National survey highlights financial constraints plus lack of skills and housing as barriers to growth
03 September 2012 – A nationwide survey of local councillors across England and Wales has identified the key challenges around economic development, and principal barriers to growth.
‘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.
Carried out by ComRes on behalf of Willmott Dixon, one of the largest construction companies in the country, the research found that 25% of councillors believe that financial constraints are the single largest barrier to local development, followed by 18% citing housing.
Nearly half of councillors point to the low level of skills in the local workforce as preventing inward investment, with 41% also highlighting concerns over transport links – a key area under review by the government as it looks at ways to kick-start the economy. Also featuring was low levels of education, 31%, and a lack of suitable property options at 30%
The research showed that while councillors are largely supportive of Local Enterprise Partnerships in theory, a key aspect of the Localism Act, there is a widespread recognition (71%) that they will struggle in practice without greater engagement from private companies.
John Frankiewicz, chief executive office at Willmott Dixon Capital Works, said: “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 and the principal barriers to growth and investment.
“We also take from this the strong message that for Local Enterprise Partnerships to fulfil their potential in supporting local economic development, both public and private sectors need to do more to build trust and cooperation. While companies including Willmott Dixon need to do play their part to make it easier for local government to engage with, it is about building mutual recognition of the respective strengths of both public and private sectors in creating development opportunities that drive 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.
• Councillors cite poor skill sets, transport links, poor education and lack of suitable property options as a barrier to local investment
• Two biggest challenges in meeting local needs are financial constraints and housing
• Councillors have a negative impression of private companies, but think LEPs would benefit from greater private sector involvement and will only succeed if private sector partners can be engaged more meaningfully by local government
• 52% of councillors believe the Localism Act will have a positive influence on the way that councils work, but 52% are concerned it will have a negative impact on bureaucracy when asked about the level of bureaucracy
• 40% of councillors who responded to the question about the private sector said private companies do not help LAs with local economic development, but regeneration is an area where councillors think private companies can make an impact.
• Legacy of the Localism Act is yet to be determined; councillors are uncertain how both the Localism Act and HRA reform are going to affect their councils
Alongside financial constraints, housing is seen to be one of the top two biggest challenges in meeting local development needs
o 25%: Financial Constraints
o 18%: Housing
o 7%: Infrastructure
o 6%: Cuts to services
Poor skills and transport links are the key barriers to investment in local areas, as are low levels of education and a lack of suitable property options
o 46%: low levels of skills in the local workforce
o 41%: poor transport links
o 31%: low levels of education
o 30%: lack of suitable property options
o 19%: limited potential for further growth
A significant majority of councillors believe that LEPs will only succeed if private sector partners can be engaged more meaningfully in economic development by local government
o 71%: agree
o 8%: disagree
o 12%: don’t know
ComRes surveyed 411 local councillors online in England and Wales in July 2012. Data were weighted to reflect the exact composition of local councillors in England and Wales. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.