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Time to Privatise ‘Place Marketing’

Adam Breeze of Breeze Strategy says that there can be no excuse for taxpayers having to pick up the bill for inward investment and place marketing.

Attracting new jobs, companies, investment, people, shoppers or students is a priority for almost every local authority in the land, now more so than ever. But who should pay for this?

It’s time to put an end to the senseless, ego-marketing paid for by regional development agencies and local councils extolling the virtues of supposed “a unique quality of life” or “the ideal business location”. The latest ‘place marketing’ campaign to hit the streets and airwaves of London by a Northamptonshire quango, offers a way forward that doesn’t rely on the public purse. The sight of ‘North Londonshire’ (aka Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and Rushden) posters on the tube and radio adverts by Sandi Toksvig would instinctively irritate any taxpayer – until you discover that the campaign has been paid for by local developers and housebuilders keen to tempt Londoners to their patch.

Inward investment and place marketing have been given a bad name thanks to the fripperies and excesses of generic advertising campaigns and extravagant overseas jamborees at the taxpayer’s expense. The reality is that real, effective inward investment is quite dull and has little to do with flashy exhibition stands or high-profile publicity. If done properly, inward investment work needn’t cost the earth either. In fact, it is possible over a short period of time for it to be cost-neutral or even profit-making.

Too many quangos, from UK Trade & Investment to regional development agencies, have enjoyed the luxury of multi-million pound taxpayer-funded marketing campaigns. The vagaries of European funding and RDA grants have meant that some locations have been able to spend in a profligate manner while others have had to be more creative and seek private sector funding. In this new age of austerity, any location seeking to market itself, should first approach its local airport, universities, developers, law firms, accountants and other local businesses with a commercial interest in seeing their area improve. The Coalition’s idea for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) that bring local councils and local businesses together are the perfect vehicle for this activity.

The ‘North Londonshire’ campaign is the brainchild of North Northants Development Company (NNDC), a local delivery vehicle that is supported by four local authorities and the county council. The fact that the NNDC brings together councils and local businesses to work in a way that attracts significant private sector funding for its marketing, provides a good working model for what an LEP might look like.

Even in the teeth of the recession, new money can be attracted locally. Cardiff’s promotion agency has recently shown what can be achieved, by securing more than half a million pounds from private sector partners and commercial initiatives. Quite simply - there is no longer any excuse why inward investment should be a nationalised, 100% taxpayer-funded activity.

Local authorities can and should lead on the direction of inward investment promotion but the many businesses that stand to benefit directly from its success should be expected to contribute to it.


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