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Our comment: How to get our politicians and leaders to think longer term?

This was one of the questions I was asked this month, while sitting on a panel at the Climate UK conference, trying to compete with the panoramic view from the top of city hall, in London. The London skyline was covered in cranes, unlike many other parts of the UK. This suggests if there is a longer term plan to spread economic growth across the UK, it is yet to succeed. The comments from the Government this month on extending High speed rail north, are welcomed, but hardly a plan. The opposition are promising a ‘big policy’ announcement shortly, while cross-party support is gathering on London style strategic city region wide elected Mayors. So what was the answer to the panel question? Well between us we believed the answer included framing the decision you need in terms of providing longer term certainty for investment which leads to economic growth. Also claiming it is more ‘business like’ to think and act longer term with a vision, plan, and strategic and tactical actions. Certainly this is our experience in working with some of our larger business members that have longer term assets in the West Midlands, from cider orchards, to highways, or pipes in the ground. The other key is some form of cross-party support. In our experience, this is often easier to achieve at the local or sub-regional level where elected representatives are closer to their communities and often willing to work together on key issues that will build a better future. Then fight at election time on who should take credit. Another technique is to build the uncertainty of the future and need to plan longer term into the existing national and local political system. The largely positive economic, environmental, and social changes Finland has gone through over the last 30 years can be partly attributed to the fact they have a cross-party parliamentary scrutiny committee that is supported annually to consider longer term issues and solutions facing the country. The committee then reviews proposed policy and laws within this context and makes recommendations. We have piloted this approach previously with the creation and support of the UK’s first public board level champion for future generations, at the former development agency Advantage West Midlands. This role was supported by a review of key future drivers of uncertainty and change, and helped accelerate much of the strategic change towards developing the UK’s first regional low carbon economic strategy. At site level this began to lead to risk and resilience reviews on investment sites, which many local enterprise partnerships have now inherited. However the real trick is linking this to the political process, and we are currently working with the Government, Birmingham and several other members to refresh our current evidence base and help link and support the local authority scrutiny process and local businesses annual business planning cycles. Dr Simon Slater, on behalf of the SWM team.

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