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2012 Rebalancing England: Sub-National Development (Once Again) at the Crossroads - pugalis and townsend
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2012 Rebalancing England: Sub-National Development (Once Again) at the Crossroads - pugalis and townsend

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Over the last two decades there has been continuous tinkering and wholesale review of the remit, governance and territorial focus of sub-national development in England. There has also been mounting agreement that subsidiarity will produce optimum material outcomes. It is against this background that we provide a critical reading of the UK Coalition government’s 2010 ‘White Paper’ on Local Growth. Revealing the peculiarities of an economic transition plan which dismantled a regional (strategic) framework, we explore the opportunities that cross-boundary Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) may provide. After abandoning regions, LEPs have been promoted as the only possible ‘replacements’ for Regional Development Agencies and, thus, a prime example of new ‘techniques of government’. We probe the potentials and pitfalls from the dash to establish new sub-national techniques of government, and crystallise some key implications that apply beyond the shores of England. Our key contention is that LEPs have designed-in just as many issues as they have designed-out.
Pugalis, L. & Townsend, A. R. (2012) 'Rebalancing England: Sub-National Development (Once Again) at the Crossroads', Urban Research & Practice, 5 (1), 159-176.

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    2012 Rebalancing England: Sub-National Development (Once Again) at the Crossroads - pugalis and townsend 2012 Rebalancing England: Sub-National Development (Once Again) at the Crossroads - pugalis and townsend Document Transcript

    • Rebalancing England: Sub-National Development (Once Again) at the Crossroads Lee Pugalis1 and Alan R. TownsendPaper should be cited as:Pugalis, L. & Townsend, A. R. (2012) Rebalancing England: Sub-National Development (Once Again) at the Crossroads, Urban Research & Practice, 5 (1), 159-176.AbstractOver the last two decades there has been continuous tinkering and wholesale review of theremit, governance and territorial focus of sub-national development in England. There hasalso been mounting agreement that subsidiarity will produce optimum material outcomes. It isagainst this background that we provide a critical reading of the UK Coalition government’s2010 ‘White Paper’ on Local Growth. Revealing the peculiarities of an economic transitionplan which dismantled a regional (strategic) framework, we explore the opportunities thatcross-boundary Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) may provide. After abandoning regions,LEPs have been promoted as the only possible ‘replacements’ for Regional DevelopmentAgencies and, thus, a prime example of new ‘techniques of government’. We probe thepotentials and pitfalls from the dash to establish new sub-national techniques of government,and crystallise some key implications that apply beyond the shores of England. Our keycontention is that LEPs have designed-in just as many issues as they have designed-out.Key words: sub-national development; economic governance; Local Enterprise Partnerships;Regional Development Agencies1 Corresponding author: lee.pugalis@northumbria.ac.uk Page 1 of 25
    • IntroductionThe rescaling and accompanying institutional reconfigurations of English planning,regeneration and economic development policy activities (hereafter referred to as sub-national development) have recently featured prominently in policy circles (see, for example,Centre for Cities, 2010; Harding, 2010; Mulgan, 2010; NFEA, 2010; Pugalis, 2010, 2011c;Rigby and Pickard, 2010; Shaw and Greenhalgh, 2010; SQW, 2010; Tyler, 2010). Eventhough the election of a UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat ‘Coalition’ government in May,2010 provided a policy jolt to spatial practice across the sub-national terrain of England, suchbreaks and incremental shifts are nothing new (Albrechts et al., 1989; Fothergill, 2005;Harrison, 2007; Imrie and Raco, 1999; Inch, 2009; Jonas and Ward, 2002; Valler andCarpenter, 2010). Whilst ruptures can be triggered by a change in ideological outlook orpolitical meta-narrative, or indeed socio-economic shocks such as the ‘credit crunch’,incremental shifts tend to be associated with more mundane policy tinkering emanating frombottom-up or top-down ‘innovations’, or more often a melting pot of multidirectional policyinteractions. Over the past decade or so there have been continuous tinkering and wholesalereview of the governance, institutional structures, responsibilities and territorial focus of sub-national development in England. Jones attributes the burgeoning development of such ‘apeculiarly English disease … that of compulsive re-organisation’ to the centralised nature ofgovernment (Jones, 2010, p. 373; see also Porter and Ketels, 2003). Indeed, as Morgan(2002) has pointed out, England remains the ‘gaping hole in the devolution settlement’.Whereas the territories of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland achieved significantdevolutionary packages under the UK’s Labour Government (1997-2010), decentralisation inEngland was rather more constrained (Goodwin et al., 2005; Lee, 2008). As a result, sub-national development in England tends to endure politically-induced ruptures (Pugalis,2011a) more frequently than may be the case in other countries.In most European countries the middle tiers of government (regions, provinces, etc.) are top-down devolved units (elected or nominated) which have authority in many sectors at once.They tend to possess powers that are legally entrenched in federal or other constitutions, andcannot simply be altered by an incoming government’s administrative decisions. In the UK,this applies only to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – which all have regular electionsand policy fields in which they enjoy legislative authority. In England the Labour governmentwas stopped short in its tracks by the negative result of a referendum in one region, the North Page 2 of 25
