Five insights on development funding and growth from IED event

More than 220 people attended last week's Institute of Economic Development annual conference in London, held in association with Planning and Regeneration & Renewal. The headline sponsor was Turley Associates. Here are five things that they learned at the event.

1. Government is not yet satisfied with public-private local enterprise partnerships' (LEPs') strategies for spending future European funding. A senior civil servant told delegates that LEPs need to strengthen the business cases in their strategies for spending the £5 billion of European structural funding they are due to receive between 2014 and 2020. The country's 39 LEPs submitted their draft strategies for spending the money to Whitehall last month. Department for Business Innovation & Skills deputy director Sue Baxter said "nearly all" LEPs needed to better explain the rationale for their proposals. "The European Commission will look through all LEP plans to make sure they are robust," she said. "They are quite sceptical about our way of doing things ... they think LEPs are too new and too inexperienced."

2. Small business support looks set to be the sector benefitting the most from the 2014-20 European funds. Baxter revealed that the sector earmarked for the biggest proportion of structural fund money in the LEP proposals is small business competitiveness (21 per cent), followed by skills development (20 per cent), employment programmes (17 per cent), social inclusion (12 per cent), innovation (12 per cent) and low-carbon programmes (11 per cent). She said that the proportion of the funds earmarked for innovation "was a little disappointing ... as we pride ourselves on being a knowledge economy".

3. Economic development professionals are preparing to be bolder. IED chair Keith Burge urged delegates to take more risks. "We should try to be more innovative," he said. "Those are the attitudes that will be required to achieve the shift we need in some of our cities". He said the institute was working with other groups to set up a commission to explore the future for "second-tier " cities such as Blackpool and Sunderland.

4. Even aggressively pro-growth boroughs can be worried by relaxation of permitted development rights. London Borough of Bromley renewal director Marc Hume said the council saw itself as "overtly development-friendly and market-savvy". "But I don't think letting offices go to housing sites at the whims of a private developer is a good idea. I don't understand why we need to identify a five-year supply of housing land, but not a supply of land for industrial and commercial use".

5. Accessing government regeneration funding is a council's best lever for driving local economic development, according to officers. A survey of senior council officers by event sponsors Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners found that 76 per cent of planning and economic development chief officers believed that securing cash from sources such as the Growing Places Fund or the Regional Growth Fund was the best way they could support growth. In second place, 71 per cent of respondents said working with local enterprise partnerships was a "significant" or "very significant" lever. Securing Enterprise Zone status for key sites and creating local development orders were seen as the least important available levers, ranked as "significant" or "very significant" by 24 per cent and 27 per cent of respondents respectively, the survey found.

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