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Can the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) deliver economic growth?

Blogger . 05/11/2010 15:29:34
By Graham Pearce, former Professor of Public Policy and Management, Aston Business School

The task of boosting economic growth and tackling regional inequalities could be undermined by plans in the Coalition Government’s Regional Growth White Paper to transfer powers to sub-regional consortia of councils and businesses working through Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs).

There are considerable uncertainties and potential risks, I believe, arising from the current reshaping of responsibilities for securing sustainable economic development at the sub-national level. My conclusion, in a nutshell is this, below. And I invite you, the reader, to give your comment in a bid to gauge, as a region, our collective reaction:

• LEPs will replace England’s nine Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) but collectively will have far smaller budgets. The scale of resources available to RDAs has not been sufficient of itself to make a significant impact on regional economic disparities and without political clout and some financial incentive LEPs could prove ineffective.

• The loss of RDA funds will be felt most keenly in Northern and Midland regions and, despite reassurances that resources for economic development will be distributed in favour of the less prosperous regions; reductions in public expenditure will exacerbate the longstanding economic disparities between the Greater South East and the rest of the country.

• The Government expects LEPs to tackle a range of policy issues that contribute to creating the right environment for business and economic growth. But the task of effective partnership working requires a considerable investment of time and energy. Moreover, the new Partnerships will be reliant on multiple funding streams administered by a plethora of government bodies, whose own budgets are threatened. Their room for manoeuvre will be severely restricted.

• LEP boundaries should reflect socio-economic realities, rather than administrative units. Nonetheless, the willingness of authorities to put aside local interests and provide a collective voice on issues that have a strategic dimension cannot be assumed. As the current bargaining around LEPs has revealed, parochialism remains a potent ingredient and rather than ‘natural’ economic areas LEPs are being defined according to arbitrary administrative boundaries. There is also the risk of unproductive ‘place marketing’ between LEPs to attract mobile investment and jobs.

• There is an underlying assumption that the key groups representing business are both willing and able to engage in LEPs - factors that are highly variable across business organisations and geographical areas. As volunteers, business partners do not want to be part of bureaucratic ‘talking shops’. Nonetheless, granting business interests an equal status with local authorities in LEPs may lead to undue prominence being given to economic considerations and may be incompatible with local authorities’ remit to deliver sustainable development in a public and accountable setting. As such they are likely to replicate the weaknesses of legitimacy associated with the RDAs and unelected regional assemblies.

• LEPs are expected to provide strategic leadership for the coordination and integration of sub-national spatial and investment priorities, where certainty is vital for both private and public sectors. There is virtue in seeking to coordinate such policies to maximise the effectiveness of public and private expenditure but this will depend upon authorities and their business partners demonstrating a capacity to enter into collaborative and long-lasting commitments, with the risk of significant geographical variations. Furthermore, the need for statutory planning across sub-regions is not currently recognised.

• The legacy of economic development knowledge and expertise in the regions, I think, should not be dissipated. Indeed, because there are economic opportunities and challenges that cannot easily be dealt with either nationally or locally, there remains a compelling case for establishing region-wide partnerships of local authorities, business leaders and other key partners to deal with strategic economic issues.
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A positive message in difficult times

Blogger . 29/09/2010 10:49:03

By Dr Pat Tissington, Associate Dean Business Partnerships, Aston Business School

Having taken a short break from blogging, I'm returning to the fray with what I hope is an upbeat message - despite the frankly awful prospects of government announcements in October. So, to the awful bit first. I get the impression from the various polling and public opinion sampling that the general mood in the country is not completely opposed to government spending cuts on principle. But there does seem to be opposition when people are asked what they think about reductions in the services they personally get from government. Perhaps the whole thing is too abstract at the moment but it is going to become only too real come October when the announcements are due. Psychologically this seems to be a case of self interest with people being fine about pain so long as it involves other people but less enthusiastic when it affects us personally. Or maybe it has more to do with not yet knowing what the impact is going to be. It is some sort of economic phoney war currently which is likely to have it's Dunkirk moment soon.

Those of us involved in the running of organisations will have experienced this sort of thing before. In order to get change moving, you must gain some general agreement that change is necessary. A popular way of doing this is the presentation of a "burning platform" - alerting people to an imminent crisis. In a recent talk at Aston Business School, Justin King who has performed a remarkable turnaround as CEO of Sainsburys, preferred to say this was making people acknowledge the reality of the situation. The reasoning is the same though - people are naturally resistant to change unless and until they realise there is no alternative; whereupon they can adopt it enthusiastically. It is perhaps the other side of the personal survival instinct we see in current attitudes to spending cuts. If staff become convinced that the survival of the organisation (and therefore their jobs) is dependant on change, the job of change management becomes straightforward. If they feel the opposite (i.e changes proposed wick jeopardise jobs), heels will dig in and creative effort will be devoted to resistance rather than innovating.