    • East, in 2004: by a strong majority, the electorate rejected proposals for an elected RegionalAssembly (RA) (Rallings and Thrasher, 2006; Shaw and Robinson, 2007). Historically theregions of England existed as statistical and/or administrative units, though havingapproximately twice the size of population of the average member of the Committee of theRegions. It had been partly to meet European Union requirements that the Conservative andLabour governments of the 1990s standardised and integrated a Government Office (GO) ineach region, with Labour instituting Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in 1999. It isimportant to note that these integrating roles were well staffed and financed, and unelectedRAs continued to develop after the North East referendum result of 2004, for examplethrough the accretion of the statutory role of strategic spatial planning. However, the tripartitearrangement of regional organisations was almost entirely dependent on Whitehall fundingand powers.Enshrined in Labour’s Review of sub-national economic development and regeneration in2007 (SNR)i (HM Treasury, 2007) and consistent with broader trends at the European scale(Commission of the European Communities (CEC), 2009), there has been growing policyagreement that subsidiarity – devolving power and resources to the lowest appropriate spatialscale – will produce optimum outcomes on the ground (see, for example, Communities andLocal Government (CLG), 2008a). This policy direction has continued under the incumbentCoalition government by way of their distinctive brand of ‘localism’ (Bishop, 2010;Conservative Party, 2010; Localis, 2009). Indeed, the pace of change has rapidly acceleratedsince the Coalition entered power, although their policy delivery has tended to be haphazard,reflecting a new ‘permissive’ approach, that is also susceptible to legal challenge (see, forexample, Pugalis and Townsend, 2010) and could be accused of devising ‘policy on thehoof’.The focus of this paper is on deciphering the Coalition government’s landmark ‘White Paper’Local growth: realising every place‟s potential (HM Government, 2010b), published on 28,October 2010, that sought to provide a road-map for their overriding ambition of rebalancingthe economy. Through the Coalition’s open invitation for local authorities and businesses toestablish cross-boundary Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), a new acronym was instantlyborn. Even so, the huge interest surrounding LEPs suggests that they cannot easily bediscounted as merely just another piece of jargon (Hickey, 2010), particularly as they have‘replaced’ RDAs as the prime governance entities available for sub-national development. Page 3 of 25
    • The key contention of this paper is that LEPs, following an extensive line of governingbodies operating at a ‘larger than local’ spatial scale, have designed-in just as many issues asthey have designed-out. Firstly, through an exegesis of the Coalition’s discourse we analysethe case for change; revealing that attention has focussed on past failures to provide therationale for a new political meta-narrative. Secondly, we provide a critical synopsis of theWhite Paper; arguing that the Coalition’s road-map of the future is predicated on dictates ofthe market and market logics. Thirdly, we expose the ‘new model’, intended to rebalanceEngland, for involving at least three dimensions: sectoral, state-community relations andspatial. Fourthly, we provide a nuanced examination of LEPs. Fifthly, we interrogate theterritorial dimension of sub-national development, before analysing the Coalition’s emerginglaisser-faire approach in the sixth section. We close the paper by confronting the peculiaritiesof the Coalition’s economic transition plan for lacking the support of a regional framework,and draw out some key implications and implicit misconceptions in the concluding section.Picking up the pieces: the case for changeAs the Coalition entered power they mercilessly set about reorganising England’s sub-national institutional policy architecture (see Figure 1 for a timeline of crucial policyjunctures). But before reconstitution could take place, the case for change needed to be made.Whilst the administrative regions of England pre-date the election of Tony Blair’s ‘NewLabour’ Party in 1997, their legislation for RDAs to operate in a regional tripartiterelationship with GOs and unelected RAs for each region ensured that institutional-policyinfrastructure inherited by the Coalition was viewed, largely unfavourably, as an unnecessarylegacy of thirteen years of Labour. RDAs, Quasi-Autonomous Non-GovernmentOrganisations or QUANGOs, were in essence the guardians of their respective regionaleconomies. Each of the nine RDAs was charged with improving economic competitivenessand also narrowing regional economic disparities with other regions, which demonstrated atension transparent in Labour’s policy: marrying the ideals of social inclusion with theimperatives of economic competitiveness. Responsible to Whitehall and governed by stateappointed private sector-led boards, RDAs were arguably the chief institutional agency underLabour for promoting spaces of opportunity within the regions. However, their success inclosing the gap in regional economic output and enhancing social inclusion is less clear andmore disputed (EEF, 2007; Larkin, 2010). Page 4 of 25
    • Figure 1. Policy development timelineEven so, RDAs were powerful multi-purpose economic bodies, collectively responsible forthe annual administration of billions of pounds of central government ‘Single Programme’resources and management of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), on behalfof the UK Government’s department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).Alongside their strategy-setting powers, in the form of Regional Economic Strategies (RESs)and then integrated Regional Strategies (the latter set out in SNR), RDAs were the key publicsector players in sub-national development – wielding significant statutory and financialinfluence. They provided a strong link between localities and Whitehall, and therefore Page 5 of 25
