The Western Cape provincial government has taken the innovative step of establishing a private sector-led economic development forum to formulate the province’s long-term growth strategy.
While other provincial governments have opted for government-owned and directed agencies to help foster growth, the Western Cape has handed the reins to a partnership led by the private sector, which draws together provincial government, municipalities, non-governmental organisations, business associations and activist groupings.
The Economic Development Partnership will formulate a 20-year plan for the province that will be put to all partners - including the government - to implement.
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Finance, economic development and tourism MEC Alan Winde said the provincial executive had looked at a number of models of economic development agencies around the world. The choice of a partnership rather than a state agency arose from the conclusion that "our economy was fragmented and we needed to find ways of bringing it together". He said: "All too often government sets up agencies with government money, government processes and government staff.
"But it happens oblivious to the economy. So you can have an agency set up by government in which business is absent. We want to see the private sector taking the lead. It must be private sector-led and owned."
The partnership model also dovetails well with an initiative of the National Treasury to encourage new thinking around cities as engines of development.
The first task of the Economic Development Partnership will be to formulate a 20-year plan drawing together municipal plans and initiatives, provincial plans, and private-sector needs and aims. The partnership, which includes Wesgro, is convened for the moment by Andrew Boraine, CE of the Cape Town Partnership and former city manager.
Economist and Pan African Capital Holdings CE Iraj Abedian, who spoke at the partnership’s launch last week, said he felt optimistic it could "achieve some success in areas where key players in the economy walk past each other".
"Partnerships of this nature globally have pulled off successes where the partners come together to hear one another’s perspective and commit to going back and doing something about it. In SA, over the past 18 years, we have generated an enormous amount of heat and very little light on key subjects. There is a need to do things differently," he said.
While a broad range of social actors have joined, including social activist groups in the province, the Congress of South African Trade Unions is staying out. Its provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, said he opposed it because of its dominance by business and government.