Read the following stories of place used by each member of the action learning set to tell their own story about their area and the economic, physical and social conditions.
Clustered with Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset in CUBA - the 'County that Used to Be Avon'.
Population of the unitary is roughly 180,000, with 50 per cent of the population living in Bath, 25 per cent in Keynsham, Midsomer Norton and Radstock, and the other 25 per cent in other rural areas.
There are clear economic differences within the sub-region. Bath is a retail centre and an international tourist destination, Midsomer Norton and Radstock are more settled communities with an industrial tradition.
The difficulty is that the area is seen as prosperous which masks the challenge around workforce skills and over-reliance on public sector employment, retail and tourism. Bath and North East Somerset Council is interested in the further development of ICT and creative industries. A key issue in Bath is the earnings to house price ratio.
The current worry is that the recession may creep up on the area incrementally rather than through big firm closures.
Brentwood is 18 minutes from London with significant commuter dynamics. The population is 70,000 with a strong active elderly component. It is strongly identified as a borough with a strong town centre.
There are some transport link issues by road including the A12. It is a base for some very large organisations 'off the back' of London, and is strongly keyed into South Essex with good links to Colchester and the University of Essex. Brentwood is also close to Stansted Airport.
In general Brentwood has a highly-qualified workforce. There is limited land for development.
The council feels the recession will have an impact especially in terms of the 'top end' of the economic spectrum in the borough.
There are three sub-economies: Cambridge (R&D, University, Addenbrooke's Hospital); the Fens (still agricultural); and Huntingdonshire (mixed economy).
There is hope that the area may be relatively well insulated from the recession, although some intelligence is emerging that up to 15,000 jobs may be lost. The real challenge is retaining clever 'spin out' companies in the medium-term as they grow.
The area is involved in the growth agenda: London, Cambridge, Stansted and Peterborough (LCSP). The aim of 50,000 new jobs will become an increasing challenge.
The council is keen to further grow the environmental sector while housing affordability is a big issue.
Part of the 'three cities' geography - with Leicester and Nottingham. Derby is tightly-bounded with a population just under 250,000. Derby has some significant large-scale employers, including Rolls Royce, Toyota, Bombardier Rail and Egg. It does, though, have low business start-up rates. There is a gap between the wages of residents and employees.
Derby is developing with the significant Westfield city centre development underway adjacent to Pride Park. A challenge is working out a reciprocal offer with Nottingham and Leicester.
Office space provision is inadequate.
The public realm is an issue.
Worklessness is a key theme as is understanding economic linkages between the city and its hinterland.
The council is keen to build better engagement with the private sector.
East Riding is the largest unitary local authority in England. It is a mix of seaside, rural areas, ports and commuter - north of Hull - components.
The council has made significant commitment to grow the small to medium-size enterprise (SME) sector. Currently the economy is over-reliant on the public sector.
There is some deprivation in settlements such as Goole and Bridlington, while rural deprivation and its unique challenges are also prevalent.
The area has an elderly demography, while graduate retention and seasonal coastal resorts are also issues. A driver for the area is the Humber Trade Zone and also the growth in logistics around Goole.
Essex has a 1.3 million population. Twenty-five per cent of the workforce commutes to London. Essex is often characterised as being urban but there are some very remote rural areas with a network of historic towns.
There are some 'image issues', and in terms of indigenous identity it does not fit comfortably into the Eastern region. In terms of activity and profile, Essex benchmarks itself with Hampshire and Kent. The area is deemed to be prosperous but there are some significant pockets of deprivation, such as Jaywick near Clacton.
The county has a mixed economy - with a strong high-tech and scientific base.
The Thames Gateway including Southend unitary is in the south, and Haven Gateway in the north - Colchester and Ipswich - are both important sub-regional economies.
Barnet has a 350,000 population, making it the second largest London borough.
Barnet is often perceived as 'leafy' but includes some deprivation.
The community strategy sets out to achieve a 'successful city suburb'. It is part of London in the context of a global economic entity. The Northern Line is an ongoing infrastructure issue. There is significant physical regeneration in Cricklewood and Brent Cross. There are also some other small town settlements of importance, such as Chipping Barnet.
Barnet has very high levels of commuting with house prices a major challenge.
There is significant public sector presence including Hendon Police College and Middlesex University.
Barnet sits, without great enthusiasm, in a North London sub-region with Enfield, Haringey and Waltham Forest. Barnet sees its key link as the North West London corridor to Luton.
Luton has a 190,000 population. It has a young, multi-cultural profile.
Part of Milton Keynes South Midlands Growth Area, Luton is known for its airport and manufacturing on the midland 'continental' main line into St Pancras International. The University of Bedfordshire is close by. There is a slightly disjointed geography with proximity of Dunstable and Houghton Regis - giving a population of 250,000 overall.
Local government reorganisation (LGR) around Luton is a new dynamic, as Bedfordshire goes from being a two-tier county to two unitary authorities.
The growth agenda of 26,000 new houses and a similar number of jobs is a challenge.
There are skills issues in the economy, along with the need to tackle neighbourhood inequalities.
Good internal links between economic development, planning arrangements and the working of the local strategic partnership (LSP).
Manchester has a 500,000 population. It is tightly bounded within a complex set of sub-regional geographies. Gross value added (GVA) is the key driver.
Greater Manchester is a massive economic entity and the area has exhibited strong job and population growth. There are high workplace wages but a big gap between residential and workplace wages.
Manufacturing is less than three per cent of the economy and clustered in and to the north of the city.
Manchester has a direct London relationship and uses London for benchmarking.
The broad employment base, including some long-term players like The Coop, has not helped battle the high levels of persistent residential deprivation.
There are challenges involving the supply and nature of social housing and real challenges around worklessness.
There are high levels of residential turnover, and low skills are an issue. But there is also a real power house in the University of Manchester.
Is in a triangle between Coventry, Leicester and Northamptonshire. There are significant commuting patterns linked to equivalent in and outflows of labour.
Rugby has strong manufacturing and logistics sectors but unemployment is creeping up through the links with the automotive industry in the West Midlands supply chain.
Rugby is developing the 'Power Academy' for the whole of England. Sub-regional activities are taking place with Coventry and Solihull.
There is a significant ABC1 population.
Warwichshire encircles Coventry. The key economic driver is the Coventry, Solihull, Warwickshire (CSW) partnership.
It has a strong GVA profile, although perhaps too concentrated in CSW area. It exists on the cusp of many geographies.
Rugby is prosperous with good skills and business start-up levels.
There is strong tourism offer around Stratford upon Avon but the relationship with Coventry needs a bit more focus.
The city region agenda is also a little unclear in West Midlands.
2 May 2012