    • performed at a key nexus of power. This was reiterated in SNR and the subsequent LocalDemocracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 – but complicated by asuperfluity of sub-regional economic partnerships and other loose arrangements of economicgovernance interests, such as City Regions and cross-boundary Multi-Area Agreements(MAAs).In the run up to the general election and beyond, Coalition ministers contended that it wascounterproductive to attempt to ‘rebalance economies as diverse as those of Leeds, Liverpooland Tees Valley from [their] offices in Whitehall’ (Pickles and Cable, 2010). The centralised-regional system was criticised for its elite approach and bureaucratic-planning view, whichtried to ‘both determine where growth should happen and stimulate that growth’(HMGovernment, 2010b, p. 7). The Coalition declared that Labour’s approach failed because itstifled ‘healthy competition’ by working against the grain of economic markets (HMGovernment, 2010b, p. 7). Against this background, the dismantling of regional institutionalarchitecture was based on three intertwining policy issues, concerning democraticaccountability, size in terms of relevance to functional economic area, and effectiveness ofexisting economic governance arrangements.Firstly, regional spatial planning and economic development were deemed to lack politicaloversight and thus created a democratic deficit (see, for example, Prisk, 2010). Operating asthey did as arms of central government, Pickles maintained that RDAs ‘gave local authoritieslittle reason to engage creatively with economic issues’ (cited in Communities and LocalGovernment (CLG), 2010b). Such rhetorical claims about the ‘democratic deficit’ ofdevolution are a well-used discursive ploy (Morgan, 2002). The crucial flaw with Labour’sdecentralisation agenda was the failure to follow up the establishment of RDAs with electedRAs. Secondly, the narrative goes that regions were ‘too large’ to enable managerial-governance entities to operate effectively. As a consequence Coalition ministers’ claimed thatregions grouped together far-flung local authorities. The implication was that regions wereill-suited to work with the spatial dynamism of ‘functional economic areas’ or ‘naturaleconomic geographies’. Thirdly, the Coalition asserted that the imposition of (almost)anything regional added a bureaucratic layer, which had resulted in needless overlap (Pearceand Ayres, 2007). This was part of a wider ideological reaction against the ‘big state’ andLabour’s state-mode of production, but was accentuated by lower political identification inCoalition held areas of local government, particularly pronounced in the south of England, Page 6 of 25
    • and the greater size of English regions compared with those of EU member states (Townsendand Pugalis, 2011).Whereas both governments emphasised subsidiarity in their respective policy-reviews(Communities and Local Government (CLG), 2008b; Communities and Local Government(CLG) and Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), 2007; HM Government,2010b; HM Treasury, 2007), there were also notable ideological differences in theirinterpretations. Labour, for example, aimed to narrow the growth rates between regionsthrough centrally controlled target-setting and policy prescriptions from Whitehall. State-centrism was supported by a strong regional framework and a plethora of more fuzzy spacesof economic governance (Haughton and Allmendinger, 2008; Haughton et al., 2009), such asMAAs. In contrast, the Coalition contested that Labour’s regions were ‘an artificialrepresentation of functional economies’, noting that labour markets ‘do not exist at a regionallevel, except in London’ (HM Government, 2010b, p. 7), and asserted that regional housingtargets and allocations had actually impeded growth. In the next section we decipher theCoalition government’s White Paper, which entirely replaced Labour’s foremost scalarmodes of policy-management.A road-map of the future?Making the case for change through a new approach, the Coalition Government outlined intheir Local Growth White Paper that they would: shift power to local communities and business, enabling places to tailor their approach to local circumstances promote efficient and dynamic markets, in particular in the supply of land, and provide real and significant incentives for places that go for growth support investment in places and people to tackle the barriers to growth (HM Government, 2010b, p. 5).The shift in approach positions businesses at the helm of partnerships, covering areas whichreflect ‘real’ economic geographies. This is aligned with the Coalition concept of the ‘Big Page 7 of 25
    • Society’ (closely identified with localism), which places distinctiveness and subsidiarity at itsheart by ‘recognising that where the drivers of growth are local, decisions should be madelocally’ (HM Government, 2010b, p. 8).The White Paper was intended to set out a new direction for sub-national development underCoalition national leadership and also spell out ‘what it means in practice’ (Prisk, 2010). Yet,the White Paper is not so much a strategy for action or a cohesive whole, but more of anoutline of a series of distinct (and sometimes disjointed) sectoral and spatial aspirations thatthe Coalition intend to implement over the coming years. It is difficult to neatly summarise asit covers so much ground, including reference to planning, economic development andenterprise, transport, tourism, innovation, supply chain development and housing, in fewerthan 60 pages. Nevertheless, to help paint a picture of the path of change, including whatfunctions may be localised as others are centralised, Table 1 helps distil some of the morenotable policy pronouncements in terms of potential – not mandatory - sub-regional (LEP)functions and those to be ‘led’ nationally.The table clearly shows the scope and extent to which LEPs may perform a role in sub-national development in relation to central government. Having 33 state-sanctioned sub-regional LEPs covering approximately 93 per cent of England’s population (at the end ofApril, 2011) is preferable for undertaking some strategic activities to a situation where eachof the 292 lower-tier local authorities of England is solely responsible for delivery of thesepolicy areas. Without sub-national governance arrangements, the likelihood of local authoritycompetition would intensify. Also, it is widely recognised that business interactions do notrespect or even reflect local administrative boundaries. Therefore, it is valuable to have agovernance forum at the sub-regional level where cross-boundary issues and disputes can beprioritised and hopefully reconciled. Yet, there were some transport, infrastructure andinnovation questions which were valuably conducted at the regional level that may provemore problematic to address at the sub-regional scale. There are crucially many functions ofprevious regional organisations that will remain only at theLocal Authority level, includingformal legal responsibility for planning frameworks and planning application case decisions.And on the other hand, a number of crucial issues have been recentralised in London,including business advice, innovation and inward investment, while the actual funding andmanagement of employment and training matters remain under the direct control of nationalgovernment departments and QUANGOs. Page 8 of 25
