Unpredictability is something we would probably rather live without, particularly trying to make future plans. Yet for anyone involved in local and regional economic planning, the last two years seems to have been one long story of continued uncertainty, with Brexit, Covid, lockdowns, inflation, higher fuel and energy costs, supply chain disruption, and a tight labour market all coming hot on the heels of one another.
In its recent report into ‘the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and EU exit on business supply chains in the UK’, the Office for National Statistics highlighted some of the these effects:
‘There is anecdotal evidence of labour and product shortages, reflecting shocks to the supply capacity of businesses and/or the inability to respond as quickly to the changes in demand for goods and services. The Global Supply Chain Pressure Index (GSCPI) indicates that global supply chain pressures are at historically high levels, although there are signs these may have peaked and started to moderate a little.’
The report also found that 26% of businesses with ten or more employees had experienced global supply chain disruption in January 2022, and this figure was even higher in the manufacturing and wholesale and retail trade sectors (30% respectively). Like the weather, it has often seemed that the only predictable thing about the economy is its unpredictability, and it looks like a high degree of economic uncertainty may well be with us for some time to come.
New agendas and funding
As if navigating through the choppy waters of economic unpredictability were not hard enough, local and regional economic planners are also having to grapple with a number of agendas that necessitate demonstrating a good understanding of which skills are most needed in their area, and which sectors they should look to prioritise. Take Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). According to the British Chambers of Commerce:
‘[LSIPs] will help ensure provision is more responsive to emerging and changing skills needs and, being locally driven, can be tailored to the challenges and opportunities most relevant to the area.’
But the question that arises from this is how can local economic planners be more responsive to emerging and changing skills unless they first have a really in-depth knowledge of what these are?
More recently, Levelling Up has added yet another layer of complexity to the challenge. As The Institute of Economic Development (IED) points out, the agenda presents a significant challenge in terms of understanding and responding to needs at the local level:
‘To level up is to reduce inequality and improve social mobility between and within places nationally and locally, while maintaining outcomes in all places. … It is important to recognise that there is no such thing as a solution for all towns. It is clear that each town is different and so a placed-based approach is needed.’
The new £2.6 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which aims to ‘help places right across the country deliver enhanced outcomes’, also makes it clear that demonstrating a good understanding of local needs will be essential to successful bids:
‘Places will be empowered to identify and build on their own strengths and needs at a local level, focused on pride in place and increasing life chances. Local places will be able to use the Fund to complement funding such as the Levelling Up Fund, and mainstream employment and skills provision to maximise impact and simplify delivery.’
The need for insight on your economy
Whether attempting to plan during a time of uncertainty, identifying skills needs for LSIPs, building on local strengths as part of Levelling Up, or bidding for new funding to deliver the right outcomes for your area, the key to successfully navigating these challenges is to be as forearmed with data-driven evidence on your local economy as possible.
For example, you may not know what further economic uncertainty may be around the corner, but if you can track employer demand in your area then you are clearly going to be in a better place to understand and respond to any future changes.
You may not automatically know which skills are needed by local employers, but if you can quickly identify what skills local businesses are looking for in their job postings, then you will clearly be in a much better position to be able to react positively to ensure those skills needs are being met.
You may not be readily able to identify which sectors give you the best opportunities to ‘level up’, but if you could better understand your local area’s industry mix, its strengths, and how it compares to other ‘peer locations’, you will be in a far better position to plan a successful strategy and bid for funds.
To help you achieve this, we’ve developed Economy Insight — a new interactive dashboard that uses structural Labour Market Insight and Job Posting Analytics to give you a window on your local economy, including its industrial mix, occupation trends, skills demand, top employers, and how your area compares with other locations. With no data expertise required, the tool gives you a solid evidence-base upon which to shape your strategy, confirm your priorities, and interact with other stakeholders.
Although we’re really excited by how Economy Insight can help you navigate your way through economic uncertainty, comply with Skills for Jobs and Levelling Up, as well as strengthen your bids for funding, don’t take our word for it. We’ve set up a demo site where you can see it for yourself, and we’ve also recorded a webinar which takes you through the tool, showing what it offers you and how it can help or play the webinar video below that.
Click on the button below to register for access to the demo site, or watch the video below.