring council Ceredigion, proposed that the most appropriate approach for their areas was the development of local growth zones.

Analysis into the previous round of enterprise zones concluded that this type of policy would allow governments to apply a ‘menu’ of different policy options, all tailored towards the individual circumstances of the local economy.

This flexibility is vital for rural areas, Powys County Council’s head of regeneration and development Lesley Kirkpatrick argues.

“To ensure it is successful all of us in the public sector and our partners in the private sector need to work together to make sure we maximise the benefits. Everybody in Powys is committed to ensuring we’ve got a future in our individual communities and that they are sustainable,” she told PSE.

This approach was suggested to business minister Edwina Hart AM alongside an indication of the types of support mechanism that could be relevant to a local growth zone policy.

These include rapid planning zones, access to corporation tax uplift, skills support, labour market coordinator, rebates for national insurance contribution if you take on or create additional jobs, priority processing of applications for financial assistance and assistance with the processing of patents.

The difference with local growth zones as compared to traditional enterprise zones is about shifting from a capital base to focusing on skills, people and intellectual property, Kirkpatrick clarified, and is intended to support additional benefits rather the displacement of jobs.

Rural roll-out?

Hart has selected members to set up a task and finish group on this issue, to evaluate the potential policy options for local growth zones. The group met for the first time in March and will complete its work, culminating in a report summarising its findings and recommendations to the minister, by the end of June.

The key findings from this Group will inform Welsh Government opinions on initiatives in other parts of rural Wales.

Kirkpatrick said: “There is a possibility that Hart may want to roll that out to other rural parts of Wales.”

When Hart announced her decision, she mentioned three towns specifically: Brecon, Newtown and Llandrindod Wells. This recognises the difficulties that rural Welsh towns are facing, Kirkpatrick suggested.

“The whole high street issue is coming to the top of everyone’s agenda. I think it’s the right time to be looking at whether there are initiatives and incentives that the Welsh Government could develop that would be specifically aimed at supporting those people and enterprises within those three towns.”

One size does not fit all

Other differences between the two types of zones include applying a different number of incentives depending on the circumstances of the area. Kirkpatrick highlighted the fact that “one size doesn’t fit all” and since not all areas are the same, this would introduce necessary flexibility.

Local growth zones would also be more focused on the people involved, ensuring they get the support they need through training and development. This could be used as a potential approach to incentivise companies to create more employment opportunities.

Kirkpatrick added: “The focus will be on additionality; ensuring that these are new jobs and that people are benefitting through training. We could be directly supporting more apprenticeships in these local growth zones.

“Another issue for Powys and other areas in rural Wales is our accessibility to broadband – it’s very poor in Powys. We’ve got a lot of slow-spots and not-spots. If we had local growth zones identified, we would want those areas to be at the top of the list in terms of next generation broadband rollouts.”

The zones could also have a single point of contact to minimise confusion and duplication. Kirkpatrick concluded: “It’s about making sure that the businesses and people in the local growth zones know where they can go for support and assistance and get the match for where new jobs are created or opportunities, there’s an element of matching those to the pool of labour.

“It could be orientated around people to ensure they get the maximum benefit and they know there’s a clear channel of advice.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

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