Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Think tanks parked on the lawn

Will Mooney Carter Jonas partner and head of its commercial agency and professional services in the eastern region, is on tank patrol

Think tanks parked on the lawn Will Mooney, Carter Jonas partner and head of its commercial agency and professional services in the eastern region, is on tank patrol Two recent reports have reinforced the value of think tanks to those of us charged with the day-to-day nitty gritty of bringing-in the deals.

The first, published at the end of last year, is Lord Heseltine’s 'No stone unturned in the pursuit of growth' which, in as much as one person who is a former defence secretary can be a ‘think tank’, looks at the crucial role the UK regions and our metropolitan cities - other than London -could play in kick starting nationwide growth.

The second was published just at the end of January by the Centre for Cities, which is an independent think tank, although is does have the support of the Local Government Association.

Now, at the risk of sounding like an A-level essay question: Using your regional business experience, compare and contrast these two reports.

To take Lord Heseltine’s first, then. It’s got gravitas. It’s published under the auspices of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Lord Heseltine has got form for getting things done in the regions. Those of us interested in such matters back in the 1980s are unlikely to forget the image of Tarzan – Lord’ Heseltine’s sobriquet at that time- striding across the abandoned post-industrial landscape and docksides of Liverpool ahead of national policies which help revitalise those and other deeply-urban areas of the country, including London’s docklands.

However, even at the time of its publication, there was word that the report might get kicked in to the long grass, politically. And Lord Heseltine admitted that he was unsure as to how many of his 89 points, laid out over 228 pages would be picked up and acted upon by central government.

Getting things done is what we all want. Who, in business, wouldn’t wish for a handbook in which 89 ideas were clearly mapped out in a compelling vision of how to make things better and give us more of a leg-up than the good kicking we might feel we’ve had for, coming up to, five years?

While not a handbook, I see the Centre for Cities annual report, Cities Outlook 2013 as being of much more use, operationally.

In drawing together and examining data for English cities, it highlights elements and trends which are of particular interest to those in business in the development and property-related sectors. And it’s no surprise that you don’t have to drill too far down in to the data to see the significance of this region of the country to the growth agenda.

For instance, in the decade between 2001 and 2011, the top five fastest-growing cities by population were, in rank order from first to fifth, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Swindon, Ipswich and Cambridge.

Cambridge features frequently in the report and not always in the way you might think.

It has, as a city, by far and away the most number of patents approved per 100,000 residents – with Oxford in fourth position, by the way, below Edinburgh.

In the league table of 10 cities with the highest business stock per 10,000 population – here, business ‘stocks’ means the number of businesses as opposed to property units – Cambridge is in eighth position.
Yet, it is in the lower tier – position 61 – when it comes to cities with the lowest proportion of private sector employment, sandwiched between Swansea and Dundee. Pardon?

On face value, this seems at odds with the orthodox thinking about Cambridge but when I thought about it for a moment, it became apparent. Two of the biggest employers in the city are in the public sector: the University and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Thinking is not only for those in think tanks.

Lord Heseltine is one of the political jungle’s big beasts with big, sweeping policy ideas in the report on which we are relying on the jungle’s other inhabitants to act before it’s of use to us.

The Centre for Cities report is rigorous and useful. Driven by data, the Cities Outlook 2013’s authors put housebuilding at the centre of national recovery and tips the cities that can bring in growth quickly. Cambridge is one of these.

Will Mooney MRICS

Commercial, Cambridge

1 comment:

James Cooke said...

Will I just spooted this and it's interesting that Hezza's big ambitions for the regions got lots of airtime up to the budget. As a Londoner (who's from Derby) I'd love to see a move to promote the role of the regions. The UK is far too reliant on our capital. Great article!