Smart Specialisation in England; is this really LEPland?

As many of you may be aware ‘England’ is drawing up a smart specialisation strategy (S3) to fulfill the ex ante conditionality required for an England ERDF Operational programme. i.e. it is developing a national strategy to focus innovation investment under the ERDF programme as it has to under ERDF regulations. This is a tall task as it is seeking to merge the bottom up approach of 39 LEPs across England with the national approach; an approach that is largely spatially blind. I couldn’t think of a harder task! As an outsider it is hard to get into what the thinking is but ‘England’ recently presented its approach to Smart Specialisation in a Peer Review process in Riga. Yes Peer Review is a pre requisite of an S3 approach – and luckily the presentation is up on the S3 web site. (here)

It basically takes the national approach to Industrial Strategy with the additional focus on the 8 Great Technologies (whatever happened to the Key Enabling Technologies?) and seeks to add in a little local flavour illustrating this with  a small selection (11) of LEPs chosen sectors.

LEP S3 Linkages

It would have been good to hear what the peers thought of this proposed approach and whether it satisfies the  need for a strategic, informed, and globally relevant approach.

What is interesting is what the Government is proposing to develop; They are working on;

  • Developing an on-line platform to join up University research & expertise with business needs.
  • Kick starting an Advisory Hub on Smart Specialisation to support LEPs & other local partners
  • Monitoring & evaluation strategies to be agreed by the Growth Programme Board when fully established
  • Exploring the feasibility of aligning some national ‘competitive’ funding programmes with proposals in LEP Strategic Economic Plans 
  • Identifying & driving forward opportunities to work collaboratively, building stronger value chains across England and internationally [See question 2]

These are all good suggestions, although the development of monitoring and evaluation strategies for approval of the growth board somewhat gives a lie to the mantra of localism and LEPs leading on these funds.  What is interesting is the reference to aligning some national competitive funding.  Could this mean that the largely spatially blind TSB is being brought kicking and screaming into thinking about geography. That would be good news. The encouragement for LEPs to work collaboratively is also good news; this is happening in the West Midlands where the 6 LEPs have agreed to co-operate on aspects of S3 and other collaborations should be encouraged; limited finance for such joint working would be a great help!

What is positive about this presentation is it recognises the opportunity to work internationally;  and to all you ESIF managers out there it stresses that up to 15% of your funds can be spent outside of England. What a great way to link businesses to a Fraunhofer Institute in Germany or a Technopole/ Pole De Competitivité in France – so perhaps we should be encouraging the EU (or each member state) to put in place a similar exercise to that proposed by the UK of developing an on-line platform for University expertise. Lets make it EU wide!

So for me the jury is out over whether the England S3 approach will work as proposed. Will it properly be able to let LEPs lead or is this ‘lead’ largely tokenistic as most LEPs are probably too small a geographical area to pursue an S3 influenced approach? Will the encouragement to collaboration work?  Will this approach satisfy the EC?  There are many questions but there are some encouraging aspects that means it is worthwhile following its development further. I look forward to the consultation version?

(Link here for the agenda and presentations also on S3 in Latvia, Czech Republic and  Estonia – other countries taking a national rather than regional approach)


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