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Lessons from Europe for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the UK

13 March 2014 Author:

As next week’s Budget draws near, progress in achieving and sustaining growth in every part of the UK will be at the centre of attention. The Government has been focused on promoting growth with initiatives such as the introduction of Local Enterprise Partnerships, a Regional Growth Fund and a Growing Places Fund. It recognises growth needs to locally-led, and has committed to negotiating Local Growth Deals with all 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in England. So how can we help to strengthen the evidence base for policy and decision-makers below national level? Evidence from ESPON, a cross-European research programme, can be valuable in this regard, as the EU is encouraging a particular type of growth across Europe as part of its Europe 2020 Strategy.

On 5th March, the European Commission released a Communication on the Review of the Europe 2020 Strategy, which shows how the EU and individual Member States are advancing towards the 2020 targets as the halfway point of the strategy approaches. Europe 2020 is the EU's long-term growth strategy, launched in 2010 to help Europe emerge stronger from the economic crisis and prepare the EU economy for the next decade. It is based on investing in knowledge, a low-carbon economy, high employment, productivity and social cohesion. The European Commission has identified three key drivers for growth, which will be supported through actions at both EU and national levels. These are 'smart growth' (fostering knowledge, innovation, education and digital society); 'sustainable growth' (making production greener and more resource efficient while boosting competitiveness); and 'inclusive growth' (enhancing labour market participation, skills acquisition, and the fight against poverty).

[H]ow can we help to strengthen the evidence base for policy and decision-makers below national level? Evidence from ESPON, a cross-European research programme, can be valuable in this regard, as the EU is encouraging a particular type of growth across Europe as part of its Europe 2020 Strategy.

The European Union funded ESPON research programme aims to support policymakers achieving the EU 2020 goals by adding to the bank of spatial evidence available to those developing place-based policy. The wealth of findings amassed over the last five years are freely accessible on the ESPON website, and with data, concepts and techniques available on issues from energy poverty to innovation and R&D, it is a valuable resource for researchers, planners and policy-makers. As Christabel Myers wrote in an earlier post, ESPON is built on multi country partnerships from the programme, which covers the EU27 plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, bringing different perspectives and experiences to those of us based in the UK.

Last week, the RTPI published a report outlining ESPON results which may support the implementation of 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) in the UK. More broadly, this information should also be useful for any regional or local decision-makers who wish to promote some of the objectives included in smart, sustainable and inclusive growth – from strengthening research and development and innovation, to promoting social inclusion and combating poverty.

The report outlines results from over 40 projects of particular relevance to ESIF activities in the UK carried out by research teams across Europe(called Applied Research and practitioner driven Targeted Analysis projects). The findings of these reports are gathered under ten thematic objectives. In addition, the report highlights useful methods and approaches for implementation in various local contexts (urban, rural and cross border), and tools to help with prioritising and integrating strategies; governance arrangements; benchmarking; assessing the impact of proposed policies/action; and identifying complementary use of European Cooperation Programme funding.

For instance, one of the thematic objectives relevant to all UK regions is to strengthen Research and Development (R&D) and Innovation. The ESPON KIT project proposes particular policy measures to rebalance R&D and Innovation according to where countries and regions are placed in a given typology; SIESTA provides a suite of Smart Growth indicators and maps at regional level; and AMCER provides an approach for assessing and monitoring an area’s levels of R&D based on analysis of participation in the cooperation part of the EU funded Framework 7 research programme, which was tested out in nine case studies including the East of England.

Further results that could be of interest to UK stakeholders are held in accompanying scientific reports (setting out the results of surveys or methodology) and Annexes on the ESPON website. Many reports contain newly generated indicators and maps, generally based on data gathered by country, region or groups of districts and also more local level evidence from case studies.

As LEPs will be engaged in implementing ESIF strategies that carry substantial amounts of EU funding for some areas, these findings could inform how to fuel local growth and deliver the highest possible impact for LEP areas.

About Victoria Pinoncely

Victoria joined the RTPI as Research Officer in March 2014. Previously, she worked as a consultant in Infrastructure, Economics and Planning at URS, on projects including planning policy research, strategic and social infrastructure assessments, socio-economics impact assessments, health impact assessments and employment land reviews. Prior to this, Victoria worked for LSE Cities, a research centre at the London School of Economics, including conducting research on the links between urban density and health. Victoria holds a MSc in Regional and Urban Planning Studies from the London School of Economics, a BA Hons in Politics and International Relations from the University of Kent and an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in Politics, Economics and Sociology from Sciences Po Lille.