The annual conference of the Institute of Economic Development was held on 23rd November, with the theme “Creating Economic Growth in a New World”. Bringing together leaders in economic development, regeneration and business from across the UK, the event set out to discuss “how to achieve true economic development and create an enabling environment for sustainable economic growth”.
It is no secret that one of the major factors hindering growth in the UK is poor productivity, especially when compared to other major economies. One of the sessions focussed on what causes this, and what can be done to tackle it, addressing the following issues:
- What does ‘productivity’ mean? What can we do to improve it?
- What are the necessary skills set, behaviours and attitudes of the employers and workforce needed to close the gap?
- How can economic development officers and consultants boost UK productivity?
- Improving regional growth through improved regional data
The session was taken by Steve Carr, Deputy Director, West End Partnership (Westminster City Council), Jonathan Barr, Policy Analyst, OECD, and Emsi’s economist and senior consultant, Duncan Brown.
One of the key points made by Duncan in his presentation, is that we should avoid the error of treating the issue of productivity as a uniform problem. Not only are there big variations across the country, but there are even big variations within a single LEP area. This highlights the need to treat each area as unique, and so any proposed solutions to the productivity problem must take into account the nuances of each area.
What does this mean in practical terms? Basically, different skills matter in different places and so, for instance, although STEM skills and creative skills are always good, they will have different values in different places. For each area to achieve better productivity, it is therefore important for economic developers to achieve the right mix of skills in their area. However, this presupposes that they first identify what the needs of their region really are, which is where detailed local intelligence is absolutely crucial.
Duncan finished his presentation by offering the following points of advice for organisations that are trying to improve productivity in their area:
Play to your strengths
This entails gaining a better understanding of there those strengths are, and especially the niche sectors and skills in your region.
Make the right comparisons
Rather than necessarily looking at a neighbouring area, which may actually have a very different economy, look at areas which are more similar. For example, the Swindon and Wiltshire LEP has a very different economy than its neighbour, Thames Valley Berkshire (for more details, you can access our LEP Region Reports and compare different areas).
Attract a talented workforce
The “best places to work” are not always the “best places to live”, and each region will something to offer which will balance these two issues out.
Get more granular
Again, this is where detailed data comes in, with granular labour market insight enabling economic developers to identify the skills that employers are looking for, and attract new investment into the region based on the existing skills within the workforce in the region.