Local Economic Recovery Planning: Playbook for Action

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The LGA commissioned Social Finance to produce this good practice guidance for councils to develop and improve local economic recovery plans


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact on local economies for which the full effects are yet to be felt. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR’s) forecast expects the largest annual fall in GDP since 1709. The OBR forecast also draws out at a macro level the differential economic shocks to sectors, with sectors most reliant on face-to-face interactions - hospitality, transport, and entertainment - experiencing worse impacts than those able to continue operating with social distancing rules, such as financial services and agriculture.

As such, every local economy is different, and councils are already starting to plan their local recoveries that best suit their places and communities. Some councils will want to focus on the hospitality industry, others on high street support, or new opportunities in the green economy, or ensuring that recovery tackles inequalities that the pandemic has surfaced. The capacity of councils to support local economic recovery is also going to vary around the country.

Following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of a phased plan to unwind public health restrictions there are reasons to be optimistic. The loss of life and livelihoods has been tragic and whilst we must remain vigilant to control the virus, we can begin to look forward to and help deliver a better future.

Places around the country have not only been working hard to respond to the health crisis, they have also been planning their economic recovery.  In June 2020, my authority published ‘Swindon Bouncing Back’ – a 10 point plan developed collaboratively with the town’s innovative business sector. It reflects our local heritage of entrepreneurialism epitomised by the regeneration of Isambard Brunel’s Carriage Works, and its transformation into a business incubation and Cultural Heritage Institute. At that time, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen that the situation would get so much worse again before it could get better.

Given the unprecedented economic impact of the pandemic and uncertainty about the future direction of the economy we cannot afford to be complacent. As with previous economic shocks, councils have benefited from considering different scenarios and best practice that can help their places to recover and thrive. That is why the LGA has created ‘Local Economic Recovery: Playbook for Action’, which captures learning and good practice from leaders and senior officers from around the country. There is lots to learn from the many extraordinary projects and plans that local authorities across the country have developed to protect and stimulate jobs, tackle inequality and shape the future of their places.

Councils have responded well to previous economic shocks and they stand ready do so again. As local politicians, we cannot control the global recession, but what we can do is use our local influence, leadership and partnerships to stimulate investment and growth. As our lives slowly begin to return to normal, councils will be taking the opportunity to revisit existing recovery plans to enable a strong and enduring local economic recovery.

- Cllr David Renard, Chair of the LGA’s Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board and Leader of Swindon Borough Council.


The LGA commissioned Social Finance to develop a Local Economic Recovery: Playbook for Action. The Playbook draws together practical learning from places across England that have developed comprehensive recovery plans with their partners. It presents emerging best practice and provides local examples that are intended to support local government decision-makers to chart a pathway though the uncertainties of the current crisis. It has been developed for councillors and senior officers to use as a quick and easy tool to provide greater confidence that their council is doing all it feasibly can to develop ambitious and effective recovery plans.

The playbook has been informed through research and interviews with senior officers from over 20 district, county, and unitary authorities, in urban, rural, and coastal areas, as well as feedback from the LGA’s Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board, and desk-based research.  The Playbook is presented in an accessible online format so that relevant best practice, insights and place-based examples can be quickly applied to different local contexts. It is divided into four key themes that play a critical role in the ongoing development and delivery of locally led economic recovery.

  • adaptive planning
  • knowing your place
  • prioritisation
  • making it happen

The Playbook does not prescribe particular policy solutions as these will vary depending on local circumstance. Councils are in the best position to work with partners to shape the future of their places to ensure their residents can live, work and have the opportunity to thrive. However, the Playbook does provide an opportunity to ‘sense check’ existing plans with practical suggestions and actions that may be appropriate to adopt or adapt in your area. These are described in a series of short examples of local recovery plans and projects which include capital investment, steps to protect vital local jobs, smooth transitions between contracting and growth sectors, and tackle social inequalities.

Economic context

In addition to the devastating impact on the nation’s health, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had far-reaching social and economic effects since the first national lockdown in March 2020 restricted economic activity. Subsequent lockdowns and other restrictions have taken the UK economy into new territory, but the impacts vary considerably depending on local circumstances. 

During 2020, UK GDP contracted by 9.9 per cent - the largest annual fall since the Great Frost over 300 years ago, and fell again by 2.9 per cent in January 2021. The pandemic also coincided with the initial economic effects of leaving the EU. 

In response, the government introduced an unprecedented £344 billion package of financial support to protect jobs, households, and business as well as additional grants for public services. Even so local government finances have been under extreme pressure. The National Audit Office suggests more than four out of five English local authorities are planning cuts to services in 2021/22.   

The economy’s future pathway remains very uncertain. While GDP is expected to grow by 4 per cent in 2021 the UK’s stock of debt now stands at its highest level since 1958/9, and unemployment is expected to rise to 6.5 per cent. The Office of Budget Responsibility’s economic and labour market forecasts acknowledge epidemiological and trade risks which could lead to upside and downside economic scenarios. 

