Government to help build local industrial strategies

BEIS to help regions cultivate plans in areas such as artificial intelligence and mobility

Credit: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has confirmed that the government will work with communities across the country to develop local industrial strategies by the end of March.

The department reiterated its plan to support the development of local plans in a statement on Monday. The commitment comes as BEIS faces what the National Audit Office has called ‘significant capacity challenges’ as it grapples with one of the biggest Brexit-related workloads in Whitehall.

BEIS announced that the entire country would benefit from assistance with developing local plans, which will be led by directly elected mayors or local enterprise partnerships, to link local economic strengths to the government’s national industrial strategy. 

The national plan set out what business secretary Greg Clark called a “new and unique partnership between government, academia and industry” to increase productivity across the country to meet four “grand challenges” that will shape the future of the UK economy. These are artificial intelligence, clean growth and energy, the ageing society, and transformation of mobility.

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The cross-government Cities and Local Growth Unit has already been providing assistance to three areas – Greater Manchester, West Midlands, and the Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge arc – on matching their local plans to the national funding, and the department said it would now “work in partnership with places to develop local industrial strategies that will be long-term plans based on clear evidence and aligned to the national modern industrial strategy”.

“We know that growth does not happen in the abstract, it happens in the cities, towns and counties of our country, all with their own unique strengths and heritage,” Clark said. “Local modern industrial strategies, designed by local businesses and people, will capture the strengths and opportunities of an area and provide the long-term plan for how we ensure we seize those opportunities.”

In an interview with PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World in March, Alexandra Jones, BEIS’s director of industrial strategy, highlighted the vital role of the local plans, stressing the industrial strategy “is not just about Whitehall”.

“The three priorities for me are implementation, engagement, and then iteration: making sure we stay up to date with what is going on,” she said. “And all three require us to engage with businesses, universities, local government and the public, and that is what we are trying to do.”

Jones said the government was working to “make sure these local industrial strategies are distinctive and different, and help local areas make the most of their strengths”, adding that “some of the best ideas will always come from outside Whitehall”, meaning it is vital that the strategy has feedback channels so BEIS can “make sure the fabulous stuff that is going on across the economy is equally a part of implementation”.

She added: “It will be a challenge to us all to make sure we’re boosting productivity right across the country. There is always more the civil service can learn – and the grand challenges will be a great opportunity to do policymaking in an open way. There is lots we can learn not just from what we’ve done [in the past], but actually from around the world.”

Sam Trendall

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