    • Table 1. The primary role(s) of LEPs in relation to national responsibilities Central government Policy area Potential role(s) of LEPs responsibilities Oversight and consultee National policy in the form of a Later potential for legislation to take National Planning Framework on statutory planning functions, Planning including determination of Determination of infrastructure and planning decisions of national applications for strategic importance development and infrastructure Strategy formulation and engagement with local transport authorities on their local transport plans Delivery of strategic transport Cross-boundary co-ordination of bids infrastructure Infrastructure to the Local Sustainable Transport Digital connectivity led by Fund Broadband Delivery UK Support the delivery of national initiatives Brokerage and advocacy Take actions on issues such as promoting an entrepreneurial culture, encouraging and supporting business Business and National website and call centre start-ups, helping existing businesses enterprise to survive and grow, encouraging networks and mentoring Direct delivery support and grants will be subject to local funding Advocacy role largely, but some Delivered through the Technology LEPs may continue the development Strategy Board and an ‘elite network’ Innovation and promotion of innovation of Technology and Innovation infrastructure Centres Leadership on sectors of national Provide information on local niche importance and the development of sectors low carbon supply chain Sectors Feeding in local issues to any opportunities national policies Support national Manufacturing Advisory Service Inward Provide information on local offer Led by UK Trade & Investment investment Advocacy role in terms of skills development Work with providers to influence the Led by Skills Funding Agency Employment delivery of Work Programme at local Led by Department of Work & and skills level Pensions and Jobcentre Plus Contribution to handling major redundancies Page 9 of 25
    • Rebalancing England: a new modelThe UK was fully involved in the global economic upheavals emerging in 2007. Therefore,as the economic rule book was being rewritten, when the Coalition entered power theyproposed a ‘new model’ to rebalance the economy of England. We identify three dimensionsof rebalancing to this model – sectoral, state-community relations and spatial – that are bothexplicit and implicit in the White Paper.Through the Chancellor’s ‘Emergency’ Budget (HM Treasury, 2010a), which was promptlyfollowed by a Comprehensive Spending Review (HM Treasury, 2010b), the scale of theCoalition’s fiscal retrenchment policy became widely known, where they proposed the firstrebalancing dimension. Firstly, the Coalition considered that England had become over-reliant on financial services and a rebalancing was required in terms of other sectors, such asadvanced-manufacturing, to help support an export-led recovery (HM Treasury and BusinessInnovation and Skills (BIS), 2010). Consequently, central government will ‘provide nationalleadership on framing policies towards sectors of national importance’ (HM Government,2010b, p. 43), such as the low and ultra low carbon vehicle sectoral market. The Coalitionalso considered that the public-private split of economic activity was in need of rebalancingin favour of the private sector, arguing that: ‘Too many parts of the country became over-dependent on the public sector’ (HM Government, 2010b, p. 6). Related to the sectoralrebalancing dimension was the matter of rebalancing state-community relations (small stateand Big Society). It is the third dimension of the Coalition’s rebalancing rhetoric thatconcerns spatial implications, ‘so that new economic opportunities spread across the country’(Pickles cited in Communities and Local Government (CLG), 2010a). Recognising that it ispotentially economically unsustainable and certainly socio-environmentally regressive to relyon London and the South East as the disproportionate generators of national prosperity,therefore, to ‘succeed’, requires a ‘need to rebalance the economy and allow other regions tocatch up with the South East, boosting the capability and productivity of every area’ (Prisk,2010).Reshuffling the pack but now with less high value cardsIt may now be commonly accepted in many disciplines that places are connected in diverse,diffuse and complex ways (Massey, 2005), yet this view is not yet fully accepted in practice. Page 10 of 25
    • For this reason, over the past five years or so, think-tanks and policy-driven research projectshave been constantly banging the drum that the economic footprints of cities stretch beyondtheir administrative boundaries (see, for example, Centre for Cities, 2010, p. 2). Takingforward the policy direction set out in Labour’s SNR, the Coalition have continued toembrace the recent policy logic for the need to operate across ‘real’ geographies rather thanadministrative constructs, of which regions were very large examples. It is this view thathelps underpin the Coalition government’s rather radical plans and subsequent action to‘replace’ the RDAs with a plethora of (sub-regional) LEPs. They are intended to perform acrucial role: operating at a scale to help negotiate central-local relations. Originally set out inthe Conservative’s local government Green Paper: Control shift: returning power to localcommunities (Conservative Party, 2009), then confirmed as a key policy by the Coalition(HM Government, 2010a), the intent was for LEPs to be joint local authority-business bodiesthat would promote local growth. The 2010 Budget Report stated that the Ggovernment will‘support the creation of strong local enterprise partnerships, particularly those based aroundEngland’s major cities and other natural economic areas, to enable improved coordination ofpublic and private investment in transport, housing, skills, regeneration and other areas ofeconomic development’ (HM Treasury, 2010a, p. 31).LEPs, viewed as new ‘techniques of government’ (Foucault, 1991 [1978], p. 101), constitutethe institutional interface between individual localities (in terms of local authorities, selectivebusiness interests and other economic stakeholders) and the UK government, or moreaccurately particular ministerial departments. Yet, at the closing date for LEP proposals fromindividual areas, no policy guidance had been issued by government to inform