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The graph shows the historic rate of unemployment to the end of 2020, and three forward looking forecasts to 2026. The central forecast peaks at ~7.5% in mid-2021, the downside scenario peaks at ~11% in 2022 and the upside scenario peaks at ~5% in mid-2021

The easing of restrictions announced in the Government’s Roadmap on 22 February should support the economic recovery. At the 2021 Budget, the Chancellor extended emergency support to September 2021 beyond the earliest date that public health restrictions can be lifted. The budget included modest tax rises, investment incentives for business and several funds to enable some local authorities to develop recovery orientated projects.

The easing of restrictions announced in the Government’s Roadmap on 22 February should support the economic recovery. At the 2021 budget, the Chancellor extended emergency support to September 2021 beyond the earliest date that public health restrictions can be lifted. The budget included modest tax rises, investment incentives for business and several funds to enable some local authorities to develop recovery orientated projects.

Regions and sectors 

The economic impact of the pandemic has varied across regional and local economies, as well as by sectors. The latest available regional economic growth data, to June 2020, suggests negative growth in GDP has been greatest in the East and West Midlands, followed by the South East, and lowest in London, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

However, looking at GDP alone may mask the unequal health and economic impacts of the pandemic on former industrial areas in the North. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that large cities and tourist destinations have the highest share of jobs at risk and even before the pandemic many regional economies were struggling to recover to pre-financial crisis rates of employment

Within regions there have been large variations in labour market impacts. In the North East, claimant counts are currently 5.8 per cent in Northumberland and 10.1 per cent in Middlesbrough. In Greater London, the year on year increase in the claimant count in Haringey more than quadrupled to 11.1 per cent in early 2021, whilst the lowest rate of increase, excluding the City of London, has been from 2.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent in Westminster.

Sectors that have been most affected by the lockdown and social distancing have not unsurprisingly been those that rely on face to face consumer interaction. In particular: 

  • arts, culture, and live entertainment  
  • accommodation, hospitality and tourism
  • non-supermarket retail, and 
  • transport.

Employment effects by age, pay, contract type, sector, gender, parents with young children and ethnicity (Resolution Foundation)

Proportion of people employed in February 2020 who in January 2021 were either no longer working, were furloughed, or whose earnings had fallen by 10 per cent (or more) compared to February 2021. 

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In mid-February 2021, there were approximately 6.5 million furloughed employees. This is down from a high of around 9 million in May 2020. However, in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry and the accommodation and food service industry more than half of the workforce is on furlough leave. 

Social impact

There is a growing body of evidence that identifies the communities and populations that have been hit hardest by the impact the pandemic. The legacy of Covid could entrench and exacerbate existing inequalities, particularly for:

  • Young people aged 18-24 - account for 46 per cent of the overall fall in employment and almost half of people furloughed, but within this group the loss of employment in young Black and Asian people is at least three time higher.
  • Self-employed – 14 per cent have stopped work entirely and 40 per cent were earning less in January 2021 than before the crisis.
  • Low paid and insecure employment - are more likely to have been employed in sectors most affected by the lockdown.
  • Staff on furlough more than six months - more likely to be a risk of being made redundant. 

Parliament has raised significant concerns about the gendered economic impact of the pandemic. Women have been more likely to be furloughed than men, have spent more time on unpaid childcare and household work, and report higher levels of anxiety and depression

Looking ahead

The pandemic has created significant economic damage that is likely to accelerate labour market transitions and amplify existing local economic challenges. The future trade and economic implications of the UK’s exit from the European Union also remain unclear. 

Due to the high level of uncertainty about the future path of the economy it will be essential for local decision makers to keep up to date with changes in the national context as well as local economic trends. Some councils are taking an adaptive scenario-based approach to recovery planning. They are being ambitious and optimistic about local prospects while anticipating and mitigating risks and tackling inequalities where possible. 

The future of work may include greater home working, online commerce and service provision, and automation, which could disrupt some sectors. There may also be new opportunities for growth in green and tech industries, and different high-street experiences. 

The social and health impacts of the pandemic are significant, and notably worse in areas of higher deprivation. The emerging evidence suggest that existing inequalities have been exacerbated and will persist unless directly addressed. Recent surveys have highlighted rising public concern about place-based income inequality, and more divided views on the appropriate means to tackle gender, race and age inequalities. 

Adaptive Recovery planning

The pandemic has raised questions about the future of some sectors, land use, lifestyles and “new norms” in the short, medium and long term. Some existing trends have been accelerated or exacerbated such as changes in town centre retail and brought others, such as rising inequalities, into sharper focus.

This means that all places – every local authority area – should establish a plan for recovery that addresses the economic and social impacts of the pandemic, which is able to adapt to and take advantage of changing local and national trends.

The need for a recovery plan doesn’t mean that you should discard existing plans. Previous long-term plans that have been based on good analysis of local economic challenges will often be a very useful basis for future plans and strategies. Developing and adapting current plans now will give you an opportunity to reflect, reassess, and reprioritise, to support the right recovery for your area and residents.

The stop-start nature of the pandemic restrictions has meant that places have moved from crisis response, into re-opening and back again through three national lockdowns as well as regional tiered restrictions. Economic planning should look beyond the immediate to longer-term horizons and set out a preferred pathway for recovery that reflects ambitions for your place.

