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Councils call for ‘greater freedom and funding’ to deliver industrial strategy

Councils have responded to the government’s new green paper setting out the UK’s industrial strategy by asking for greater freedom and funding to deliver its aims.

The strategy outlines the government’s commitments to future developments in housing, economic growth, skills training and digital connectivity, along with specific transport infrastructure projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail.

In the document, ministers acknowledged that its ambitious set of industrial plans for the country would only be achievable by taking a holistic approach.

“The full involvement of innovators, investors, job creators, workers and consumers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is the only basis on which we can produce an enduring programme of action,” said Greg Clark, the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

“We invite the devolved administrations, as well as local councils and mayors, to work together with us to develop joint plans to help every place meet its potential.”

The government’s green paper outlined its plans to join up trade and investment promotion within local areas, with teams dedicated to the Northern Powerhouse, the Midlands Engine, Greater London and southern England working with local leaders such as new combined authority mayors and Local Enterprise Partnerships to export small firms and attract overseas investment.

The government has also stressed its intent to better align public funding and infrastructure investment to support local plans using devolution and its new Infrastructure Delivery Plan. It highlighted several measures announced in last year’s Autumn Statement such as the government’s new £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund and the additional £1.2bn to upgrade local transport systems.

“At present, local councils’ choices about where to encourage development are constrained by a lack of resources to build roads, install utilities like electricity and sewerage, and carry out other requirements to make sites viable,” the green paper reads.

“Through devolution deals with major cities we are devolving decisions over public transport, and roads from Whitehall, enabling cities to take a joined up approach to planning infrastructure for public transport, housing and industrial growth.”

The green paper has been broadly welcomed by local authorities with the LGA saying that it was “encouraging” that the government recognises the importance of local leaders in boosting economic growth, but said that councils need “greater freedom and funding” from central government in order to achieve its aims.

“The Industrial Strategy is an opportunity to bring together fragmented national growth-related funding which sees £23bn spread out across 70 funding streams and managed by 22 government departments and agencies,” said Lord Porter, chair of the LGA.

“Giving local areas the power to target funding at projects that will provide more certainty for businesses and investors would benefit local people, improve productivity and strengthen the national economy.”

Lord Porter used the employment and skills system as a case in point, saying that the current centralised system is “costly and inefficient” and fails to meet local communities’ needs.

He added that the government must work with councils to develop a UK-wide regional development scheme to replace the loss of EU regeneration funding when the UK leaves the EU, a scheme which the LGA has already begun to consider.

Cllr Anne Western, the County Councils Network’s spokeswoman for economic growth and prosperity, and leader of Derbyshire County Council, stated that considering counties have lower than average productivity, and infrastructure gaps amounting to billions, “government must ensure that all four corners of the country benefit from this strategy, and that this opportunity is taken to devolve powers and resources to counties, not simply continuing to focus on the big cities”.

“Counties make the largest contribution to the national economy, and are home to over half of England’s jobs in key sectors that the government has pinpointed will be key to the country post-Brexit,” she said.

“Therefore, their vast potential must be tapped into. Counties are ready and able to work with Government and businesses to lead local economic growth and regeneration, and ensure that we really can create an economy that works for everyone.”

Councils have been invited to respond to the government’s consultation on the paper which will close on 17 April 2017.

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