thedevelopment of LEP proposals beyond a few paragraphs set out in the letter of invitation bythe responsible ministers; Cable and Pickles (see Pugalis, 2010). It was not until theSeptember deadline had lapsed, and over 60 bids had been made, that the Coalition publishedthe Local Growth White Paper (HM Government, 2010b). Perhaps most significant in thepattern of delay was the longstanding rivalry between the two ministerial departments –Communities and Local Government (CLG) and Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – andtheir respective predecessors (Pugalis, 2011a, c). When the personalities and ideologies oftheir respective cabinet ministers – Messrs Pickles and Cable – were added to the mix it isprobable that a cohesive government view on the form of LEPs could not be reached. Indeed,Pickles, rooted in the local council lobby, is ‘rabidly anti-regional’ whereas Cable, aneconomist, sees the value of retaining some regional structures and was amenable to retaining Page 11 of 25
    • the more favourably viewed RDAs, such as those in the North (Bailey, 2010; Bentley et al.,2010). Indeed, his department, BIS, has more recently decided to reintroduce state regionaloffices in all but name through the introduction of six ‘BIS Local’ headquarters in order toprovide the department with a ‘policy presence outside of Whitehall’.There is merit in distilling the guidance issued on LEPs both prior to and post LEPsubmission (see Table 2), where subtle differences in pre and post submission guidance aredetectable. In terms of LEPs, the White Paper mentioned ‘lots of ‘coulds’ and ‘shoulds’ butnothing definitive’ (Dickinson, 2011). The lack of crucial details and clarity that manystakeholders desired left a large question over whether LEPs would be equipped to delivertheir goal of enabling local growth.Table 2. LEP guidance Pre-submission guidance Post-submission guidanceRole and Provide strategic leadership Provide the clear vision and strategicfunctions Set out local economic priorities and a leadership, developing a strategy for growth, to clear vision drive sustainable private sector-led Help rebalance the economy towards the development and job creation in their area private sector Government particularly encourage Create the right environment for business partnerships working in respect to transport, and growth housing and planning as part of an integrated Tackle issues such as planning and approach to growth and infrastructure delivery housing, local transport and infrastructure Could take on a diverse range of roles, such as: priorities, employment and enterprise, the working with Government to set out transition to the low carbon economy and key investment priorities in some areas tourism supporting high growth businesses Support small business start-ups promoting an entrepreneurial culture, Work closely with universities and further encouraging and supporting business education colleges start ups, helping existing businesses to survive and grow, encouraging networks and mentoring working with Government in developing sector policies strategic planning role, including the production of strategic planning frameworks, making representation on the development of national planning policy and ensuring business is involved in the development and consideration of strategic planning applications strategic housing delivery collaborating with local skills networks to agree skills priorities and to access funding through the Skills Funding Agency working with local partners to help Page 12 of 25
    • local workless people into jobs coordinating proposals or bidding directly for the Regional Growth Fund and coordinating approaches to leveraging funding from the private sector providing information on the local offer in respect of inward investment becoming involved in delivery of national priorities such as digital infrastructure and bidding to become a delivery agent for nationally commissioned activitiesSize Better reflect the natural economic Bodies that represent real economic geography; covering the real functional geographies or reasonable natural economic economic and travel to work areas geography, whether the geography is supported Expect partnerships would include groups by business and is sufficiently strategic of upper tier authorities, which would not preclude that which matches existing regional boundariesGovernance Collaboration between business and civic Putting local business leadership at the helm, itand leaders, normally including equal is vital that business and civic leaders work representation on the boards of these togetherconstitution partnerships The Government will normally expect to see A prominent business leader should chair business representatives form half the board, the board, but Government are willing to with a prominent business leader in the chair consider variants Partnerships will want to work closely with Sufficiently robust governance structures universities, further education colleges and Proper accountability for delivery by other key economic stakeholders. This includes partnerships social and community enterprises The Government does not intend to define local enterprise partnerships in legislation The constitution and legal status of each partnership will be a matter for the partners, informed by the activities that they wish to pursueAdded Partnerships that will create the rightvalue/impact environment for business and growth, over and above that which would otherwise occurThe geography of LEPs: new territories but the same old politicsLEPs are a mechanism for enabling collaboration across traditional boundaries; be theyadministrative, political, cultural, geographical or sectoral. Industry, academic and mediaattention has focused on the scope, role, priorities, resourcing and powers of LEPs, but‘especially what areas they will cover’ (Finch, 2010). With the potential to steer the broadcomplex of spatial interactions, including transport connectivity, housing provision,economic development and skills, geography is an important dimension in the territorialfocus of LEPs (Centre for Cities, 2010; Marlow, 2010; Pugalis and Townsend, 2010). Page 13 of 25
