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Thursday 11th and Friday 12th July saw leading European and North American academics convene with policy makers at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, for a conference on local economic growth. Michael Kitson, Professor Ron Martin and Professor Peter Tyler from the University of Cambridge were part of the organising committee, along with collaborators from the University of Southampton and Cambridge Econometrics. The purpose of the conference was to explore the response of regions to the recent recessionary epoch, foster stable short and long-term pathways to recovery, and develop greater understanding of how to advance future economic resilience.
The conference utilised research derived from an ESRC funded project entitled How do Regions React to Recession: Resilience, Hysteresis and Long-term Impacts? Conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and University of Southampton, this project aimed to understand why local economies respond differently to capitalism’s boom and bust. Consequently, focus was placed on local economies that have been performing poorly, in particular the core northern cities and the devolved regions. London’s dominance as a centre of finance, government and culture was highlighted for its inflationary pressure on the rest of the UK economy. Indeed, one participant raised the question “…can the regions continue to afford the diseconomies of London?”.
At this inaugural conference many of the core UK cities were represented with presentations by policy representatives from the cities of London, Birmingham and Manchester. Of great novelty was the wider representation of local business leaders from the embryonic Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), who participated in the panel session debating the contemporary and future role of LEPs in local economic growth. While these organisations were created to fill the voids of the now obsolete Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), the pressure placed on them to deliver growth, particularly under severe resource constraints, was highlighted. Indeed, they were a policy LE(a)P into the unknown! Pushing the resilience agenda could prove challenging under these conditions.
In summary, the key message of the day was outlined by Professor Ron Martin: “A new agenda for the regions outside of London needs to be articulated by both academics and policy makers”. Evidently, this agenda must harnesses vital resources to improve the core regions outside of the UK’s economic engine of London. This new agenda is not about constraining London or trying to counterbalance its considerable mass by redistributing economic activities, it is about being better at selling the other core cities. A voice needs to be raised which emphasises the strengths of these cities, as well as the complentarities which are evident between the Capital city and the UK regions.
One of the ultimate aspirations of the conference was to select key papers to form the basis of a special issue of the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society (http://cjres.oxfordjournals.org/), an international journal based in Cambridge, published under the auspices of the Cambridge Political Economy Society.
This conference provided much needed dialogue between academics and policy makers on the topic of local economic growth. Moreover, it cultivated fresh inspiration and ideas on how to boost the growth trajectory of the UK regions in response to the tumultuous economic conditions of the past six years.