Survey: Lack of finance, skills and housing are main barriers to growth

Financial constraints and a lack of available housing are two of the biggest barriers to local economic development, according to a survey of councillors across England and Wales.

With the Conservatives preparing to gather in Birmingham for their annual conference, the survey, carried out by ComRes on behalf of construction company Willmott Dixon, found that a quarter of councillors believe that financial constraints, such as a lack of funding and budget cuts, is the single largest barrier to growth, closely followed by a shortage of housing (18 per cent).

The survey also identified the key challenges around local inward investment, with poor skills and transport links cited as the main areas for concern. Nearly half (46 per cent) of councillors point to low levels of skills in the local workforce as the main barrier for inward investment, with 41 per cent also highlighting concerns over transport links – a key area under review by the Government as it looks at ways to kick-start the economy.

Low levels of education (31 per cent) and a lack of suitable property options (30 per cent) were also high on the list of councillors’ concerns.

When asked about Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), a key aspect of the Government’s Localism Act, the survey found that while councillors are largely supportive of LEPs in theory, there is widespread recognition (71 per cent) that they will struggle in practice without greater engagement from the private sector.

Peter Owen, managing director of the Midlands office of Willmott Dixon, said: “At a time when the Government is looking at new ways to kick start growth in local economies, the research shows unambiguously the areas of concern for councillors and the principal barriers to growth and investment.

“We also take from this the strong message that for Local Enterprise Partnerships to fulfil their potential in supporting local economic development, both public and private sectors need to do more to build trust and cooperation. While the private sector needs to play its part in making it easier for local government to engage with, local government too needs to look at how it can be more commercial and entrepreneurial minded to drive joint venture opportunities. It’s about building mutual recognition of the respective strengths of both public and private sectors in creating development opportunities that create growth and jobs.”

The research is the culmination of a year long programme of Willmott Dixon events for local government focusing on localism, encouraging councils to discuss the challenges they face and to explore potential solutions. Willmott Dixon is also committed to encouraging closer working between public and private sectors to create more development opportunities to unlock local jobs.

“It is imperative that the public and private sectors work together to tackle these challenges,” said Mr Owen. “Bringing forward development opportunities and creating local jobs is key to the future economic prosperity of the country and it is these key issues that I hope the Government will be listening to at the Conservative Party conference.”