Whilst there will be a need for ongoing responses reflecting the continued uncertainty over the trajectory of the pandemic as well as some ongoing restrictions, places should flexibly plan their route to recovery, with the ability to pivot between phases as required. 

There are three broad phases of planning for recovery which local plans should try to address:

  • A reopening phase, supporting the safe restarting of activity as restrictions are lifted, whilst continuing to respond to the immediate demands of the pandemic.
  • A recovery phase, building confidence in the local economy, supporting businesses and employees/workers as government support is withdrawn.
  • A renewal phase where activities and policies to support long term plans are put in place to deliver sustainable improvements in social, economic and environmental outcomes.

Coming out of crises can be a good opportunity to refocus priorities, reflecting on the impact of the crisis and resetting policy goals accordingly. Many places have highlighted ambitions to tackle inequalities, pursue a greener economy, build resilience, and promote digital solutions. These seem to be rising priorities with short, medium, and long-term implications as we come out of the pandemic.

This phasing of response is reflected in many recovery plans, for example:

Local plans should be driven by what makes sense for the functional economic geography and local political priorities as well as opportunities for wider positive influence. Your plan may be limited to your own local authority area, and/or it may complement or be integrated into plans developed at county, combined authority or regional level. For example:

  • Plymouth has a discrete city recovery plan.
  • Lancaster City Council has collaborated with South Lakeland and Barrow in the neighbouring county to create a Morecambe Bay recovery plan.
  • Barnsley’s plan reflects its position as an integral part of the Sheffield City Region Mayoral Combined Authority, but is also aligned with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
  • Newcastle’s city plan has been developed with the North of Tyne Combined Authority as well as Durham, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland, and feeds into a regional North East LEP recovery strategy.

A high up photograph of Plymouth city centre

Local Authorities are the custodians of place and it is incumbent on us to explore what can be influenced and changed to improve our local area"

- Senior LG Officer

Whatever the geography that makes sense for you, local convening, investment and collaboration will have an essential role to play in supporting local recovery and plans should embrace residents, business and community interests. Working with your partners to create a clear narrative of recovery for your place and a sense of common purpose for the future will be important in gaining local support and commitment to your plan.

Even though you cannot control everything at a place level, local leadership is essential in planning local recovery and influencing others in pursuit of the best outcomes for your residents. Effective engagement and communication with public, private and third sector partners and communities will be vital during the development and delivery of the plan. For example, Bradford decided to establish an independently led Economic Recovery Board with broad local involvement; Plymouth have created a branded recovery plan and website to communicate ‘whole place’ priorities.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic which is both a health emergency and an unprecedented economic shock. This is a time when local government really matters. Our plan is about getting things done, having clear goals backed up by a robust plan. But a good plan is no good unless it unites people in a common purpose.

Our plan is a call to action, to do what Plymouth does best, to pull together to face an unprecedented challenge.    

- Tudor Evans, Leader of Plymouth City Council


Recovery planning starter checklist

1. Do you have a sound understanding what has changed as a result of the pandemic, your and others' roles in supporting local economic recovery – what you can control and influence?

2.  Do you have existing plans and are they still relevant to the different phases of the recovery?

3. Who needs to be part of the local recovery planning process, and how best can you involve and engage your key partners and communities?

4. What resources can you draw on and how will you prioritise objectives and action to reflect shared local ambitions? 

Knowing Your Place

The disruption caused by the pandemic has presented geographies across England with both homogenous and highly localised uncertainties. Any economic recovery plan should consider mitigation for both.

Knowing your place focuses on the latter and is grounded in the understanding that a plan for recovery should be established through detailed and ongoing insights about your local economy and communities. The following questions provide a checklist for the information you may want about the impact of the pandemic on your place:

1) What should you want to know about your place?

  • How has the pandemic impacted your economy?
    • Which sectors will require continued support to recover beyond the crisis?
    • Which areas of the economy show the highest levels of growth potential?
    • Which sectors are the most valuable for local employment?
    • How have different communities been affected? 

  • What implications will the pandemic have on current economic strategies?
    • To what extent has the pandemic accelerated pre-existing trends (ie decline in high street retail)?
    • How can these strategies be modified to target growth and equity in the post-covid economy?
    • What will be needed to support reopening, recovery and renewal? 
    • How does the data need vary between recovery stages?

2) How will you know?

  • What data is currently collected in your place?
    • Do you have a sufficient data infrastructure in place to understand the local economic and employment trends in your area?
    • Do you have sufficient resource to action the required data analysis in a timely manner to support decision-making? 
    • Do you have the data infrastructure to track the progress of policy decisions to understand the impact you are having?
    • Do you have qualitative and quantitative data at a local/community/sectoral level to support your insights?

  • What data are you missing?
    • Can you form a partnership with data analytic organisations or with other councils to fill the data gap?

  • How will you ensure the data insights are updated regularly to remain relevant?
    • Have you got the necessary, dynamic processes within your authority for up-to-date insights?

