We still have a huge job on our hands

by 

Matthew Jackson joined CLES as a researcher in 2005. Thirteen years on, he leaves his role as Deputy Chief Executive to continue his work in Europe and pursue his own independent policy advice. Here he reflects on his time at CLES, the challenges overcome and those that remain.

Matthew Jackson on addressing urban and regional challenges through public procurement, Belgium, October 2017     © European Union / Laurie Diezffenbacq

Over the course of the last two months, since deciding to move on from CLES, people have asked me in both formal and informal settings a whole host of questions about my time at the organisation. What has been CLES’ greatest achievement in your time? What is CLES like as a place to work? How have you developed professionally and personally? What are you going to do without CLES?

I have replied honestly to each of these questions. I came to CLES in 2005 fresh out of a Masters in Urban Regeneration knowing very little, but with an eagerness to learn. I knew little about local government; nor about economic development. I did not know much about how different sectors worked together – or not – in places; and I certainly did not know anything about Local Area Agreements or public procurement.

CLES has been a truly inspiring and hugely rewarding place to learn and grow. On a day to day basis, the CLES team are exposed to and respond to a range of experiences, challenges and opportunities. The experiences are shaped internally through dialogue and debate with colleagues and with space to think about influencing policy; and externally through engagement with stakeholders across the public, commercial and social sectors.

I have always welcomed the fact that no two days are the same at CLES due to the diversity of the work we undertake and the people we engage with. On any given day, I may speak to Ian, a public sector employee in a morning; engage with Kay from a Food Cooperative at lunch; Jimmy, an apprentice in the afternoon; and Asima, a politician in the evening.

CLES has enabled me to thrive in this environment – developing relationships, new strands of work, and, importantly, achieving real, positive change in the behaviour of stakeholders and the lives of people. CLES has been a unique place to work and I feel very lucky and privileged to have been here for 13 years. In that period, I have developed immensely, and I feel the challenging environment that we operate in and the range of people we engage with has enabled that to happen.

I am immensely proud of some of CLES’ achievements over the period – agenda setting work that has been undertaken cooperatively with colleagues and partner organisations and work that has influenced policy to put people front and centre. The work on Local Wealth Building has been particularly rewarding. Born from a frustration with orthodox approaches to economic development, it has turned into an area of work which is central to the organisation and is really enabling places to think differently about their economies and improve lives. We took on a challenge and came up with a solution.

CLES and others still have a huge job to do in ensuring all people and places benefit from wealth. Despite the UK being the sixth largest economy in the world; inequality and poverty is growing. Some of my starkest moments have been visiting neighbourhoods in the 1% most deprived nationally and talking to people to understand the hourly challenges their families face just to survive.

We must continue to challenge the economic model, challenge the orthodoxy of economic development, demonstrate new approaches, and realise the benefits that local wealth building can bring for people and place.

As I move on, I cherish the friendships and relationships, the work undertaken and the policy influenced; but realise the huge job we still have on our hands to create an economy for all.


Matthew Jackson leaves his role of Deputy Chief Executive of CLES on Friday 27th April. He is going to continue to be involved with the organisation on an Associate basis, and will be undertaking independent policy advice work across the UK, Europe and beyond.