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Dr Andy Mycock, University of Huddersfield

10 December 2020, 4:40 UTC Share

The “West Yorkshire Way” to policy engagement: Place-Based Economic Recovery Network (PERN)

The University of Huddersfield’s Andy Mycock discusses place-based policy engagement as the region looks to elect its first metro mayor in May 2021.

Over the past decade, the UK government has sought to develop decentralise policy-making within England through the transfer of powers, budgets and responsibilities to directly-elected mayors through a series of city or combined authority ‘deals’ with local government leaders. Westminster has also sought to boost local and regional economies by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture to ‘level up’ England and create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. The extent of regional devolution in England now means that nearly half its population and many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are now covered by a mayoral devolution deal. 

In May 2021, West Yorkshire will elect its first ‘metro mayor’ who, in conjunction with the five local authorities, will oversee the regional Combined Authority (WYCA). Devolution will provide West Yorkshire’s HEI community with significant the opportunities to generate new ideas on how to create more and better jobs, improve health care and transport infrastructure, and enhance quality of life of local citizens and communities. Universities in West Yorkshire have world-class research and innovation assets, and a breadth and depth of academic and analytical skills that can be brought together to support evidence-based policy development. 

Academics from the eight HEIs in West Yorkshire, working with Yorkshire Universities (YU) and WYCA, have formed the Place-based Economic Recovery Network (PERN) of experts in local and regional economic development. PERN has been established to offer support to WYCA, the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LCR LEP) and other public bodies, such as local authorities in the design, plan and implementation of COVID recovery efforts. PERN was also formed in response to discussions across the region concerning how universities could support the work of shaping and delivering the emergent local industrial strategy and the UK government’s commitment to ‘level up’ the regions. 

PERN has thus sought to widen and deepen academic policy engagement by establishing opportunities for policy-makers ongoing access to academic expertise to support existing local and regional analytical capability and capacity. The challenges of the COVID pandemic brought the need for collaboration between the region’s HEIs and key policy and service delivery anchor institutions into sharper and more immediate focus. 

In July 2020, PERN was invited by WYCA to support the preparation of the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Plan. PERN hosted a series of webinars for WYCA leaders and officers, which saw 25 presentations from academics across the region’s universities. These webinars were designed to answer complex research and public policy questions on the following themes: the future of the region’s towns and cities; supply chains; entrepreneurial-led growth; and climate change and the net-zero economy. Reports from each of the webinars were produced as evidence to inform the Recovery Plan, which was submitted to government in November. 

Regarding future plans, PERN intends to widen and deepen the existing academic network in order to embrace other YU members in the region, and to strengthen academic engagement with other institutions in Yorkshire and beyond. In particular, PERN will support policy and decision-makers in the region to respond to and make effective use of new and emergent policies and resources designed to encourage and support particular forms of investment. For example, drawing upon the recent Review of the HM Treasury Green Book, academics within PERN, with specific expertise and experience in infrastructure appraisal, plan to work with WYCA and other partners to develop project and programme business cases designed to attract new investment into the region. 

Academics in PERN also see the network as a valuable mechanism for developing new multi-institutional and inter-disciplinary research proposals. Four of the HEIs (Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, and Leeds Beckett) have invested resources to support a programme of policy-focused webinars for policy-makers, key anchor institutions, and mayoral candidates in the run-up to the mayoral elections next May. HEIs across the region will also support mayoral hustings events, working with the Same Skies Regional think-tank, IPPR North, People’s Powerhouse, and a host of civic organisations to promote citizen engagement. The ‘West Yorkshire Way’ to university and academic policy engagement is developing at pace, and the election of the new mayor will further energise the HEI community across the region. 

Dr Andrew Mycock is a Reader in Politics and Director of External Engagement at the University of Huddersfield. 

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