The need for information, in a timely and useable form, and the challenges that come with it, have been highlighted over the past year. Accessing real-time, local data has provided invaluable support for places to understand the on-going changes to their economy, offering targeted insight to inform plans and support good decisions.

The pandemic has also created the necessity and opportunity for improved engagement and collaboration with businesses, interest groups and anchor institutions. Many councils have established novel partnerships during the crisis, emphasising the importance of collective, place based, action and the benefits this can bring for residents and businesses in a time of crisis. There is the potential to build on this collaboration in future to build and sustain support for difficult decisions that will support long-term recovery.

Data and insight

Councils have adopted varying approaches to collecting and harnessing data to provide a greater understanding of their place; notably focusing on public health, consumer behaviour, economic and labour market information (LMI). All data strategies should reflect your individual needs. It will be important to identify the outcomes associated with council-wide objectives and what data will be required to monitor and measure them. Understanding the impact of policy as you implement will be essential to learn about what is working, what is not and how best to adapt.

The need for good data insights has been accentuated by the ever-changing health context and fast-paced policy-making context. It has also meant that national data that is published with extensive time lags has become less useful. Recognising potential constraints in capacity and capability to gather and analyse data, some councils have formed effective partnerships to share data insights.

A cathedral at nighttime
Commissioning economic analysis quickly helped us to understand the evolving situation and the impact our work was having. The labour market insights have proved vitally important to plan for the future of our place in the short, medium and long-term”

- Senior District Council officer


Data insights can be useful to inform the different phases of economic recovery planning:


An understanding of consumer confidence and behaviours offers useful insight to support during a reopening phase. Developing policies for opening public spaces and ensuring safe high streets will require place-based data. Cambridge quickly commissioned economic analysis from My Local Economy and developed a highly informative weekly dashboard to illustrate their local story and study the impact of recent policies. Multiple sources of data were accessed.

Examples of useful data sources include:


Newcastle developed an innovative live data tool to increase consumer confidence in visiting the city centre. How busy is toon displays live images of the town centre with guidance around social distancing and information on safety measures, shops and restaurants, safe travel and parking.

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A screenshot of Newcastle's 'How Busy is Toon' website

Howbusyistoon.com - Newcastle City Councils’ live data tool has been widely used by local residents.


Providing targeted business support will likely play a significant role when planning for the recovery phase. As town centres open up, policies to increase footfall, battle against empty shops and support businesses and employment will benefit from a comprehensive understanding of the labour market. 

Labour Market Insight (LMI) has proved to be a valuable tool to inform intervention to support local business. During the pandemic, Cambridge realised they had a good understanding of the impacts on local businesses but lacked evidence for prioritising support. They quickly commissioned LMI analysis to better understand the local employment trends in order to target support for specific sectors and SMEs.


Before planning for long-term recovery it is important to understand recent trends, local needs and potential risks alongside changing local political priorities. Many councils had developed pre-pandemic long-term plans for growth and local development. The capability to reassess such plans on the basis of good evidence has been essential for councils and their partners to understand the impact of the pandemic and reassess the way forward.  

Harrow Council provide an excellent example of using data to support long term planning. They have begun developing renewal plans with a focus on addressing skills gaps; trying to bring together the supply and demand of the labour market with the growth of businesses, schools and young people. A combination of inhouse analysis and Beauhurst data insights, have provided a clearer picture of Harrow’s business ecosystem to support this journey.

Barnsley, Cheshire West and Harrow (see place examples) have also developed indicators to measure the success and impact of their planned recovery interventions using local and national metrics, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Indices of Multiple Deprivation.   

Engagement and partnership

Beyond quantitative insights, having a deep understanding of your place through qualitative engagement with local communities and businesses will support planned development. Councils sit in a unique place, with the ability to connect a wide-variety of stakeholders to maximise a place-based approach to recovery. Increased community and business engagement have been common throughout the pandemic with authorities unlocking innovative methods of engagement in an increasingly digital world.

A powerful example of this was seen in Cheshire West and Chester when developing their Stronger Futures recovery and renewal plan. An online engagement exercise was set up via their website, social media and email, which allowed local people and businesses to provide evidence of their experience and expectations for future plans – three key questions were raised:

1. Have some challenges brought about by the pandemic affected you and your community more than others? 

2.  Have there been any positive changes arising out of the pandemic for you and your community?

3. People are talking about a new normal - what do you want the new normal to be for you and your community?

A subsequent engagement report was released, informing the community of the responses and providing transparency around how local voices have been used to support planning.

Through understanding your place and that the local economy does not end at your border, the importance of partnerships with neighbour councils may increase. Great Yarmouth worked collaboratively with nearby councils when identifying a large number of resident commutes to nearby areas for work. The local collaboration provided broader labour market intelligence and reduced risks to major local employers, allowed grants to be designed quickly, ensured consistency with the wider areas and provided clarity for local people and industries.


The COVID-19 pandemic has provided councils with a significant number of additional responsibilities, and an exacerbated pressure on already strained resources. Acknowledging the capacity and capabilities in your and local partner organisations will be important during recovery planning and implementation. Effective prioritisation of ambitions can help ensure practicality of delivery.