    • Initially it was made clear that LEPs could take the territorial form of RDAs in areas wherethey proved popular, such as Northern England and the Midlands. However, the anti-regionaldiscourse coming from Whitehall, no more so than from the Communities Secretary, EricPickles, weakened rapidly the likelihood of regional LEPs (or new generation RDAs)becoming acceptable. Indeed, once it was made known that LEPs were to be self-financing –receiving no national government support towards running costs – and that the strategicphysical and business assets accumulated by RDAs over the best part of a decade would notbe transferred to them, any hope of the formation of a new generation of streamlined, more‘business friendly’ RDAs quickly dissipated.It is well recognised that administrative areas, including those formed by local authorityboundaries, do not reflect the spatial logic of contemporary society or functional economicflows. However, it is not the case that the groupings of local authorities formed under theumbrella of a LEP can necessarily do so either. Specific economic, social, cultural orenvironmental interaction will determine the ‘natural’ boundary (to invoke the Coalition’sdiscourse), catchment or scale that one should work with. So, for example, it would beextremely unlikely for the geography of a LEP to adequately reflect both business supplychains and travel to work areas. Consequently, as the bids have demonstrated, mostpropositions were based on a limited range of economic flows and interactions in decidingtheir geography (see Figure 2 for an overview of the range of LEP applications).Figure 2. The range of applications for Local Enterprise Partnership statusSize (Largest employed population): Kent-Essex (1.494 million), Leeds City Region,Greater Manchester, East AngliaSize (from the smallest employed population): South Somerset & East Devon (123,000),Fylde & Blackpool, Hereford, Shropshire & Telford, South Tyneside &Sunderland, Newcastle-GatesheadSelf-containment: Cumbria (95.5%), Leeds City Region, West of England (former Avon),East Anglia(Proportion of 2001 Census employed population working within the overall boundaries)Self-containment (from the least self-contained): Bexley, Dartford & Gravesham (53.8%),Surrey, Fleet, Hook & Camberley, Northumberland & North Tyneside, Buckinghamshire. Page 14 of 25
    • Analysing the initial LEP propositions in comparison with Travel-to-Work self-containment,as a proxy measure for ‘natural’ economic market areas, demonstrated that there was a closecorrelation between those areas displaying 75 percent and greater self-containment and thefirst wave of 24 approved LEPs. Derived from this analysis, it is reasonable to infer that thecomplexity and multiplicity of functional economic geographies have been curtailed in theTravel-to-Work simplification. Worse still, in fashioning the geographic patch of many initialLEP proposals, political horse-trading has often overridden what shaky evidence existed onfunctional economic market areas. In these instances, deals were made less on trust andperhaps more on the basis of less suspicion than of ‘them lot over there’. Examples of thistype of politicised deal-making and parochial mentality were apparent across the North East(excluding Tees Valley) and Lancashire, in particular. More positively, there were someinitial LEP propositions that openly recognised the limitations of local authorityadministrative building-blocks and therefore opted to have overlapping boundaries.Consequently, some councils are members of more than one LEP (for example, the major ex-mining borough of Barnsley that is a member of both Leeds City Region and Sheffield CityRegion LEPs). Other overlapping geographies that emerged from LEP bids, however, wereless a reflection of the complexity of spatial dynamics and multidirectional economic flows,but rather more preoccupied with territorial disputes or ‘place wars’.There is arguably a range of functions which is best performed at the level of ‘real’ orfunctional economic areas, such as employability skills. However, it is less likely that othercomplex issues, including transport, will neatly correlate with the new quasi-functional-institutional boundaries relating to LEPs. From this perspective, the new ‘spatial fix’ is just aslikely to generate as many issues as the regional spatial fix which LEPs replace. Byderogating the regional policy-architecture – not to mention pan-regional initiatives such asthe Northern Way – accumulated under Labour, the Coalition has opened up a major vacuumbetween the localities and Whitehall.The emerging laisser-faire approachThe Coalition’s approach to unravelling the policy knot associated with abandoning regionsin favour of localism has been quixotic. The chaotic transitional period had created littlescope or opportunity for staff to transfer between the bodies. The disastrous outcome was a Page 15 of 25
    • huge loss of human capital and all the associated tacit and institutional knowledge. There wasalso uncertainty over the disposal of the RDAs’ numerous business and physical assets, withBIS responsible for the former and CLG the latter. This process was further complicated,particularly in the case of many site acquisitions, which had often been obtained as but onepiece in the strategic regeneration jigsaw. Thus, with substantial public sector resourcesalready ‘sunk’ into them and ongoing financial obligations, it may be more appropriate toconsider some of these so-called assets as short-term liabilities or money pits. There was alsouncertainty as to whether the LEPs of a former region were indeed encouraged to worktogether, as Coalition ideology tends to prefer competition, perhaps even at the expense ofweaker areas. Following the abandonment of a longstanding system of regional grants toindustry, there was uncertainty as to the eligibility criteria of the new Regional Growth Fund(RGF). However, ‘growth’ became a keyword in the spring of 2011 as the initial policydisposition of the Coalition met a negative set of economic indicators.The first results of the RGF allocation were emphasised and a set of 21 ‘Enterprise Zones’(EZs) were announced in the 2011 Budget (HM Treasury, 2011), these being areas with taxincentives and simplified planning rules (refashioning a policy of the 1980s Conservativegovernment). With the first 11 EZs supposedly spatially targeted ‘on city regions and thoseareas that have missed out in the last ten years’ (Communities and Local Government (CLG),2011, p. 3), they ‘amount to the first real test for the new LEPs ... By discouraging LEPs fromdividing up EZs, each expected to be 50 to 150 hectares, the government is obliging councilsto focus on what will best achieve growth for the wider area’ (Bounds and Tighe, 2011, P. 4).However, it remains to be seen whether limitations of the original EZs, including businessdisplacement, sustainability and market distortion, have been designed out of this newgeneration, which government claim is ‘[a] modern day approach’ (Communities and LocalGovernment (CLG), 2011, p. 3).In terms of new arrangements for running LEPs, there was no funding, except for theopportunity to bid for a small Capacity Fund to support intelligence gathering and boarddevelopment, which is little more than a fig leaf for budget cuts. The lack of funding couldprompt one to ask, what indeed would be the purpose of securing recognition for LEP status?The answer is simply that the LEP would be the official sub-national development conduit forrepresentations, which presumably would be listened to by Whitehall. Judging by recenthistory, LEPs will have to negotiate with individual government departments and their Page 16 of 25
