EEF is urging newly elected councillors to overcome the vague rhetoric and narrow outlook that has so far hindered progress on rolling out devolution across England, and focus on taking ownership of the delivery of successful devolution from central government.
The call follows local council elections and forms part of EEF’s submission to the BIS Select Committee inquiry on devolution.
In it, EEF stated that devolution has a clear role to play in strengthening the local business environment, but local decision makers must set aside their differences, come together and sign a deal with government so they can get on with making the transport and infrastructure investments needed to boost local economies.
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EEF also said that there is value in the government’s requirement for directly elected regional Mayors to be put in place as part of new devolution deals – they will help to provide greater accountability and secure greater buy-in for transport projects taken across local authority boundaries.
For manufacturers it goes without saying that these regional decisions will need a regional mandate.
Transport and infrastructure
Transport and infrastructure are by far the most important areas that manufacturers want to see action on as part of devolution.
But, they say that large infrastructure projects should remain the domain of central government, while local councillors should focus on return on investment and priming local economies with small, high-return on investment projects.
While potentially unexciting, this will deliver financial returns for years to come that can be reinvested. Conversely, locally-led large projects and programmes carry the risk of failure and long payback periods, which could undermine support for devolution.
As well as making the case for ensuring that local business has a place at the decision-making table, EEF asserted that local authorities should focus on boosting UK manufacturing – the sector exports, innovates and invests more than its output share of the economy, alongside leading the way on productivity in the UK.
In the next 12 months, devolved authorities will be able to retain monies raised from local business rates. Local decision makers should focus their support at businesses that have deep roots in their local communities – such as manufacturers – to help achieve sustainable growth in business rate income in years to come.
EEF’s senior policy adviser, Chris Richards commented: “Manufacturers recognise that devolution has a clear role to play in strengthening the business environment to make it more fertile for firms to thrive.
“While having a vested interest in the outcome of devolution, manufacturers and other business leaders have skills and experience that will add significant value to local decision making. It’s vital that this is recognised and they are actively engaged in the crucial months ahead as the stable foundations for future growth are set in place.”