Prioritisation Framework

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Prioritisation Framework: Adapted from diagram developed by RSA, adapted by Barry Quirk CEO, Chief Executive of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; and additional detail from Cheshire West and Chester Council recovery plan.

Taking an opportunity to learn from the events of the past year, understanding what actions have had impact, and how to adapt moving forward can help shape recovery plans. Over the course of the pandemic, councils have both started and stopped doing things and continued as before with others. The diagram above, adapted from the Royal Society of Arts, offers a simple approach for thinking through next steps and prioritisation moving forward. Questioning whether to end, continue or amplify actions that were started; and let go, restart or reimagine actions that were stopped, creates a practical tool to consider future developments beyond the reactive response.  

This framework was initially developed in the context of service delivery; however, it has been adopted for processes and practices trialled by councils during the pandemic to identify specific actions. Whether it's introducing a more streamlined process for decision-making or helping cross-council communication to mature, the model can help facilitate consideration of the impact the changes have had and how to take them forward in the new normal. Cheshire West & Chester, Norwich and Derbyshire each have examples of how prioritisation frameworks have been used within recovery planning.

Financial investment is an important driver for local recovery. Approaches towards investment should be carefully considered, whilst understanding that a failure to invest in recovery could well be a risk in itself. Many councils have described an increased risk appetite over the course of the pandemic, notably within town centre regeneration, residential property and digital and green infrastructure projects. Managing this risk to ensure your approach to investment supports broader ambitions and has the right balance of risk and reward requires prioritisation. Financial investments should correspond to long-term priorities with decisions reflecting longevity and impact.

Graphic plans of people walking around a town centre with an Odeon in the town hall
Now is the time for ambitious plans. We have made major capital investment projects to improve our local place which are backed with a sound financial plan and due diligence. We want to make the most of this opportunity whilst managing our risk appropriately”

- Senior County Council officer

The process of prioritisation can be identified for each stage of recovery planning, recognising that places may come across tensions between the capacity to simultaneously plan for the short, medium and long-term. 

Reopening: prioritising actions to facilitate the reopening of town centres and high streets should utilise the data and evidence noted in knowing your place. The re-opening phase is likely to encompass a need for rapid decision-making whether for public safety, business support or consumer confidence. Speeding-up decision-making and various forms of delegation have been witnessed across the country; highlighting the need for decisions to be followed by immediate actions.

Questions to consider for prioritisation during the reopening phase:

  • Which activities require immediate support to reopen?
  • Are you using the data insights to its fullest potential to support decision-making?
  • From the previous reopening phase (July/August 2020) what worked well? What should be restarted, amplified, let go or ended?
  • What resources will be required to make it happen?
  • How long will these actions take to plan and put in place?

Recovery: it is likely this phase will be focused on addressing enduring issues, including the reduction in city centre footfall, digitalisation of interactions and unemployment. The LMI data discussed in the knowing your place section should be used to support prioritisation. The sectoral insights can provide evidence to ensure a suitably skilled workforce is able to meet the needs of growth sectors within your economy. Planning for employment failure should be considered during this phase. Preparation for an incomplete or slow ‘bounce-back’ of suffering sectors should include mitigation plans, developed through the identification of key factors shaping your economy and key issues for each.

Somerset Council provide an example of acting quickly to mitigate the impact of major employer failure, establishing a Redundancy Task Force and undertaking an in-depth economic impact assessment of potential knock-on implications of the failing sectors.

Questions to consider for prioritisation during the recovery phase:

  • What are the key factors shaping your local economy?
  • What are the key issues associated with these factors?
  • What can be provided or put in place to improve economic resilience?

Themes to consider:


  • providing support for SMEs to boost longevity
  • supporting local supply chains
  • creating an economy which nurtures and encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.


  • creating opportunities for re-skilling and job-matching (including preparation for major employer failure), relevant for growth industries in your local area
  • working with neighbouring areas in supporting the future of major employment sites and facilitating joint engagement with those businesses and government
  • providing targeted, flexible and wide-reaching employability support.


  • ensuring provision and recognition for the third sector
  • developing channels for cross-sector collaboration and communication.


  • establishing a clear procurement plan in-line with local objectives
  • maximising local procurement opportunities.

Bradford developed an economic recovery plan in December 2020 with the objective to sustain employment and boost productivity whilst continuing to build a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient economy over the next two years. The plan outlines a process of prioritisation for recovery, with “Megatrends” and key issues identified. This was subsequently mapped for specific needs in Bradford, leading to clear and focused priorities, including: equipping the young population with skills in sectors where Bradford has the best growth potential, supporting business adaptation through upskilling and technological support, leveraging cultural assets, accelerating the development of the green economy and promoting and enabling better health and wellbeing.

