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Stephen Martin's blog: Government must drive regional growth

30 May 2017

stephen martin director general

The gap between our most and least prosperous regions is striking. For a country with a fast-growing economy like the UK to be so reliant on the wealth of the capital city - and the areas around it – is not only potentially detrimental, but also in many ways unusual. In countries like Germany and France, for instance, the wealth creating powers are far more spread out. 

In order for the UK to continue to grow and prosper, it’s important that we see more organic growth outside of the capital and the south east. Now, London is an economic success story – we should do all we can to allow our global city to prosper. But the next Government must focus on regional growth too.  

The first action that we urge the next governing party to take is to give momentum to ‘Metro Mayors’. One way to do this would be hosting ‘Regional Cabinet’ meetings with each of the new metro mayor in the latter half of 2017. Encouraging more regions to consider whether the system of more localised governance is right for them is essential and the next Prime Minister can do so by showing their support for metro mayors. 

Talking of existing schemes, more attention should be paid to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). The performance of LEPs in different parts of the UK has been varied. Guidelines should therefore be set at central Government level to which LEPs must be held to ensure that each one performs at a high standard. As many as 62% of our members do not know within which LEP their primary organisation resides – increasing awareness of the help businesses can receive at local level should be a must. The time for these bodies to evolve has come – ensuring all LEPs perform as well as the best-performing ones today could be transformative. 

Another initiative the next Government should take is encourage better export performance through centrally-led competitions for trade show funding. The Department for International Trade should be given a discretionary £15m fund, available to Local Authorities, LEPs and Metro Mayors, to be used to facilitate regional trade and investment campaigns. 

In longer term, the next Government should think of ways to ensure that areas particularly reliant on one or two dominant industries are not left behind by changing technology. Creating a new body which would focus on future threats to employment in specific local areas would be one way to do this. Building on existing efforts, such as LEPs and Catapult Centres, this new Committee would advise on skills and business-focussed initiatives to ensure that, as technology changes, local areas do not suffer as a result of a dominant industry downsizing or closing.  

After all, the last thing we would want is the repeat of incidents like mine closures in the 1980s, when a number of once-prosperous areas across the country were left adrift.

Read our full election report on driving regional growth here.


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