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  • 18th Feb 2021

Helping local economies rebuild after COVID-19 – collecting evidence on what works

Before the pandemic the UK had some of the highest levels of regional inequality in the developed world. The coronavirus pandemic  has exacerbated existing differences, for example unemployment has risen four times as much in Blackpool as in Cambridge. Manchester (where BIT North is based, and I live) has been particularly hard hit. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits has more than doubled – 8.9% of working age people are now claiming, compared with 6.3% nationwide.

This all means there is a significant challenge facing central and local government about how to get the country up and running again and allow people to live happy and fulfilled lives. We have set out our 10 point manifesto for how to build household and job resilience and make businesses and markets more productive. Separately we set out ways that behavioural science can help make the lifting of the lockdown a ‘fresh start’ into a strong and sustainable economic recovery.

Local authorities have a key role to play in helping to rebuild their local economies and they are thinking carefully about how to reinvigorate their high streets, support local businesses and help children and young people who have missed out on schooling.

BIT, and many others, have long advocated for the importance of measuring the impact of policies to support growth. However, we know remarkably little about the most effective ways to support economic growth and recovery locally and on a national level. This is perhaps surprising given that billions of pounds are spent on programmes to support the economy. The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth (What Works Growth) was set up in 2013 to help fill this evidence gap. What Works Growth helps improve the cost-effectiveness of local growth policies by improving the use of evidence in policy design and delivery, supporting and delivering high quality impact evaluation and filling gaps in the understanding of what works.  This has included reviewing the evidence on various approaches.

The What Works Growth team offers advice and support to policymakers wanting to evaluate their local economic growth policies. As well as helping to build the evidence base, working with local areas has also taught What Works Growth lessons about what can help, or hinder, policy evaluation. To help overcome the barriers, they have established an Evaluation Panel which can provide advice for local areas who want to evaluate the impact of their economic policies and programmes. The Evaluation Panel will be able to support a wide range of different types of projects and can provide advice on things such as how to evaluate your policy, what data to collect or access and commissioning. There are eight panel members, including yours truly, and we have been chosen to give a wide range of experience of different policy areas and methodologies.

Advice is provided free of charge to local areas. If you have a project that you think would benefit from support from an Evaluation Panel member, please get in touch: info@whatworksgrowth.org.

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