Mega trends

(Key factors shaping the economy)
Key Issues
Covid-19 induced recession
  • Speed of recovery depends on the ability to manage the pandemic globally
  • Potential long-term scarring effect on economic capacity
Covid-19 led inequalities
  • Covid-19's disproportionate impacts on the disadvantaged perpetuates and accentuates inequality
  • Young people are especially at risk in terms of access to employment
Covid-19 originating pressure on public finances
  • Demand for greater spending on health and social care
  • ...and dealing with consequences of Covid-19
  • ...which may constrain public spending in other areas
  • ...and results in need to raise taxation
Clean growth and sustainability
  • Society's desire for clean, sustainable growth has increased since Covid-19
  • It provides an opportunity to reset economic priorities with new growth sectors and new policy responses
  • Covid-19 is accelerating the growth of the digital economy, bringing changes in working patterns and skills requirements...
  • ...and highlighting new sector vulnerabilities

Bradford: Prioritisation process in which “mega-trends” and key issues were identified. These were then used to shape specific and focused objectives.

Renewal: achieving clarity in how long-term plans have changed as a result of the pandemic is an important step for renewal. Assessing investment priorities to ensure they are in-line with post-pandemic trends and relevant for your place can prove important for the continuation of recovery. Distinguishing between priorities that the council are in direct control over, compared to decisions and broader policy goals which local authorities will have to influence should be considered for renewal. Differentiating these will improve the ability to develop next steps for long-term plans and prioritise how the council should approach the issues. During prioritisation exercises, considering your current assets and acknowledging limitations will help renewal plans remain focused and pragmatic.

Questions to consider for prioritisation during the renewal phase:

  • How have your existing economic assets and long-term goals been changed by the pandemic?
  • How has your investment strategy been altered by the pandemic?
    • What plans have been made to manage risk and reward of investments?
  • Have you distinguished between policy priorities controlled at central vs. local authority level?
  • Do you know how you will prioritise your activities?
    • Could you use cost-benefit analysis or social value to rank activities to begin a process of prioritisation?

  • How have long-term policies for the economy, employment and communities been changed by the pandemic?
    • Do you have a new strategy which incorporates the updated policies and provides a clear, joined-up path forward?
    • How have you planned for a potential shift in high-street usage? Is there a renewed focus on building the experiential offer in the high street?
    • Do you understand what needs to change to respond to what your communities and businesses want?
    • Have you got a plan for what will have the biggest impact on carbon zero / environmental protection?
    • Do you know what will make the biggest difference to inequalities and inclusion in your communities?

Local authorities have demonstrated changes in long-term economic strategies and effectively adapted investment plans to correspond. Barnsley have shown a shift in attitude around investments, with a greater emphasis on community benefits and resilience across investment appraisals. This shift has seen priorities for employability and e-commerce support, alongside wider interventions such employment support for young people, to capital investment in town centre and decarbonisation projects. 

As local politicians, we cannot control the global recession, but what we can do is use our local influence, leadership and partnerships to stimulate investment and growth.”

- David Renard, Leader Swindon Borough Council

Essex identified economic growth and recovery priorities which includes a wider public health view that employment and skills are a determinant of health and other service demands. Therefore, investment in employment led economic recovery and renewal – including targeting more future investment into more deprived areas - offers a proactive investment plan to deliver benefits and reduce future longer term cost pressures.

Making it Happen

Having developed your strategy and set your priorities, perhaps the biggest challenge of all is in delivery. Whilst recognising that many things will remain out of your control, such as the continued evolution of the pandemic, the direction and timing of government policy decisions and the wider macro-economy, it is vital that councils set themselves up to be able to deliver on the intent and specifics of their strategies. This will likely have to be done within a continuing context of budget pressures on local authorities and public sector partners as well as competing pressures from changing and rising demand across services, meaning there are unlikely to be many easy choices.

Close up shot of the Bank of England

Pessimism can be contagious. Almost as contagious as the virus itself. But so too can optimism. In both cases it can be self-fulfilling. It’s all about creating your narrative. A story about the sun being out tomorrow is crucial for improving the weather today.”  

- Andy Haldane, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England

To do this, councils will have to take confidence from the work they have done in developing a strategy, understanding the needs of their communities and setting their priorities to then organise their resources to support delivery. This will mean promoting flexible and responsive ways of working so your teams can be agile in reacting to change and taking opportunities; aligning your resources holistically around the activities that will promote the outcomes you are aiming to deliver; working collaboratively and with common purpose across your communities; and backing yourselves in taking the right risks to support the economic and social outcomes you aspire to. 

The experience of the pandemic has provided some useful lessons for how to do this.

Councils have stepped up rapidly to deliver support to vulnerable people at the start of the pandemic using their resources flexibly and responsively and have been adaptive in setting up systems and processes to deliver unprecedented financial support to businesses. Across the country many business rates teams have become grant assessors and staff at all levels across authorities have supported front-line efforts to support local vulnerable people.

Collaborative, partnership working has become standard across a range of activities in responding to the pandemic, with councils working hand in glove with local partners such as Clinical Commissioning Groups and the third sector to support each other in providing the best response and support for their residents; and, new and enhanced structures have been established to enable more proactive engagement and collaboration with private sector partners to better understand and respond to the needs of businesses.

Some places have used the experience and learning from collaborative work during the pandemic to refresh and repurpose partnerships to better develop and drive future strategy. For example, Sheffield are using the learning opportunity to refresh their partnership structures, Bradford have created a recovery board with an independent chair, and Shropshire established an economic taskforce with three distinct sub-groups for employment and skills, town centre recovery and sectors.

