Local authorities must play a pivotal role in Britain’s economic renaissance

If a country’s economic model tells its story, then a new chapter for Britain is well overdue.

Structural problems in the British economy have long held us back. Regional imbalance in government investment leaves swathes of the country without the motors for growth and exaggerates the many factors that drive inequality between regions.

UK business capital investment is low in comparison with our international competitors and the resulting weak productivity growth is symptomatic of a short termism which afflicts government and the banking system as well. The stifling effects of low research and low innovation spending have been exacerbated by Austerity and Brexit.

The consequences for people around the country are stark. Real wages have long been declining, even before what is now going to be the biggest fall in living standards on record. And social problems from rises in child poverty – the shocking takeaway of Rishi Sunak’s tone-deaf Spring statement – alongside increasing crime, reductions in longevity and lost life opportunities are as scandalous as they are costly.

Britain deserves and can do better. A key part of our approach must be to combine our historic strengths in academic research with entrepreneurial innovation to bring about a new industrial revolution. And localism must be at the heart of that.

That’s what we’ve been seeking to do in Hammersmith & Fulham. We developed our industrial strategy while in opposition. Reimagining local government’s role in the economy as social entrepreneur – using the soft power of our position to bring people and the factors of inclusive growth together.

We drew inspiration from the German Länder and city states. Their constitutional hard power facilitated the Federal Republic’s 75-year economic miracle. But our plan was equally guided by California’s Bay Area and Massachusetts’ Kendall Square where their practical links between world-leading academic institutions, city authorities, government agencies and the vibrant tech sector transformed them into world leading eco-systems.

Our first-of-its kind inclusive industrial strategy with Imperial College London rethinks the role of local government in the economy and is fast turning our borough into a global hotspot in the STEM, medicine, media, and artistic sectors.

Arriving in office in 2014: we changed our planning guidelines to deliver affordable flexible start-up and scale-up space and when we pitched our plan to Imperial, we met an imaginative team who shared our vision.

Launched in 2017, our partnership combines the infrastructure, planning, education, and soft powers of local government with the genius of Imperial.

The White City Innovation District is at the heart of this new economic eco-system. In the last five years over 6,500 new jobs have been created in biotech, medtech, cleantech, engineering, AI, quantum computing and foodtech. We’ve attracted global anchor organisations, like Novartis, Airbus, ITV, and The Royal College of Art who sit alongside biotech pioneers like Synthace and Autolus. Over 60 life science businesses have been created, grown, or moved into our borough. And White City incubator companies have raised over £100m in investment.

As with the early days of Silicon Valley, this emerging cluster of entrepreneurs, academics, established businesses and our talented local community is co-creating on an unprecedented scale – building a new centre of gravity for the smartest parts of the new world economy.

Together with Imperial we set up Upstream to provide targeted business support; and we are aligning the work of our schools, apprenticeships, and retraining programmes while building a £118m education and youth centre called Ed City so local young people can share in the new opportunities arriving on their doorstep. We are creating the climate for the next Steve Jobs or Martha Lane Fox to come from our borough.

Last week we signed a ground-breaking agreement with the City of Barcelona, linking their 22@Barcelona innovation district with ours so we can innovate together and co-operate on incubation models, digital inclusion, and more.

We’ve delivered over 1.5 million square feet of high-tech workspace and more than 2,000 new homes to help local workers live locally. The UK Competitiveness Index now predicts Hammersmith & Fulham will see one of the highest ongoing rates of productivity-per-worker.

Inclusive growth is the essential ingredient, and while there is much done, we still have much more to do – to coin a phrase. Giving local people the skills and aptitudes necessary to take up these opportunities is essential and can begin from nursery upwards. Schools like Phoenix Academy and Fulham Cross Academy, both members of our Industrial Strategy Board, are coordinating their approach to the new chances available locally for their students. Organisations like Founders4Schools offer important constructive support and our smart apprenticeship providers are joining up the dots for local people wanting to take advantage of such worthwhile careers.

There are many parts of the UK where eco-systems grow and thrive. But the challenges of these times calls for the ambition of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Done properly, government investment will attract far more private investment to follow. New government funding in transport infrastructure must better connect towns and cities. Giving our citizens the skills for the new economy must become our national obsession. And if local government is properly empowered it will lead to the flowering of a new economic renaissance in Britain.

For more on the challenges facing local government and the shortcomings of the Tory government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, see ‘Medway: Left Behind By ‘Levelling Up’