Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Global Competitiveness Index 2006

Well - its out here

am guessing that its indicators of competitiveness, rather than actual economic performance. This tends to favour nations with significant presence of liquidity in financial markets, stable institutions, stable macroeconomies, innovation, education etc etc

Tends to be the most wealthiest nations. But, doesn't mean to say those outside the top 10 are complete basket cases, or could take on the top 10 countries anyway. Studies like this sometimes present a bit of a monotheistic view of the factors needed for economic growth and development.

There seems to be a lot of reflection here in the transparency index too - most of these top 10 placeces are also the least corrupt countries in the world.

According to this work - stable government, stable macroeconomy, stable institutions, a decent legal system tends to improve competitiveness amongst other things.

My bugbear with all of this stuff is that it tends to ignore the influence of the demand side in actual economic performance. You can have great institutions, but you can always be undercut by competitors.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Should we axe the SBS?!

There's been a few preemptive news stories in last week's press about axing the SBS - claiming to report on the forthcoming announcement by Alastair Darling to trim down the SBS and devolve more enterprise support activities to the regions.

The times reports it here and is pretty scathing, calling for the SBS's abolition. The Times mentions that the British Chamber of Commerce said that the SBS had failed - which I can't find reference to. The BCC website refers to members feedback on the DTI which is positive and also points to high member buy-in to the mission of the DTI, but that's it.

The CBI's view of the SBS is fairly well balanced and valid although I have a few quibbles - CBI is mentioning/calling for the following:

- The CBI believes far more attention should be paid to boosting the growth of small firms - perhaps the most important driver of wider economic productivity and growth - as well as promoting start-ups

- SBS to have more power in Whitehall, not less - a lot of this relates to making government regulations more friendly to business, less bureaucratic etc, and to continue impact assessments on business of new legislation.

- DFES should ensure skills and education more tailored to what businesses want (been trying to get his for 20 years or more!?)

- SBS/DTI should work to simplify tax system for small business

- UKTI focuses too much on very small businesses - refocus on medium sized businesses

- Govt should reduce administrative burden

And what is my view? I hear the very few of you ask

The evidence is there to suggest that small businesses and new businesses generate a lot of new employment and innovation in the economy. Its economically and politically expedient of the government to act in this area. However, the SBS has always been a bit of a fudge. They have got some things right, especially things like research, and getting down to the main priorities for encouraging enterprise start up and growth, but they are a bit too remote from the real world of entrepreneurship. Should stuff be devolved to RDAs? in my view, RDAs aren't really fit for purpose either, so maybe not - it depends on the RDAs really. I think if devolve to RDAs, you need to build a community of practice, expertise and business advisor development at the national level - this is exactly what the SBS should be doing - being more of an enabler and resource to drive the agenda forward. As it stands, its too much like a ministry.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Not quite ready yet

Well as one gets older one gets more cautious! so I'll leave it for a bit before sticking my name on the blog.

I'm just in this new job, so will see the lay of the land before. There's no escape from controversy in economic development! well not really!

Did anyone who reads this go to IEDC conference in NYC? if so let me know how it was. I went to last year's conference in Chicago and it was a blast.

I am currently looking into economic performance and growth, and trying to get behind the academic stuff that's published, usually by geographers, that somewhat misrepresents economics. Its funny because I did both economics and geography at University. But the academic stuff on regions and cities isn't as good as I'd hoped. I keep going back to OECD stuff, Krugman, and Porter for inspiration. too much academic debate is preoccupied with supply side of economic performance, not enough about demand side. e.g. lagging regions for me are so much about insufficient demand-side activities (e.g. the businesses that employ people). Too much on skills provision - which in itself is not the answer. comments and thoughts welcome - share your insights
Ah well back to the reading.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Doing economic research: What do you want statistics and research to tell you?

