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Levelling up the regions, time for project professionals to deliver

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As the chancellor prepares to announce the budget, the Association for Project Management highlights the importance of projects at a regional level and explains why proper planning – not just financial investment – is needed to build on current successes.

In 2019, APM launched its landmark report The Golden Thread in cooperation with PwC, which attempted to map the extent to which project activity contributes to the UK economy. It revealed that project management in the UK generates £156.5bn of annual gross value added (GVA), and that an estimated 2.13 million full-time equivalent workers (FTEs) are employed in the project management profession.

But on the eve of a budget from a government that has pledged to address the inequalities outside the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of the south-east, it is important to reflect on the value of projects at a local level. What do projects – big and small – mean for the communities where they are being delivered? APM has tackled this question in its latest piece of research, The Golden Thread: The Regional Picture. This report provides detailed regional analysis to highlight the connections between projects and economic development across the UK. The findings make it clear that proper investment and planning for future projects at regional level will be essential to the Chancellor’s ambition to ‘level up’ the UK economy, to use the phrase-of-the-moment.

The south-west, for example, is identified in the report as a regional hotspot of project activity. It employs 331,000 project professionals, or 16 per cent of the profession’s total UK workforce – a significant proportion given that total employment in the south-west is only 8.7 per cent of the UK total.

These figures can be attributed to significant major projects in the region, including the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, currently under construction, which has stimulated demand for project management skills and a strong supply chain. Projects such as this are already proving themselves to be drivers of employment and economic growth in their local areas. Further investment by government will only enhance this, enabling projects to fulfil their potential as building blocks for a more certain and sustainable future.

The government’s budget plans are likely to set the tone for the initiation of projects of all sizes, from tackling climate change to technological advances. The Industrial Strategy Council recently identified 142 distinct policies set out in the government’s strategy, most of which were now in a delivery phase. But the bulk of the £45bn covered by the strategy was focused on a few areas — housing, research and development, transport and digital, with most plans still requiring resource.

The chancellor’s budget statement and accompanying barrage of press releases are sure to make liberal use of the phrase ‘levelling up’ as the government seeks to make good on its promise to rebalance the economy . But while this might appear to be good news, and welcome for those who felt the prolonged Brexit debate had stalled investment and created strategic blight, significant challenges remain.

As the Institute for Government has often warned, there is a danger of too many ‘shiny’ new (and big) projects on top of the existing portfolio of major programmes. Meeting the challenge of levelling up the regions will require long-term planning and proper initiation of projects. These need to be coordinated, rather than delivered in silos (both across private/public as well as central/local delivery partners), and will have to anticipate and flex against the barrage of change that APM’s Projecting the Future campaign has identified.

Sounds like a job for an invigorated and confident project profession.

Find out more about The Golden Thread: The Regional Picture report here

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