Support recommended to stop regional business “fighting with one hand behind its back”

Entrepreneurs operating in the English regions feel like they are “fighting with one hand behind its back” and need more autonomy to make themselves globally competitive, business leaders claim.

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The Institute of Directors said the next Government must consider bold ideas to allow for regional growth to be stepped up a gear and today lays out a range of measures to help boost the English regions to allow them to be internationally relevant and successful after Brexit occurs.

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Among the recommendations it spells out include reducing the “patchiness” in Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) by boosting their staffing and funding, as well as making their performance more accountable to local business productivity.

It calls for the devolution of skill powers to the regions, investment relief into disadvantaged areas and regular Cabinet meetings between ministers and regional authorities as a means of allowing the entire country to operate on a global stage.

It also suggests the creation of ‘urban wealth funds’ for major cities and an independent taskforce to monitor areas vulnerable to emerging global and technological trends and recommends the Industrial Strategy Council to be made a statutory body to bolster its powers and standing.

Tej Parikh, chief economist at the IoD, said: “British businesses want to compete on the world stage, and many do, but too often they feel their region is fighting with one hand behind its back.

“The local growth agenda in the Industrial Strategy is a good starting point, but there have been too many delays and distractions in getting it up and running. Our towns and cities need more autonomy to respond to economic shifts and invest in their specialisms sooner rather than later.

“If our recent industrial history has taught us anything, it’s that we need to get ahead of economic and technological changes before they cause long-lasting damage to local communities.

“Future-proofing our regions by supporting innovative activities can help generate productivity gains and high-quality jobs across the country, not just in the Southeast. Our regions also need the support to showcase their strengths, boosting their ability to compete both nationally and internationally.”

With the UK set to quit the European Union the IoD said it viewed such a time as an “opportune moment” to established a regional development agenda which was interconnected and as local strategies are being drawn up ahead of the next Government’s Spending Review process.

Mr Parikh said an incentivasation process could help provide regional economies with the stimulus they needed.

“Finding the cash to stimulate our regional economies will also become more challenging as competing demands intensify,” he said.

“So we mist explore new ways to raise long-term funds that will build thriving local business environments.”

On skills in particular, the IoD said devolving skills powers could allow regions to influence local training provision and deliver courses which met local needs.

It recommended improved coordination between businesses, educators, training providers and LEPs to help better target local skills funding and curricula.

Lord O’Neill, former Treasury Minister and vice chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, welcomed the recommendations, saying: “I particularly welcome the report’s suggestions of steps to pursue further devolution of powers locally for skills as well as other crucial initiatives where civic leaders and local business groups are much more likely to be able to think of specific needs for that region rather than even the best intentioned centrally devised plan from Whitehall.”

The IoD also called for infrastructure upgrades to focus on key local road and rail routes where there are bottlenecks, as well as major upgrade projects such as HS2 and Crossrail, with improvements in the North and the Midlands the locations where particular emphasis was required.

Digital infrastructure was also key it said, particularly concerning full fibre broadband and 5g networks.

It also said that local access to funding for branding and marketing campaigns to could help bolster the representation of the regions on inbound and outbound trade missions.