Recent analysis by the Centre for Progressive Policy has concluded that the economic impact of COVID-19 will vary significantly across the country. Parts of the Midlands and the North West are expected to be hit hardest with an estimated decline in economic output of close to 50%. In other parts of the country, the impact on the local economy will be half that.
With such marked differences across the country, a one size fits all approach for reinvigorating the economy post COVID-19 will not work. The analysis demonstrates the importance of addressing the issue at a local level through a place-based perspective.
Local authorities have a window of opportunity to remain at the forefront of the response, making the most of the greater willingness of people to contribute to the recovery of their own community. Crises can bring out the best in people and the response from local authorities across the country has been fantastic to see. This renewed sense of purpose and ownership could be the catalyst for significant change.
Of course, local authorities will not be able to tackle the crisis in isolation. Government intervention will be required to fund the predicted budget shortfalls, and collaboration will be critical in addressing broad issues such as climate change and homelessness. But local authorities must remain at the centre of this, making decisions that will not just drive the immediate recovery but also the long-term future of their communities.
A key element of this approach is re-shaping town centres to boost short term growth whilst also meeting the needs of the future. If the place based variation of the immediate economic impact is accurate, the largest and strongest regional centres will be ok, but town centres in the North and Midlands will need support quickly.
Recently, Iceni has been working closely with one of the Midlands local authorities noted in the research. We undertook a survey of local businesses in June to understand what would help them most in terms of recovery. It was clear that a good number had already started to work together to think more creatively about their unique offering as a regional industry, something that the local authority had been keen to achieve in the coming years. This is a great example of how a renewed sense of community spirit can help to accelerate the achievement of those goals.
Short-term, bold action plans are required. There is an opportunity for some experimentation, with a wider use of community and commercial uses, to deliver rapid change in the areas that need it most.
A true shift in power to the local level will be needed to enact some of the decision making required to implement the action plans, creating the stronger sense of local identity we have all been talking about for so long.
Strategic decisions on infrastructure are needed to support the local efforts but there needs to be a focus on place, not departments or tiers of government.
Iceni takes a place-based perspective in all our work, providing consultancy support to over 40 local authorities in the past 2 years.