DCLG has sparked a renewed interest in enterprise in deprived communities with its investment in Local Enterprise Growth Initiative. The focus on enterprise is in danger of being overwhelmed by the much larger and wider investments going into the worklessness agenda (with more of a focus on routes into employment rather than creating your own work). It must be quite strange from the residents point of view. One week someone from the ‘Government’ is urging them to get ‘a great business idea’ or ‘start a social enterprise’ and the next week someone else is telling them to ‘brush up their CV’, ‘join a job club’ and ‘seek work’. I suppose we should not be surprised that these appear to be competing initiatives at the neighbourhood level – fighting to engage the same people in their respective ‘customer journeys’. But I would like to think that more could be done to help individual residents to see these as two possible options on their journey.
I think it is interesting to meet the range of service providers involved in the local enterprise work. Some come from a very ‘public service/third sector’ orientation while others have a much more ‘follow the money’ mentality looking to deliver the outputs (often very poorly specified) at lowest cost. This latter group usually have more experience of the way that public money is spent and understand that at some point they will be held to account for what they done. From day one they count and record what they think will interest the funders. The worrying thing for me is that both sides of this divide need a little bit of what the other side has to offer. Both risk failure for different reasons.
It is also clear to me the LEGI investments are not an end in themselves but rather provide an opportunity to play a part in a much monger term, potentially lucrative and worthwhile game. The cities and regions that can show that they can take public sector funding and provide a return on that investment in terms of reduced benefit budgets, improved health and psychological well being, reductions in crime and grime, increased tax takes and NI contributions and a whole range of other social and economic benefits will surely position themselves well for future investment.
Those that deliver a range of occasionally interesting, but ultimately unproven projects, are unlikely to see further funding once the LEGI money runs out. My worry is that some do not seem to be aware of the possibility of this larger game and are happy to settle for the effective project management of what they already have resigned to the fact that it will all be wound up in a few short years when the money has all been spent.
So the challenge is to create significant value from the current investments and to demonstrate that value in hard cash terms to funders.