Research Project

Bordering on Prosperity: Driving forward sub-regional economic collaboration
1 July, 2009

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NLGN is publishes new proposals to accelerate sub-regional economic collaboration across England to help areas weather the economic storm and emerge strong from the downturn.

In a major report to be launched at the LGA conference, NLGN warns that if central government fails to incentivise deeper sub-regional working by putting greater powers “on the table” important opportunities for economic development will be missed. In particular concern is voiced that the city-region forerunners announced at The Budget and the Economic Prosperity Boards (EPBs) currently being legislated for in Parliament will not be granted the powers they need.

Author Nick Hope sets out eight proposals for reform:

  1. Accelerated Development Zone (ADZ) status should be made widely available to sub-regions at the earliest opportunity to ensure large infrastructure schemes do not become unviable
  2. Sub-regional partnerships should be granted additional latitude for Supplementary Business Rates or Business Rate discounts within their functional economic area to match economic activity
  3. Sub-regional partnerships should be able to receive longer-term funding commitments from Government, in turn leveraging benefits from this greater financial certainty
  4. A new three year statutory financial balance for local authorities in sub-regional partnerships should be offered in order to expand the policy choices available to them
  5. A single capital pot for economic development and regeneration would allow spend to vary between themes and projects in a more responsive way and support a more integrated approach
  6. All skills and worklessness commissioning powers should be available to sub-regions at the earliest possible opportunity to help improve educational attainment and tackle unemployment
  7. Multi-Area Agreements and sub-regional partnerships should have their cooperative efforts rewarded with a new ability to appeal to the Secretary of State against NDPB and Executive Agency decisions it feels may hamper their strategy
  8. The concept of ‘Total Place’ should be extended to incentivise multi-area agreements and sub regions to pool efforts and create new efficiencies across a wider area – the notion of ‘Total MAAs’

In addition to incentivising collaboration with new powers, the report argues that there should be greater support for sub-regional working with:

  • The creation of a new ‘sub-regional catalyst fund’, where central government ‘match funds’ the cost of the additional spending and resources needed to establish and strengthen sub-regional partnerships. This money would be paid back by the sub-regional partnership over an agreed period from the efficiency savings that sub-regional collaboration brings.
  • Improvements to the interface with Whitehall should be improved, particularly in the current climate, by strengthening the MAA Team to reflect the growing number of sub-regions that are emerging, looking to develop, and wishing to expand their role.
  • A more flexible, simpler and inclusive approach from government under the MAA umbrella, so that they cover a far wider variety of partnership arrangements, harnessing the economic potential of a wider spectrum of sub-regions.

Nick Hope urged the Government to be bolder in its approach to sub-regions, arguing:

‘“If Whitehall fails to match the ambition of sub-regions with greater ambition itself very few areas will go down this more formal statutory route.

There is a real opportunity for robust governance arrangements at the sub-regional tier, which provide the leadership and drive for important strategic economic decision-making and interventions to take place, but these collaborative partnerships need new tools and flexibilities if they are to be effective.

Both local and central government need to prioritise economic needs over institutional self-interest or they will fail future generations. It will take more than “business as usual” to deliver the infrastructure and inward investment needed for prosperity.”

Publication Date: 1 July 2009
ISBN: 978 1 903 447 80 2
Authored by: Nick Hope