It may not be the most obvious headline grabbing movement in politics, but the face of Local Government economic development is changing, and digital communications is helping to drive it.
The lead character in this story is Lord Michael Heseltine, former Deputy Prime Minister and the man chosen by the current PM to look at ways in which the long-term delivery of growth funding could be accelerated.
His report last autumn, ‘No Stone Unturned’, had a reasonably simply crux.
Our cities – once drivers of growth and innovation – have been stifled by Whitehall centralisation.
Heseltine identified over £70 billion (yes, BILLION) of Government economic spending controlled by a raft of departments leading to a complex, bureaucratic and inefficient machinery of distribution.
By giving the new models of economic development in England, Local Enterprise Partnerships, power to access a single pot of funding, this could be reversed.
We came into this story through our work providing communications support for the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP.
It’s fair to say the GBSLEP was fortunate to have some powerful p
rivate sector big-hitters join its fledgling board in 2011, alongside some excellent local authority leaders.
For the first time, a formal consensual partnership between Birmingham and Solihull was formed, along with the Staffordshire local authorities of Lichfield, Tamworth and East Staffs, and the north Worcestershire councils of Bromsgrove, Redditch and Wyre Forest.
No sooner had Lord Heseltine presented his report than the GBSLEP offered to work with him on the next stage of his review.
This consisted of a report focused on how his recommendations
might be delivered in reality somewhere like Greater Birmingham.
So began the process of pulling together a full report – the Greater Birmingham Project – complete with intensive stakeholder consultation and big ideas in a matter of months.
Then two things happened.
First, the deadline was pulled forward two weeks to fit with the Chancellor’s Budget on March 21 2013.
Second, the decision was made to launch on a Sunday in Birmingham, not the time most conducive to sourcing an audience.
This made using digital communications even more important as Treasury would quickly put our local activity in the shade.
The GBSLEP’s twitter (around 1,500) and e-newsletter (2,000) would be vital to disseminating information.
No sooner had the report been launched by Lord Heseltine, than it appeared on our website, promoted by a series of Twitter and Linkedin updates.
By bedtime on Sunday over 500 copies of the report had been downloaded. On a Sunday.
The following morning, by the time we fired off the e-newsletter and the morning’s media coverage kicked in, the stream had become a river.
At the time of writing an astonishing 2,800 copies of the Greater Birmingham Project have been downloaded.
Most interesting was the geographical spread.
We’d expect strong interest in and around Birmingham but there were also just short of a thousand downloads in London, almost a hundred in Bristol and over 50 in Manchester.
At Budget, the Chancellor gave cautious approval to Heseltine’s proposals by agreeing to a Single Local Growth Fund from which LEPs can bid for economic growth projects.
At the time of writing, we await the decision on how much cash Government will allocate.
But thanks to digital communications channels, understanding and dissemination of regional work with national implications was delivered to a scale and approach probably never seen before, but in a way we intend to repeat.
by Mat Danks,
Partner with Danks Cockburn PR who handle communications for the Birmingham and Solihull LEP