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Local government and manufacturing

Thursday saw the MTA attending a seminar at the House of Commons organised by the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group on the topic of Local Government and Manufacturing. Led by John Stevenson MP for Carlisle a number of Local Government experts gave their views on how manufacturing could be helped by town halls up and down the land.
Richard Harries, Deputy Director of the think tank Reform, suggested that Councils spent too much time worrying about what Central Government wanted them to do and not enough taking initiative on behalf of their local areas. He said that recent Government legislation, the Localism Act, gives Councils the power to take responsibilities but that very few, if any, had done so.
Hywel Lloyd, a Consultant working for Stoke-on-Trent, talked about their plans to help the local ceramics industry, which are jobs led and focus on supplying sorely needed skills. He was interesting on the topic of the choices that Councils face when they look to allocate their scarce resources – noting that they may not always come to realistic decisions for their localities, too much wishful thinking abounds.
The next speaker was Cllr Sue Lissimore of Essex County Council. She worried about growth not filtering down to every part of the country and areas, even in in supposedly more prosperous parts of the country like hers, being left behind. She was also very interesting when she spoke about the work that Essex is doing with Jiangsu Province in China. Local Council’s international links often get a bad press (twinning junkets and the like), but the schemes they are working on, funded by local businesses not taxpayers, to promote exports and inward investment sounded like valuable help to business in the County.
The final speaker was Dr Sara Teasley, an historian at the Royal College of Art. Dr Teasley’s speciality is design and the political process. Much of her work has been in Japan where she suggested the authorities were grappling with many of the same issues that afflict the UK notably the tensions and lack of trust between Central and Local Government.
All the speakers and the other participants, including the MTA, highlighted the difficulties that SMEs face when trying to interact with councils. One contributor from Birmingham outlined a scheme they have to ensure that businesses only have one local regulatory officer to deal with, who then covers off their issues with their colleagues in other departments. Another theme that emerged was that SMEs struggle to see the value for their business rates and that if they wanted to make a difference councils should vary them – a power they now have, but none have used.