The most fundamental question you need to ask yourself before thinking about, planning, or embarking on undertaking or contracting research is – what do you want to know and why?
This sounds a dumb question – but – a lot of folks don’t ask this. They just collect information for the sake of it or do what they have always done, analyse the same statistics in the same old way. Or perhaps people try and collect every available fact or capture all available data no matter how relevant. Statistics and research can tell you a great deal about your locality or region. There is a lot of information available these days, especially with the increase in availability of online data sources and research. However, one of the biggest mistakes to make is to rush out and gather as much information as possible, as you will soon be overwhelmed. Its not good to be ‘data driven’ in this way. It is much better to be needs, or demand driven. Gathering and interpreting data and information can take a lot of time and resources. Quite often, research or strategy department budgets are small. Therefore you need to ask some basic questions at the beginning.
Take a tip from a professional, experienced researcher and analyst – take some time to build a sound reason and rationale for a piece of work. Talk to people – especially the ones who are looking for intelligence or analysis to help them make a decision. Try and understand the context and needs from other people’s points of view. Remember – if you don’t supply them with intelligence or analysis that they can use, your work (and you) will not be valued.
Your needs: be clear about
– The research question – what do you want to find out?
– What’s it for? What use will be made of the answer?
– Who is it for? Is it for a specific group of people?
The ultimate value of research is to help people make better-informed decisions. Sometimes its hard to determine exactly what those needs are if other people are involved. Often they don’t know about research in a particular field to be able to articulate exactly what they want.
For example, a colleague might ask you to implement a ‘survey on business survival rates’. However, what they really want is to learn more about what they read in the paper this morning about their local area having much higher rates of business closure than the national average. They don’t know much about research or how its done but they assume most of it is concerned with performing surveys. So this leads them to ask you for one. Rather than doing exactly what you are asked or told to do its worth going back to this colleague and asking exactly what they want to know and why they want to know it, and also what kind of decision or actions will rest on the outcome of this research. If there is no decision or money resting on the research, then you have to ask yourself if it is a priority. Perhaps it could be a theme of your next annual report on your local economy, or perhaps you could dig around existing data and studies to get the answers rather than commission an expensive survey.
The analagy is crude, but its true that data is raw information, and to be more meaningful it needs to be prepared and processed and ‘cooked’. However, you need to go one step further – to get intelligence out of the information – you need to analyse it. If you have cooked ingredients, you need to assemble and combine them into somehing palatable and digestable. It’s the same with information – you need to combine and analyse it so it tells you something that is digestible and meaningful. The food analogy is useful though – for example, you sometimes don’t need to cook a four course meal when a snack will do! Or maybe you have been forced on a diet because of government budgetary cuts. I digress.
Back to reality now – I tend to think of the following steps as cooked, raw, cooked and a four-course meal:
• Raw: the basic data that is generated by surveys of companies, individuals or is collected by government agencies and the like. At this stage, information is collected systematically (I hope – more about that in Chapter X) and quality checked/controlled (bad data or mistakes are rooted out).
• Cooked: the basic data has been quality checked and approved and collated systematically – now information is generated in the form of tables and charts. Things like crosstabulation and statistical tests or calculations can be performed. Quite often we use standard definitions for measuring phenomenon such as ‘unemployment’, ‘employment’, or ‘qualification levels’. The data is compiled according to these standard definitions. There may or may not be some descriptive information about the data.
• A four course meal: the tables are analysed to find out what they mean! This is a bit more complex than it sounds, but if we were looking at tables and charts of information concerning our local economy we might be looking at issues such as – how different is our economic structure in terms of industries to the UK average structure? or how high is unemployment here compared to the national average? We might find that high unemployment exists alongside high levels of job vacancies – we might ask what that means, and look at other data tables (such as migration statistics) to find out. Much analysis is about ‘triangulation’ – which is basically the cross-examination of different sets of information to ascertain a confident picture of what is occurring in the economy. Much of analysis is about gathering a set of incomplete pieces of information about an economy and seeing if any of these pieces fit together to give a picture of what is occurring. Or its like uncovering various clues about a crime. Some clues are circumstantial, some are red herrings, but some might fit together quite logically.
Of course there are some consultancies out there who could offer you a bit of fast food! But beware, too much fast food doesn’t do you good in the long run!
I have seen far too many descriptive reports incorrectly described as an ‘analysis’. For me, an analysis asks what the data means and describes the strength or association of causal factors. Merely saying that X is higher than Y doesn’t cut it as analysis for me.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

some service resumed

Well I am back, due to popular demand. Well I found someone had left a few comments and so felt duty bound to start writing stuff again (Thanks Neil Craig!).

Actually I found there wasn't much I could write about because I was working in a Regional Development Agency and in a more senior role than when I started the blog so found little time, and it was all a bit daft that I couldn't write what I really really thought.

Now I have left the RDA and am in a new job as an economist, still concerned with regional, local and urban economic development, and I will have loads to blog about. As well as being able to reveal who I am. Not that I am famous or anything.

RDAs - the insiders view

So what did I think of England's RDAs? well I could really go to town on criticising the one I was in but I will begin a lengthy session of blogs with my immediate observations:

- they get far too many tasks and have far too wide remit
- they cash they have can't fulfil their remit
- the political expectations and pressures far outweigh the realistic prospects
- having said that RDAs aren't as dynamic or creative as they have the potential to be
- to many have become public service providers rather than catalysts for change
- too many private sector staff parachuted in with no idea of how to work in government. RDAs are creatures of government first and foremost, and they must get up to speed with best practice quickly. No time for someone to learn the job from scratch
- too many initiatives are political pet projects, and have tenuous links at best to economic development

I have loads more. I once wrote a ph.d on economic development agencies, so you could say I can talk about it with a fair bit of knowledge. I will publish stacks more on this don't worry (as if!)...