Forging a good local society


For too long we have either turned a blind eye to poverty and disadvantage or hoped that a general rising tide of economic wealth would trickle down.

The vote to leave the EU has opened our eyes wide to the depths of disgruntlement and cast a strong light on the inadequacies of our economic model. We must now truly focus on how we forge a good local society and create an economy for all.

In a new publication, Forging a Good Local Society: Tackling Poverty through a Local Economic ResetI set out what we could do (click here for an invite to the London Parliamentary launch or here for the Manchester launch).

I argue that the growing devolution of powers and resources to local areas should act as a catalyst to unleash deeper levels of local empathy and innovative power – making a genuine counter attack on poverty.

The future has to be about rekindling a new local anti-poverty deal

While national agents of change remain important, the future also has to be about rekindling a new local anti-poverty deal. To do that, we must face up to the reality that current policy is alarmingly detached from the plight of the poorest. It’s lost its empathy. We don’t need to look very far to see or hear this: it’s in the words of politicians, who denounce the benefit claimant as ‘a shirker’; it’s in welfare reform, which is creating real hardship, but neutralised in some policymakers’ minds as the ‘necessity of austerity’; it’s in economic policy which advances ‘labour market flexibility’ and competitiveness while underemployment rises and low wages create a growing group of ‘in-work poor’.

We must forge policy and action which is more local, more bespoke, more innovative and experimental in the face of poverty. Equity, inclusion, fairness are not just by-products of the economy, but should be seen as fundamental features of it.

This is not pie in the sky. We are starting to see elements of this new way. In many areas, the local state, communities, businesses and many civil society organisations are harnessing their local concern and developing innovative social action and mobilisation of progressive local economics. This foreshadows what is possible. As such, this new publication details seven agendas which could beckon a reset and a good local society.

  • Instead of top-down governance, we need more devolution and decentralised decision-making, where decisions are made closer to the bespoke needs of the poorest
  • Instead of decisions by remote big government and elites of big business, we need plural collaboration across public, commercial and social sectors, including the advance of co-operatives
  • Anchor institutions. We need local institutions which collaborate and harness their power in terms of local supply chains, recruitment and personnel policy. Advancing local economies and assisting those most distant from the labour market
  • We need to ramp up corporate social responsibility, with business being encouraged to play a deeper philanthropic role
  • Citizens should be seen as active players, rather than passive recipients, with an increase in co-production and co-design of services
  • We need an acceleration of place-based employment charters, with commensurate protection of terms and conditions
  • We need an increase in local ownership and wealth through innovations such as community shares, local currencies and progressive procurement policies

This work asserts that we need a reset. Tackling poverty and creating a good society should no longer be seen as mere downstream outcomes of the economy, but fully recognised as active upstream inputs into its success.

With Brexit, the attempts to create a good local society stand at a crossroads. As it stands, the antidotes as detailed in the work remain emergent. They hold promise, but they are scattered, nascent, small-scale and disconnected. For these to be accelerated we need both more local effort and bravery to take forward these elements within a much more supportive national frame.

The original article can be read on the NewStart website here