Two related events. One this morning was a meeting looking at a refresh of the Greater Manchester Strategy - but first, a revisit of the history. The MIER (Manchester Independent Economic Review) was published in 2009. The work of the various externally recruited research teams was overseen and brought together by a group of eminent people in the field of economics. It presented the strengths of our economy, its weaknesses, and was very challenging in a number of areas, not least land-use planning.
However, it was strongly evidenced based and demonstrably independent and so as well as helping our own thinking in the city-region, it was a credible body of evidence to inform our discussions with central government. The Greater Manchester Strategy, though not accepting all of the findings of the review, was very much built on it, and has been the major tool in maintaining a positive economic trajectory in these difficult times. However, much of the current strategy was written in far more promising circumstances and so is being reviewed and refreshed to take account of where we are now. We have been helped by our Economic Advisory Panel, again a group of eminent and independent economists some of whom were part of the MIER team, and they have produced a document, the Greater Manchester Growth Plan, to help and challenge us. This morning's discussion involved members of the panel discussing with us the implications of their work for what we do next to grow our economy and create jobs.
As with the MIER, skills play a significant part. The Growth Plan challenges government to greater devolvement of the skills budget, and challenges us in Greater Manchester to better align skills training with the needs of the economy. Yesterday I took part in a conference that involved all the Great Manchester Further Education Colleges. Most of the college principals were there along with a fair number of other senior managers. They, as providers of vocational education and training, were asking themselves the question as to how they could better align what they do with the needs of the economy. The MIER's research identified that 75% of the productivity gap between us and London and the South East is down to skills. That means the prize for getting this right, the potential reward in growth and in jobs, is enormous. The willingness of the colleges to address this together, and to work in partnership with the Combined Authority and the private sector to develop our skills offer, is a major step in the right direction and is very much welcomed.