    • respective QUANGOs rather than liaising with a single point of contact across Whitehall,such as a ‘champion’ for a particular LEP. However, national government has a habit ofdirectly creating or inviting proposals for the formation of sub-national developmentgoverning entities that begin as streamlined bodies with a focussed remit, only for them tosubsequently act as a convenient peg to hang numerous other policy hats. It is such state-induced mission creep that was a decisive factor that undermined the role of RDAs (Pugalis,2011c).LEPs may find themselves in the unenviable position of staying true to their locally-rootedpriorities and ambitions (that is likely to leverage minimal national government resources) orreacting to national priorities (that may include some financial incentives). And increasinglyit appeared that the functions of LEPs were confined to visioning and setting strategicdirection rather than decision-making, delivery or commissioning bodies. As a result, sincethe concept of LEPs emerged onto the scene in 2010, all manner of businesses and theirrepresentative organisations, together with other interest groups, have expressed repeatedfears of them becoming ‘Local Authority-dominated talking shops’. Protracted arrangementsto establish new governance arrangements also sparked concerns that business interest wouldwane without some ‘quick wins’.Among the many topics in their purview, one, that of skills, is seen as critical by businessmembers, while that of town planning is highlighted as significant to developers and others,both with previous precedents. Skills were the subject of previous business-led committeesprior to RDAs, in the shape of Training and Enterprise Councils established in the early1990s by a Conservative government (Bennett et al., 1994). Skills remain a great concern atthe present juncture of ’rebalancing’ the economy amid high youth unemployment andredundancies, and are a leading item in the thoughts of business in many LEPs. Yet, Higherand Further Education Colleges remain under separate departmental control, and there areconsiderable problems in aligning educational courses with those sectors and occupationswhere short and likely longer-term demand exists. At the same time, the Department forWork and Pensions, responsible for the (national) Work Programme – the new set ofmeasures to induce the unemployed to return to work – and working age benefits, remainsresolutely opposed to co-ordinating much local activity with bodies such as LEPs. Page 17 of 25
    • In terms of town planning, the relevant department, CLG, published a Localism Bill inDecember, 2010, which, once enacted, would radically rescale planning: removing theregional tier and implementing a new neighbourhood tier below the level of the 292 lower-tier Local Authorities across England. Yet, the government response to the House ofCommons, Business, Innovation and Skills Committee inquiry into LEPs merely states that‘Where local enterprise partnerships are interested in strategic planning the Government willencourage the constituent local planning authorities to work with them’ (HM Government,2011, p. 22). As a result, the majority of LEPs only appear to be interested in an ‘informal’ or‘loose’ style of planning. Such a fluid form of planning is advocated by some, such asRichard Rogers (2011), from a purist perspective of shaping places, yet many businessinterests, such as the Chamber of Commerce, regard statutory planning as providing legalcertainty for investment activity. However, if LEPs are to take on a more formal role in thestatutory planning process, it is probable that significant tension will arise between the needsof business and of democratic accountability. How will different communities needs fare insuch a radically reconstituted system is a crucial question, yet to be adequately addressed.Closing remarksState-led restructuring of sub-national development activities in England has (once again)been drastically reorganised. In the context of global policy convergence (González, 2011),this potentially poses some key implications that apply beyond the shores of England asmessages transmute as they journey through different policy communities. Through thispaper we have examined how the institutional-policy terrain has recently met significantvolatility and a (potentially) radical review. In addition, we have drawn attention to theideological undercurrents not always noticeable at the policy surface. Through an exegesis ofthe Coalition’s discourse we have revealed how attention has been directed towards the pastfailures of Labour’s regional bureaucratic machinery, in order to provide the rationale for anew political meta-narrative of permissive localism. The Coalition’s intent to rebalance theeconomy – predicated on private enterprise enablement, public spending sector cuts, radicalreform to the planning system and institutional reconfigurations – was sketched out in a seriesof pamphlets, including their respective election manifestoes (Conservative Party, 2009;Liberal Democrats, 2010). This intent was confirmed in their Programme for Government(HM Government, 2010a) and was enshrined in the Local Growth White Paper (HMGovernment, 2010b). Nevertheless, whilst the White Paper went some way in presenting an Page 18 of 25