Decision-making has been streamlined to enable more rapid decisions to be made and reduce costly administrative delay to help businesses and communities adapt to the changing circumstances of the pandemic. In Sheffield decisions have been sped up to respond to businesses’ needs. An example of this includes decisions on businesses making use of outside space to enable Covid-safe trading were reduced from three months to a week.

Continuing and developing these approaches through the next stages of response, re-opening, recovery and renewal of your local economies will support your ability to deliver on your strategies. To support your planning you may want to ask yourselves:

On resources:

  • Have you got the right resources in place to deliver on your strategy and priorities?
  • Have you adapted your resources, management and performance around delivery of your recovery strategy and priorities?
  • Do you know what capabilities you will need to deliver on your priorities? 
  • Are your partners alongside you in supporting your recovery strategy and are you aligning and co-ordinating your collective resources to maximise your ability to deliver?

On decision-making:

  • Do you have the right frameworks in place for timely, robust, collaborative decision-making to support an agile recovery?
  • Should any changes to decision-making made during the pandemic be made permanent, or further improved?
  • Are your partnership structures set up to support delivery as well as strategy development?
  • Do your governance structures support delivery of the strategy priorities across the council and across partners?

Communicating your strategy and implementation:

  • How will you maintain an ongoing, meaningful conversation with your communities and businesses during implementation of your plans, including those less well represented?

Investing in recovery

Fundamental to driving local economic recovery will be the leadership in recovery and place shaping shown by the council. This will mean investing in the things that will promote the conditions and nature of the recovery you want to deliver for your communities. You will need to be prepared to back yourself and take risks to invest in the future of your area. Investing with partners and investing in developments to promote and stimulate private sector investment may enable your investment to have a greater impact on your place. As several senior Local Authority officers have said to us “if we don’t take some risks to invest in our towns how can we expect the private sector to?”

As an example of this, Essex County Council created a new £100 million capital fund to invest in economic recovery and alongside this are creating additional capacity to drive growth and recovery across Essex. The investment in internal capacity to support an employment led recovery reflects the relationship between employment and other outcomes, for example Public Health expertise embedded within the new economic development team.

Recovery from the pandemic will also create some opportunities for you to invest in ways that can shape the future development and character of your places. For example, the pandemic has exacerbated the existing trends in retail leading to oversupply of retail space in many town centres, creating both the need and opportunity to reshape, repurpose and revitalise places. There will be opportunities to develop more experiential, leisure and cultural offers to support footfall and vibrancy in town centres, alongside longer-term changes in land use, including increased residential use. The strategic and investment leadership of councils will be vital in creating the places your recovery strategies will aspire to.

However, such investment needs to be undertaken with due diligence to the risks it will involve. To maximise your impact, investment in key assets should aim to deliver both a place shaping function, as well as a long-term financial plan. Taking control of key assets to invest in reshaping and repurposing them to create the vibrant places communities want in the future, whilst supporting long term returns and values across the wider place may pay multiple dividends for years to come.

For example, Oldham Council have bought the town’s central shopping centre as a catalytic investment to support recovery. With a plan to redevelop and repurpose the space, providing office space for the council and other local public sector partners as well as relocating the market and freeing up other sites for an urban park and housing. The investment will support multiple policy goals of improving the town centre, creating new communities in the town centre, protecting and creating new green spaces, supporting jobs, improving outcomes for residents and delivering cost efficiencies for the council.

In Blackpool, the pandemic continues to have a huge impact on the leisure and tourism sector. However, the council is backing the return of leisure and tourism and is pursuing long term investment plans to drive growth and prosperity through this sector, following a strategy of driving more overnight stays through an improved accommodation offer. Major capital investment plans have continued to advance through the pandemic, supported by Town Deal funding.

Shropshire is pushing ahead with ambitious investment plans, building on the Shrewsbury Big Town Plan and has acted to fill a gap in provision of affordable homes through the establishment of a housing initiative – Right Home, Right Place - with a clear aim to increase affordable housing in the area.

Hull are looking to drive recovery through green growth, building on the successful investments in the green energy sector that saw Siemens invest in a wind power factory at Green Port Hull. That investment built on the natural assets of the Humber estuary, but was supported by effective skills-matching enabling the local workforce to directly benefit.

In delivering on your investment plans you should ask yourself:

  • Does the investment meet the long-term needs of your strategy and priorities: is the investment driven by financial returns; place shaping, or both?
  • In an existing pre-pandemic investment plan, does the investment still make sense given the impact of the pandemic, future prospects, and recovery priorities?
  • Do you have the right capabilities and capacity in place to enable you to take advantage of investment opportunities and to accept a higher tolerance of risk in your investments, for example:
    • investment and risk management expertise
    • multi-disciplinary expertise, to support holistic investments
    • capacity to develop future pipeline of investments
    • capacity to rapidly respond to funding opportunities to support investment (e.g. future Government programmes to support town centre and community renewal and levelling up).
  • Are you taking a partnership approach with the private sector and other local anchor institutions in delivering investment to support local recovery?


