I want localism to go further, writes John Frankiewicz, chief executive of Willmott Dixon Capital Works.
The Localism Act has been around since last November and as divisional Chief Executive at one of the UK's largest construction firms it is fair to say it was an exciting prospect to see how we make this work at the 'grass roots' level.
For the construction industry, Local Government has always been our bread and butter and, in the last year alone, Willmott Dixon has delivered major civic, leisure and entertainment projects across the UK for local authorities keen to attract further investment. To me at least, localism is about greater empowerment for local authorities to make strategic decision to improve skills, create jobs and deliver more economic opportunity in local labour markets.
But I wanted to go further. If we are really serious about delivering infrastructure, the public and private sectors need to work together. So we asked ComRes to find out what local councillors really do make of the whole localism agenda. Perhaps more importantly, we asked whether they think it can deliver local economic growth. The results were interesting.
Unsurprisingly, we found that most Conservatives are broadly positive about the implications, and believe that it will be a useful tool in unlocking economic growth. Labour councillors, on the other hand, were generally quite pessimistic. However, even among Conservative councillors, more than a third thought that the Localism Act could have a negative influence on the amount of bureaucracy that their council has to deal with.
Across the board, 'Financial constraints' and 'housing' are cited as the two biggest challenges in meeting local needs, while poor skill sets in the local workforce and transport links are the two greatest barriers to local investment. Also singled out as barriers were low levels of education and lack of suitable property options. A summary of the research can be found at: www.willmottdixon.co.uk.
At a time when the Government is looking at new ways to kick start growth in local economies, the research shows unambiguously the areas of concern for councillors.
So what is the way forward? In truth a lot needs to be done to build trust between local government and the private sector. While the private sector needs to play its part in this, local government too needs to look at how it can be more entrepreneurial to drive joint venture opportunities and deliver infrastructure. Really, it's about building mutual recognition of the respective strengths of both public and private sectors in creating development opportunities that create growth and jobs.
Today's research is the culmination of a year-long programme of Willmott Dixon events for local government focusing on localism, encouraging councils to discuss the challenges they face and to explore potential solutions. It also coincides with the launch of Willmott Dixon's programme to encourage closer working between public and private sectors to create more development opportunities that will unlock local jobs.