By Tom Jones
Last Friday, Greater Manchester prepared the launch pad for its latest policy moonshot by publishing the Independent Prosperity Review (IPR), a meticulous appraisal of the present and potential Greater Manchester economy which will serve as the evidence basis for the upcoming Local Industrial Strategy (LIS).
This isn’t a particularly new idea; ten years ago, the Manchester Independent Economic Review (MIER) was published, which performed essentially the same function. It went on to form the basis for a huge range of strategies across Greater Manchester designed to boost the region’s economy – including the 2011 devolution deal.
But between all the acronyms, facts, stats and figures that come as part of the territory when discussing any report, what is the must-have knowledge – and what does it mean for the region?
The IPR will serve as the underpinning for the LIS, which the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is developing hand-in-hand with Government. The report relays a huge amount of information and analysis, mostly focussed in four sectors;
- Labour productivity
- Education and skills transitions
- Innovation, supply chains and trade links
It begins with a summary of the region’s economy, and how it has changed since the MIER. It finds that the employment base in the region has gradually shifted towards lower productivity sectors in recent years – this is known as the ‘long tail’ of the economy, and its growth is not exclusive to Greater Manchester. It is actually a trend that is being seen across the UK and is one of the key reasons for productivity figures remaining stagnant since the financial crash. However, the increase in the ‘long tail’ is particularly high in the region, which means that Greater Manchester is now punching below its weight, nationally speaking.
Based on the findings, the report goes on to make numerous recommendations.
The first is that health must be included far more in any conversation regarding the economy. There is a strong link between poor health and low productivity, which is found to be particularly distinct in Greater Manchester. However, as it points out, there is also significant devolution in terms of health and social care in the sector, along with a willingness to take innovative approaches, meaning the region is well placed to tackle this issue. The report recommends putting the current Work and Health Programme on a long-term footing, as well as decentralising employment programmes, services and benefits. A key tenant is also ensuring that the ambitious target for Greater Manchester to be carbon-neutral by 2038 is met, as cleaner air is becoming increasingly recognised as being important to public health.
The diversity of the economic activity across the Greater Manchester region has been increased because, over the course of the last decade, much of the economic growth has been centred in the ‘long tail’. However, increasing devolution of powers is usually found to be more beneficial for higher skill activities, the report makes hugely ambitious recommendations in order to improve the skills base across the region. This entails the establishment of a Greater Manchester Partnership aimed at providing education, skills and training, which would operate in the same way as the Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership. This new Partnership should focus on underperforming schools and apprenticeships, particularly technical apprenticeships, as these are a highly efficient way to improve the skills base.
This diverse economy also results in what is known as spatial inequality – this is the term used for the difference in productivity, pay and living standards between the geographical areas of the region. The report identifies the development of a more integrated transport network across the region as key to tackling this, as it allows better access to employment and education. The authors of the report therefore call for faster rail devolution and reform of the region’s bus system. In order to fund this, however, the report recommends developing large, innovative, long-term and local funding solutions, rather than solely relying on national funding.
Away from the ‘long tail, however, the report identifies Greater Manchester’s prominent ‘productivity frontier’, a cutting edge of highly innovative, productive and profitable industries which are genuinely world-leading – namely health innovation and advanced materials production. The health innovation sector could be boosted, argues the report, by decentralising healthcare provision, which would allow Manchester to make the most of this sector by embracing and continuing its record as a city that seeks out pioneering solutions. The innovation pathways developed during the commercialisation of graphene should become a key lesson for the region, the report states. Not only should it capitalise on the investment and facilities that have already been established, but it should also seek to develop a partnership between Government, the GMCA, the region’s many academic institutions and the private sector.
What the report means for the Greater Manchester region, of course, remains to be seen. The report will feed into the Local Industrial Strategy, and it is the LIS, rather than the IPR, that will inform local choices, prioritise local action and help guide decisions at the national level. That should emerge in March 2019, and, will take the lead to boost the region out of the abstract and into more concrete actions.