Regional Strategy & Monty Python

Today was mostly spent in Exeter, at their new rugby stadium and conference venue (Sandy Park) at a consultation day for SWRDA’s new Corporate Plan. Ironically, given one of the Regional priorities is to be Carbon Neutral in new projects by 2011 and lots of folk had been persuaded to take the train, the trains were cancelled with the ensuing delays, confusion and chaos. Those of us that travelled by iron horse had no such problems.

The big drive, amongst other things, is to move from employment-led growth to productivity-led growth. Which is a good and noble thing, but rather misses the opportunity to go straight for competitive advantage-led growth. Given most of the attendants were from the public sector, it’ll be interesting how they perceive productivity.

In fact it was the part of the agenda ‘The Most Important things the RDA can do’ that triggered my Monty Python alarm when someone (almost verbatim to Life of Brian just after Brian gets captured) called for the corporate plan to have a plan to actually do something, lets stop planning and actually do, whole new motion, generally seconded, etc.

It took Sean Fielding from Exeter University, after a quick and shameless plug for his institution, to make reference to competitive advantage.

After coffee and networking, 10 flipcharts were set up with statement / questions posted that roughly related to parts of the Corporate Plan. Each table began at its corresponding flip chart number, discussed the topic for 4 mins, then moved to the next flip chart, repeat, rinse, etc. One hour later everyone had contributed thoughts on all the topics and was desperate for lunch. Apart from a bit of chaos setting up, things went smoothing and there were some interesting points raised (lots on spatial planning, housing, and a bit of a gripe about SWRDA). As Jane Henderson (CEO, SWRDA) pointed out in the wrap up, some of the requests were for things that SWRDA was doing but hadn’t told everyone about, and some of the points weren’t SWRDA’s responsibility or mandate to address.

Whether anything changes in the final Corporate Plan, we’ll see.

It was a very different crowd to the one I normally circulate in so that was interesting. A couple of connections were made, a couple were missed, too early to say the longer term outcome.


  1. Sorry, what is “competitive advantage-led growth”? Competitive advantage without productivity improvements can’t create growth, it can only redistribute earnings between competitors.

  2. I would see it slightly differently – part of the issue with productivity is that it’s one factor in competitiveness, but only one. As a case in point, letting chickens run about under the trees and growing slowly isn’t as productive as sticking them in a climate controlled shed, but it’s a huge competitive advantage and one that’s growing the market. If you’re an artist or creative media type, productivity isn’t always a very useful measure of your success, your ‘brand’ or style or creative innovation is your competitive advantage even if you only produce one or two installations per year.

    If you establish a competitive advantage you can create new markets, new earnings, new products, etc.

    Obviously I’m not saying that productivity isn’t important and we shouldn’t fritter away resources, just that if you aren’t growing the market or creating new ones (by establishing competitive advantages), then in times of recession (or near recession) productivity increases will only take you so far.

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