    • overarching roadmap of their economic transition plan it did not necessarily set out acoherent strategy. Together with sketching out what the Coalition’s national and sub-nationaldevelopment philosophy is, it was also a reflection of their permissive approach: covering alot of ground in a relatively loose framework, and less concerned with the practical details ofimplementation. Consequently, the lack of detail, together with the ambiguity and velocity ofchanges has generated substantial uncertainty, scepticism and apprehension.Rescaling is being utilised to help manage the class relations and tensions of economicregulation (Gough, 2003), perhaps part of the attempt to divert some attention away from thesignificant cuts to public sector budgets. Indeed, it is noteworthy that the White Paper rarelymentioned ‘regeneration’, which is in stark contrast to the political attention that regenerationas a policy field received under Labour (Pugalis, 2011b). With widespread evidence thatmany councils had announced redundancies across the sector within weeks of theComprehensive Spending Review (see, for example, Willis, 2010), local authority officers –and planners in particular – may struggle to efficiently handle simultaneous upward anddownward rescaling responsibilities.There is a strong policy case to be made that places have different roles to play and functionsto fulfil, whether in terms of regional development, economic growth, urban renaissance,sustainable communities, rural development or any other policy terms coined to refer to theprocess of spatial reordering. LEPs might, in theory, meet this aim more accurately and/orefficiently than regional entities, such as RDAs. However, we caution against positing LEPs– composed of groupings of local authorities – as a panacea or spatio-institutional fix.Viewing LEPs as the latest in a long line of ‘techniques of government’ (Foucault, 1991[1978], p. 101), brings to the fore new issues which are silently designed-in to theirconstitutional web just as others are more vociferously designed-out. The discussion on LEPsis rapidly evolving and doing so at different paces across the country, with some places leftLEP-less, at the time of writing. Yet, interest generated has been substantial, demonstrated by62 LEP propositions developed and submitted to government within a short space of time.This has prompted a considerable amount of discussion, debate and debacle, not least as aresult of the so-called ‘permissive’ approach that the Coalition is taking; which we areconcerned is often reminiscent of an ‘act now, think later’ policy. Page 19 of 25
    • The Coalition’s ideologically-infused policy story goes that regions are ‘too large’ and localauthority administrative boundaries ‘too small’ to enable economic managerial andgovernance entities to operate effectively. But whilst sub-regional LEPs may better reflect so-called ‘natural economic areas’ in some cases, we contend that many are in danger of merelyestablishing new administrative constructs, constraints and bureaucratic building blocks.Further, it is a myth that functional economic areas can be neatly demarcated. Setting anyprecise boundary can only arbitrarily self-contain a ‘local’ economy that is globallyconnected. We therefore end with a call for the merits of ‘porous’ partnerships to beadequately considered and the prospect of ‘fuzzy’ boundaries to be engaged.With public sector cuts beginning to bite deep from April 2011 and other mainstreamregeneration funding quickly evaporating, local government will struggle to financially backLEPs. The Coalition’s philosophy is predominantly concerned with reducing the budgetdeficit and in turn rolling-back the state by enabling private enterprise and business toflourish. As this is the case, LEPs will need to quickly recognise that they are not mini-RDAs, but economic leadership groupings operating at sub-regional geographies. Theirgreatest success may lie in arbitrating spatial competition between neighbouring localities;promoting the merits of cooperative advantage. Maintaining the momentum of private sectorengagement has proved too difficult for many of the sub-national techniques of governmentthat have gone before. Considering that LEPs will have limited, if any, direct resources attheir disposal, when the time arrives, as it surely will, to implement a new replacementtechnique of government, it is hoped that the majority of LEPs will not be remembered as‘toothless tigers’.Whilst rearranging the deckchairs is to be expected from an incoming government,it is hopedthat the Coalition’s single-minded pursuit of rebalancing the economy in abandoning regionsdoes not abandon the many sub-national places already largely bypassed by Labour’s spacesof competiveness. Labour’s failure to narrow the gap between the ‘have-lots’ and the ‘have-nots’ (Dorling, 2006, 2010b), may be accelerated and injustices deepened under a Coalitionthat looks to be pursuing a neoliberal revanchist urban policy (Smith, 1996) against the‘undeserving’ workless populace (Dorling, 2010a). Whilst we duly recognise that ‘[LEPs],like their predecessors, are only a means to an end’ (Centre for Cities, 2010, p. 17),expectations for these new governance innovations are heightened in terms of overcoming thestrategic policy vacuum and enabling a spatially just rebalancing of the economy. Page 20 of 25
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    • Shaw, K. and Greenhalgh, P. (2010): Revisiting the Missing Middle in English Sub-National Governance, Local Economy, 25(5), pp. 457-475.Shaw, K. and Robinson, F. (2007): The End of the Beginning? Taking Forward LocalDemocratic Renewal in the Post-Referendum North East, Local Economy, 22(3), pp. 243-260.Smith, N. (1996): The new urban frontier: gentrification and the revanchist city (London,Routledge).SQW (2010): Local Enterprise Partnerships: A new era begins? (London, SQW).Townsend, A. R. and Pugalis, L. (2011): The territorial governance of sub-national space.Regional development and policy - challenges, choices and recipients. Newcastle: RegionalStudies Association (RSA).Tyler, R. (2010): LEP revolution in the regions puzzles as many as it excites , TheTelegraph, 23 August, Available at:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/7957747/LEP-revolution-in-the-regions-puzzles-as-many-as-it-excites.html [accessed on 23 August 2010].Valler, D. and Carpenter, J. (2010): New Labours Spaces of Competitiveness, LocalEconomy, 25(5), pp. 438-456.Willis, B. (2010): Stoke to axe 70 renewal jobs, Regeneration & Renewal, 8 November, pp.i SNR had four major objectives: empowering local authorities in the promotion of economic development andregeneration, promoting cooperation between local authorities, streamlining regional policy-making andimproving accountability, and reforming government relations with regions and localities. In essence it was acompromise between devolving powers and responsibilities on the one hand and retaining central Whitehallcontrol (often through the auspices of regional institutions and QUANGOs). Page 25 of 25