If you have been following the Economic Evaluation work (called the Local Economic Blueprint in Totnes and TEEconomy in Herefordshire), then you will know we have been piloting the process in 3 areas: Totnes in South Devon representing a market town; Brixton in London, representing an inner city area; and Herefordshire as a rural county, bordering South Wales.
The Herefordshire reports are now available (download below), and make a great contribution to our growing understanding of how best to do this kind of work, and at what level/scale.
The desired outcome of this work is “better informed strategic economic planning and decision-making that will help build the resilience of the local economy, and so the local community, in the face of economic uncertainty, rising energy prices and climate change” - i.e., bring Transition-thinking into councils and other influential organisations such as business boards and Local Economic Partnerships via studying the local economics.
In a nutshell, we believe that quantifying the economic potential of some key parts of a local economy will help us get the attention of such bodies. As you will see in the summary report, the Herefordshire work has identified the following significant opportunities:
“Food and drink – up to £156m leaves our local food economy each year on products bought for home consumption, but imported from outside the county. The total figure could be as high as £310m if we include going-out and tourist spend.
Retrofit- domestic retrofitting activity could be worth £56m in insulation alone, and up to £150m for other basic measures.
Renewables – developing our renewable energy assets could generate over £130m worth of energy-related income each year for householders and community investors.
Developing just 10% of the potential across these 3 sectors could contribute an additional £43m to our county’s economy”.
What’s different about the work in Herefordshire compared to Totnes?
Our approach is to see how things might work in different places and at different geographic scales, and how our ability to influence might be impacted. For example, Herefordshire is a rural county under a unitary authority, with around 184,000 residents in 80,000 households and a population density of 84 per sq km. Its Gross Value Added – a rough measure of economic size – is about £2.9B annually.
Totnes is a market town that includes 14 surrounding villages – in total there’s about 10,000 households and 23,000 residents and population density is 94 per sq km. It sits within the county of Devon, and has a town council and a district council. The Gross Value Added for the whole of the South Hams area (Totnes is 1 of 3 major towns) is about £1.2B pa.
While both projects aim to quantify the economic potential of key sectors, the main difference between Totnes and Herefordshire in terms of approach is in the stakeholder group. In Totnes, we first built the stakeholder group and then had this group direct and ‘own’ the detailed project work.
Having been established for several years, Transition Town Totnes knew the key players and could invite them to be part of the group with reasonable certainty they would say yes – which proved to be the case. Also, there was no economic strategy for the town per se.
However, in Herefordshire while there was a county-wide grouping of Transition groups (the Herefordshire in Transition Alliance) which held the work, there was not the same level of traction with county wide policymaking organisations such as the council, or business groups, which would ideally have been part of an initiating stakeholder group – Transition does not typically operate at county level.
Yet this is the level where important decisions about economic development are made (and until recently in higher level groupings such as the Regional Development Agencies, now replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships), and is certainly the level at which much of the relevant government data is provided. Each county council has economic strategies, so we decided to experiment with doing the work at county level.
So given this lack of existing stakeholder connection, in Herefordshire we decided to do the detailed work first, building relationships as we went along, and then see if the resulting reports could be used to get their attention.
We could at that point gather the desired representatives together to discuss the findings and see if there was interest in working together to take the recommendations forward. Meanwhile a small number of local organisations and experts have given input and feedback on the detailed reports.
Currently, the Herefordshire reports have been circulated to a wide variety of potential stakeholders, and they have been invited to a meeting in mid May where the findings will be presented, and discussions held about next steps. We are waiting to see who attends and what emerges from that meeting, and we will issue an update then.
For now, please take this approach into account when you read the Herefordshire reports. While both reports lay out the size of the economic opportunities, you will see the key differences compared to the Totnes reports are:
* The stakeholder group is not yet built – basically, we are using the reports to try to get their attention.
* As a result, while we make some suggestions, there is no listing of potential projects that could deliver the opportunities – the work to identify these, and fully map current activity, needs to be done with stakeholder participation.
* There is no section on care and health – this was only included in the brief for the Totnes work.
What’s the best geographic scale at which to do this work?
Just to be clear, we don’t yet have an answer to this, though some learning is emerging. Once we see what happens with the stakeholder activity in Herefordshire we will be writing about this. The work in Brixton is progressing well, and we will add their experiences into the review later in the summer, and all will be shared as soon as possible.
Where are the reports?
You can download all the reports from here.
Photos credit: www.shophereford.co.uk