So, where does my optimism come from? I recently met a group of senior public sector managers in a Work Foundation event. I was astonished at how upbeat they were about the future. Initially I thought they must be mad bearing in mind some were heading up departments which were planning for a 40% funding cut. But after a while it dawned on me that in fact they were relishing the challenge and with good reason. One told me "Actually I prefer a large cut. If you were told to cut by 5% or even 10%, I would be expected to deliver the same service. But when this becomes 25 or 30%, no sane person expects the same service level. What me and my management team have to do is work out what will continue to deliver and what to stop. We need to work out how to do this and make sure we take our stakeholders with us. It's difficult yes - but also very interesting." So, it is being regarded as an opportunity for serious thinking about what organisations are for, what their stakeholders want/need and of course a way of providing challenge for staff. I have found similar relish for the fight across the pubic sector.

Privately many senior managers have also been energised by the rash of early retirements since many who are burned out have decided they have no stomach for the fight and allowed new blood to take over. So, perhaps the Great Government Cuts of 2010 will be remembered as the time when a new dynamism came to public services.

To be fair, it is going to be pretty dreadful as well.

This post first appeared on Dr Pat Tissington's blog for the Birmingham Post on 23 September 2010

To read further blogs please visit the Birmingham Post's Business Blog

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Not all superheroes are born equal

Blogger . 23/06/2010 16:37:54
By Chris Harrison, Head of University Communications

When I’m not working, I like nothing more than to watch a good film, and not many people make better ones than Christopher Nolan. The director of The Dark Knight, Batman Begins and some rather good non-bat-related movies such as Memento and Insomnia was interviewed in the latest edition of Empire magazine.

I read with interest about his plans to direct the next Batman film and produce a reboot of the flagging Superman franchise. Towards the end of the interview, he said something which really struck a chord with me as a marketer:

‘What you have to remember with both Batman and Superman… is that what makes those the best superhero characters there are, the most beloved after all this time, is the essence of who those characters were when they were created and when they were first developed. And you can’t ever move too far away from that.’

What made the Batman films so successful was not the script, acting, scenery or, in the case of The Dark Knight, the unfortunate death of one of the lead actors, although all of those things form part of the picture. It was that Nolan and his team understood what ‘made’ Batman. Bruce Wayne was a man driven by fear and revenge. His parents were killed in front of his eyes when he was a child. Despite his extraordinary wealth he was raised - and continued to live - in the gloomy, crime-ridden city of Gotham. Perhaps most tellingly, he was created in the late 1930s when most comic books turned as dark as the cloud hanging over Europe.

Batman was never intended to be the luridly colourful, camp crusader of the 1960s (enjoyable though the Adam West series are) or the badly misguided Clooney incarnation in Batman and Robin. Nolan understood this and realised that to make a successful Batman movie, he had to get to the root of the character, and he did so with great skill.

There are those in Hollywood and on the internet forums who would love Nolan to oversee a Superman ‘origin story’ very different to Richard Donner’s; to turn the Man of Steel into a dark, brooding, introspective character (Superman 3, anyone?), inhabiting a Metropolis teeming with shadows, torrential rain and inescapable menace; to produce an existential look at what makes a Superman. But Nolan won’t do that. He knows that just as Batman’s humanity is what makes him special, it is his ‘superhumanity’, to coin a phrase, that makes Superman special. He says, ‘a big part of [what makes them exceptional] is their individuality.’

Marketers know very well the relevance of Nolan’s approach to what we do. Every organisation is unique, each one with something slightly different to offer its customers, whether through its products, services or personality. This, of course, is what we call the ‘brand’.

A brand is something to be celebrated, utilised, but most of all, lived. All of the most successful brands actually exist, and that isn’t intended to be a glib or obtuse comment. They thrive because the customer’s brand experience closely matches or ideally exceeds the brand proposition. ‘Spin’ may win friends, but it doesn’t keep them, long-term.

Having learned to love and live our brands, we must back that up in our marketing plans. Too often we see or hear about ‘Me Too’ strategies where organisations spend vast amounts of money to ‘counter’ or copy what their competitors are doing; or they redesign their website or literature at great time and cost, to look like their rivals’. Sometimes this might make sense but it is not a sustainable option. It is far better to look at what works for us. Chances are it will be different to what works for them.

So what conclusion can we draw from this? To return to the Superhero analogy, if we want to ensure that our organisation is a Dark Knight and not a Batman and Robin, let us embrace its individuality, celebrate it, and most of all, live the brand.

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