Enterprise Zones are places where a different set of rules apply to business.  Inside the Enterprise Zone businesses get:

  • business discount rate worth up to £275,000 over five years for firms that move into the area over the course of this parliament
  • a more relaxed, flexible and ‘radically simplified’ planning regime
  • access to ‘superfast’ broadband.*

Enterprise zones will be pockets of the country where the usual rules that govern the relationships between business and society are bent to the advantage of business.  Business will get enhanced public services in the area, and they will pay less for them. Their operating costs will be reduced.  It will be those of us who neither live nor work in an enterprise zone who will pay.  We will be relying on the ‘trickle down fairy’,  trickle down economics to ensure that we all share the success of those who can afford to invest in an enterprise zone.

Enterprise zones ‘work’ (on their own purely economic terms) when they are able to attract more investment.  They attract more investment by reducing the risks and  increasing the rewards for the investors.  We subsidise those investments.

Interestingly the Government is reported to have said that it does not want Enterprise Zones to be about remedying local dereliction but about economic growth.  This is about making public investment where the return on that investment, measured in economic terms, are likely to be greatest.  This means that it is likely to be an investment in already strong economies, helping them to become stronger.

So how might things be different with some #altlep thinking?

In an alternative LEP I think the logic may run a little differently. I think we may question the wisdom of zoning, and instead prefer to think about how we can improve the preconditions of enterprise for all.

We would also make sure that we did nothing that was going to further benefit big business while doing little to help the small businesses that are increasingly the mainstay of our economy.

I think we would think twice before easing planning requirements in certain zones.  Either we have got the planning process right in holding the balance between environment and business or we haven’t.  Or perhaps we should devolve more powers of planning and taxation to the local level so that those who will really be impacted can have a say?

We would recognise that enterprise is expressed in many different voices, not just the voice of business.  We might be interested in setting up a ‘social enterprise zone’.  An area where enterprise is encouraged because of its positive impact on society, not just on the economy.  The mantra might be, ‘yes please make some money if you wish, but make something much more interesting as well, please….’

I think we might question trickle down theory that says ‘a strong economy produces strong public services which in turn produce a strong society’.  While it is true that ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’, in a ‘rising’ economy some people rise much further and much faster than others.  And when the economy sinks, well not all hands sailors share the same risk.

I suspect we would think much more deeply about the psychology of enterprise, the mental barriers to acting boldly in pursuit of dreams, rather than how we can change fiscal and planning policy to encourage those who are already doing it to do it more profitably.  How do we change the psychological landscape so that many more individuals take responsibility for their own lives?  That they feel that it is possible for them to make progress, without waiting for a benevolent employer to come along and offer them a job.

I suspect we would seriously consider the impact of a traditional enterprise zone on its neighbours.  Displacing jobs is not the same as creating as them after all.