The recovery and renewal of local economies is a long process with many uncertainties ahead. Whilst there will be a rapid return to some activities and opportunities, some sectors will bounce back rapidly, others might transition quickly or slowly for the better, while others might decline quickly or slowly. The pandemic has also laid bare the stark realities of some of the structural issues and inequalities in our economy, many of which have been decades in the making.

Local government has stepped up during the pandemic, being there for businesses and communities in their time of need, delivering national and local support. As emergency support winds down, local actions are likely to be at the forefront of shaping the recovery. Civic leadership and resilience are needed now to build and communicate the positive local narratives and long-term plans to build a better, more inclusive future.

The best plans will be those which have been developed with the communities and businesses which they will serve. Co-designing plans in collaboration with the full range of local partners who are all part of what can make a place thrive builds trust and common purpose. Partnerships based on trust, engaged communities, integrated services and thriving businesses can be part of every place’s future.

However, it will not be easy. The problems and barriers to success are not yet fully understood and the appropriate long-term solutions may be unclear for some time. But the opportunity to better understand your communities and businesses needs and wants has never been greater as we emerge from the pandemic. It can provide a chance to reset, reassess and redefine local relationships and ambitions.  

The examples and checklists in this playbook can help you to create adaptive plans to reopen, recover and renew; to have meaningful engagement with your communities to really know what they need; to build the teams and partnerships crucial for delivery; and to invest in the planning and delivery of the recovery you, your partners and residents want to see. In this vital endeavour to build a better future for your communities, you can make it happen.

Place examples


Barnsley: building data insights capability; community and business engagement, making it happen

Bradford: inclusive governance, place-based leadership, outcome metrics; ambition

Cambridge: complex local and regional partnerships, data informed decision making

Gloucester: inclusive governance, phased approach, tiered partnerships; city-centre regeneration

Harrow: data insights, knowing your place, joining up delivery plans, third sector engagement

Newcastle: knowing your place; communications and digital, governance at different geographic levels.

Norwich: civic leadership, recovery blueprint and investment plan

Oldham: economic and social regeneration; civic leadership and ambition

Wolverhampton: ambition for place, civic leadership, investment plans

Town and country  

Cheshire West & Chester: community engagement, sub-regional collaboration, knowing your place

Derbyshire: inclusive governance, private sector engagement, planning for different phases of recovery and future opportunities

Essexbuilding new capacity and capability, investment fund, streamlining decision making

Shropshire: emphasis on social and economic recovery; inclusive governance, place making 

Somerset: two-tier and regional collaboration, managing large employer failure, phased planning approach


Great Yarmouth: co-operation across tiers, confidence in existing strategy, cross-party support and place leadership

Hull: knowing your place, long term place based economic plans, making it happen, arts and culture

Lancaster: co-operation across wider economic geography, culture and tourism, implementation planning

Plymouth: strong civic leadership, place-based communications, sector plans, and open data 

Further guidance


‘Dashboard – understanding the UK economy’, February 2021, ONS

‘Local Government Finance in the Pandemic’, March 2021, NAO 

Economic and Fiscal Outlook – March 2021, Office of Budget Responsibility

New levelling up and community investments, UK Gov, March 2021

‘Business Insights and impact on the Economy’, February 2021, ONS

Impact of Coronavirus Crisis on Older Industrial Britain, Sheffield Hallum University, Jan 2021

What future(s) for local economies, OECD, October 2020

Labour market in the regions of the UK, ONS, Feb 2021

GDP, UK regions and countries, ONS, April to June 2020

Long Covid in the labour market, Resolution Foundation, Feb 2021

‘Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact’, Women and Equalities Committee, UK Parliament, Feb 2021.

‘Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the different effects on men and women in the UK, March 2020 to February 2021’, ONS, March 2021

Unequal Britain: attitudes to inequality in light of Covid, Kings College London, Feb 2021

The impact of Coronavirus Crisis on Older Industrial Britain, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research Sheffield Hallam University, Jan 2021

Unequal Britain: Attitudes to inequalities after Covid-19, IFS Deaton Review, Feb 2021 

Place-based recovery - how counties can drive growth post-COVID-19, Grant Thornton August 2020

Cultivating local inclusive growth - in practice, New Local, Feb 2020.

‘Resolute & Resilient: Safeguarding the economy during local lockdowns’, ADEPT, Nov 2020

Reflecting on and learning from the implications of a crisis, Observatory of public sector innovation, Nov 2020

See local digital C-19 challenge for innovative data and technology-based projects that have supported local authorities through recovery and renewal efforts

‘Jobs, jobs, jobs Evaluating the effects of the current economic crisis on the UK labour market’, Resolution Foundation, Nov 2020

The future of towns and cities post COVID-19, KPMG, Jan 2021

See Cheshire West and Chester’s: Stronger Futures: A Four-Year Plan for Recovery and Renewal following COVID-19 (p9) to see how this framework has been used.

The big conversation report, helping Britain recover’, Lloyds Banking Group, Dec 2020

For ideas to support high streets with oversupply of retail space through this recovery period see Dealing with empty shops – a good practice guide for councils | Local Government Association.