You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose. Advice from the past that seems pertinent to a government committing levelling up into law.
What was a slogan is now “12 national missions” published in a white paper last week, to provide a central mission for government to deliver economic parity to all regions of the UK. But while the what, the why and the where are clear, the how remains a conundrum.
For levelling up to have meaning it will require unparalleled growth in entrepreneurial energy the length and breadth of the four nations. In 2021, there was a 14 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of new businesses created in the UK, with March of last year seeing more ventures launched than any month since records began.
But turning a world class record in business registrations into growth stories that bring with them commercial vitality, jobs and innovation, is the next challenge.
And while much attention has been given to big infrastructure projects to kickstart this, leveraging the tools and talents already at our disposal can get wins on the board.
The UK is flush with world-leading business schools, which are potential catalysts in their respective towns and cities. There has been a concerted effort from Rishi Sunak and the government to put backing behind management training courses for entrepreneurs to help power a new innovative ecosystem. Business schools have an immense value as accelerators of performance and as a collaborative space for founders to develop their strategies, and these should be accessible across the socioeconomic spectrum.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, the track record of the UK as a home for high-performance scale ups has pointed to the increasing reliance of our economy on young firms as the vanguard of national wealth creation. As we look to power a post-pandemic recovery, creating the conditions for this growing stock to further thrive is a matter of critical importance.
Business schools are one route to achieving this, but more broadly the focus must be on entrepreneurs themselves. The new Help to Grow: Management Course, delivered by the Small Business Charter, is an example of this. Over 40 business schools across the UK offering it to up to 30,0000 small firms. If you accept that knowledge is power, this is it in practice.
At the beginning of the last decade, then-Prime Minister David Cameron launched a national campaign, StartUp Britain, to encourage enterprise in the UK. Although it had the support of the government, it was completely funded by private sector sponsors. This level of collaboration is integral to addressing the wealth divides across the country.
One of the best examples of levelling up in action over the past decade is in Salford, where the BBC’s move to MediaCityUK has been an overwhelming success. Some will point to this as a major regeneration project proving fruitful, but it has been driven by entrepreneurs and small firms, who saw the opportunity of an influx of new people, and started their own businesses to benefit from that.
As found by KPMG last year, the resulting economic spill-over of the BBC’s move to Salford has seen employment in the creative and digital sector in the city grow by 142 per cent since 2010 compared to just 26 per cent nationwide, while the number of digital and creative businesses has increased by 70 per cent compared to 44 per cent across the UK.
Go to Salford today and you will find a hub of creative small businesses that are living proof of what Cameron and Osborne called the “entrepreneur-led recovery”. Indeed, Salford Business School is a part of that ecosystem.
It shows that the economic dynamism needed to bring growth to more regions is not just about lifting and shifting jobs from London across the country, but leveraging the economic might and productivity of small firms.
It is not just going to be the relocation of corporations and civil service departments that are the prose people reflect on in generations to come, but the entrepreneurial endeavour that comes in their wake. Our nation’s great business schools can help those small firms release their potential.