Written evidence submitted by Opportunity South Essex (LRS0044)
Opportunity South Essex (OSE) is a private-public partnership whose vision is for South Essex to have one of the fastest growing and most sustainable economies in the UK, providing opportunities for businesses, attractive for inward investors and benefit local communities.
South Essex has a business base of over 32,000 enterprises providing more than 354,000 jobs and a population of 800,000. South Essex is a natural economic corridor and currently contributes £17.9 billion to the national economy- it aims to contribute an additional £15 billion to the UK economy and create 100,000 new jobs by 2050 and will play a significant part in helping the UK economy to recover post Covid-19.
Over the last 3 years, South Essex has forged its own path in relation to the local leadership of growth. South Essex has a number of challenges which are masked as a result of being next to London and forming a key part of the South East. We have areas of high deprivation and low productivity, and so there are large areas here which need to be levelled up too.
Our local authorities are working closely together as the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA). Opportunity South Essex is one of the four federated boards of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP). Our experiences of working closely together will provide some useful insights in response to this call for evidence. We have found that working at this greater scale has enabled us to tackle problems that could not be solved by local authorities on their own.
ASELA has responded to the challenges and opportunities in South Essex by starting with the creation of a single evidence base across the 6 local authority areas it covers. This has included join commissioning of a range of documents which brings the added value of being able to tackle a range of issues across a broader geography taking advantage of this greater scale. We have been able to use this as a framework to support future iteration of local plans, fitting within a broader strategic picture. Our evidence base flows from individual districts, unitary and county authorities as well as both using and supporting the evidence base SELEP have created to underpin their Local industrial Strategy.
This has also enabled greater private sector engagement because South Essex is a unit which businesses recognise as a functional economic area
Our way of working has meant that we have been able to have a strong flow of information between different organisations operating at different spatial levels. Our local business boards voice flows tot eh opportunity South Essex Board and then directly into SELEP and Government. This is a two way flow which has been especially powerful and useful during the pandemic.
We have strong links with ASELA which again have been able to use this flow to support sharing of information between local areas right up into Government. Our working relationship with ASELA is deepening and providing an ever closer link between our key private sector leaders and local delivery. This has enabled us to establish clear local priorities which have a high degree of buy in across both public and private sectors.
Our ability to work together is demonstrated through our prospects for investment which was submitted to MGCLG in July 2020. We have also been a key partner supporting the creation of the Thames Estuary Growth Board and recognise that this will be an increasingly powerful voice as its role develops. Our experience shows that there is a real value in having a strong and clear local narrative helps us tell our story and generate support in a range of contexts, and in a way that is relevant to different parts of the structure be it local or highly strategic.
We have already spoken of our ability through our structures to drive strong two way communication from local business boards, via Opportunity South Essex to SELEP and into Government. This has given us strong credibility with our board and wider business community. We have also been able to demonstrate the links between issues raised locally and how they have been responded.
We have been able to demonstrate to businesses that they have a strong role to play in setting local priorities through an ongoing and open dialogue. This has been at local, sub regional and regional levels. For example, our businesses had a strong role to play in establishing our priorities for the recent Getting Building Fund submission. In addition, we also have a role in determining LEP priorities and ensure that they reflect local needs.
Our local authority partners recognise the value of having strong business engagement and this is becoming increasingly important in local priorities. There is a recognition that a strong economy can support a wider range of outcomes for residents.
Having a clear set of local priorities, with business support, enabled us to develop a strong and compelling Investment prospectus referenced earlier. This enables us to have a clear set of priority projects and activities and we pursue funding opportunities that align with them. This avoids a reactive approach to funding calls, and enables us to pursue opportunities that have a clear alignment with our aims and objectives.
It also enables us to move swiftly when needed, as demonstrated through our recent submission in response to the Getting Building Fund. Through our prospectus, SELEP priorities and emerging priorities in the Thames Estuary Action Plan we have been able to provide a strong structure within which we can position our priorities and attract investment. Again, this shows our ability to show how local delivery can realise wider strategic objectives.
An observation we would wish to make is that funding calls like the Getting Building Fund, with its very tight delivery window, means that the focus for projects put forward is an ability to spend rather than their investment return or benefits case. This short horizon funding, while welcome and necessary, does mean that some bigger wins are not able to be realised due to a focus on short term delivery. Funding allocations need to be over longer periods to enable the optimum projects to be put forward with the most compelling return on investment/benefit case.
There is a need to recognise that shovel ready projects have their role to play, but the real benefits and transformation will only be realised through medium and longer term projects and programmes that bring about real and lasting change. Any new funding regime needs to recognise this by providing multi year funding for both the projects and the organisations that are responsible for delivering them.
We believe that in South Essex we have the capacity to make significant funding decisions to work on the behalf of central Government. Our Investment Prospectus outlines this, and the initiative we have taken to structure ourselves around a clear set of ambitions.
I trust that this submission is useful. Please do get in touch if you would like further explanation or to explore some of the points raised.