Opinion Piece - Blog
A lot has changed since the post-war founding of the welfare state, and the social contract that went with it is eroding. Austerity has undoubtedly changed things, and so has devolution. CLES CEO, Neil McInroy argues that to build social justice, we need a new social contract: and that this includes one that is local to place and community; one that balances the strengths of the private, public and social sectors; one in which we make sure businesses do their bit.
Devolution is an opportunity yet to be fully realised. Devolution to some areas of England has been broadly focused on local economic growth and managing austerity through public sector reform. But with more power to local areas and the advent of Metro Mayors there is potential to forge a new relationship between business, the local state, social sector and citizens—a new local social contract.
There are sensible ways through which we can reorganise the UK economy, argues CLES CEO, Neil McInroy. He explains how a new urban economic agenda can be implemented and how it can help build a more socially just future.
All things must pass and the dominant urban economic model of the last few years is starting to creak, and a new progressive agenda is threatening to replace it. At its core is a rejection of liberal economics, a questioning of urban economic policy, and a desire to reorganise our city economies: social justice and environmental sustainability are not just hopes but central objectives.
Today, the Centre for Cities (CfC) issued a new report suggesting that the re-location of the BBC to Salford has had minimal impact on employment across Greater Manchester and that city-regions looking to attract public sector organisations should not overplay the potential benefits. The work is framed by analysis of the types of jobs which have been re-located, the sectors where jobs growth have happened over the last five years, and the scope of displacement of jobs from across wider Greater Manchester.
While it is important to highlight quantitatively the short-term impact of re-location on employment change, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) would argue that any assessment of impact of public sector re-location has to go beyond employment. We would argue that the BBC re-location has brought a whole host of benefits for the direct MediaCity locality, for the City of Salford, and for Greater Manchester including:
Housing providers have a significant role to play in the functioning of the economies in which they are based and in addressing social issues. They achieve this through the delivery of activities which complement and supplement public services and contribute to a variety of outcomes including around employment, and health and well-being.
Like other place based anchor institutions, housing providers also have a key lever for economic, social and environmental change at their disposal in the form of procurement. All housing organisations will purchase goods, services and works and will have a process in place to design, procure and deliver these. However, the challenge with procurement historically is that it has often been overly bureaucratic, with price the primary decision-making criteria; and little opportunity to utilise procurement to address wider issues.
The recent report from the Industrial Strategy Commission, ‘Laying the Foundations’ , outlined the key foundations for a successful long-term industrial strategy, one which can shape our future economy, and the recent Taylor review of modern working practices  is potentially laying the foundations for how we might work in our future economy. But will they make it work for all?
A new lens for industrial policy?
In January, we argued what a modern industrial strategy should look like, suggesting again, in May, that an industrial strategy that works for all places, should present a devolved approach to building a more foundational, collaborative and co-operative economy, developing industrious places and people, not just our traditional industrial sectors. So, it is pleasing to see the Commission advocate more of a place based and a whole economy approach. One delivered locally, where social policy is not separate but intrinsic to any industrial strategy. The Commission agrees that trade-offs between short term efficiency and long-term equity should be considered more seriously, arguing we need to invest in infrastructure to create the conditions for growth in all places. The report challenges the current methods of appraising the benefits of public investments, suggesting they disproportionately benefit parts of the UK where the economy is already strong, so we clearly need to adopt a new lens if we are to deliver an economy for all.
On 14 June 2017, CLES co-hosted the Manchester launch event for Claudia Chwalisz’s book,The People’s Verdict: Adding Informed Citizen Voices to Public Decision-making, together with the Manchester Urban Institute, The Crick Centre, The University of Sheffield and Policy Network. Below is a key summary of her conversation with Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of CLES.
Introduction: A few thoughts on the problem
NM: The world has many wicked and complex issues. Global finance, climate change. Our problems are system based; we live in a network, not in a hierarchy. In this context, there is also a new questioning of democracy and elected politicians. Trust in representative democracy is and has weakened.
In the UK, our 19th century or even older arcane and archaic modes of governance, institutions and practice are out of kilter with a networked 21st century. It’s analogue in a digital work. Centralised in a distributed world. I sense a new hankering for a new type of politics. People are not anti-politics, they are maybe anti the type of politics we have.
The Social Mobility Commission has confirmed what many have long known – governments have failed to significantly reduce inequalities. The Brexit vote and the subsequent soul searching has finally brought many of these issues to the fore. The growing sense of disenfranchisement in the country and increasing gap between “haves and have nots” is now penetrating mainstream discourse, prompting a political rhetoric of an ‘economy that works for all’ where the benefits of growth are shared among the ‘many, not the few’.
What we have been doing has clearly not worked
The UK economy has not worked for all for a long time. Indeed our economic models for decades have tolerated, and been somewhat unconcerned, by high levels of socio-economic inequality. What we have been doing collectively to address challenges of poverty and inequality over the past two decades have clearly not worked. In its report Social mobility policies between 1997 and 2017: time for change, the Commission argues that successive governments have failed to make social mobility the cornerstone of domestic policy, and that long-term progress has too often been sacrificed to short-term change. A piecemeal approach has bought some advances, but a failure to develop a holistic policy approach has meant that gains have been lost as efforts have waxed and waned.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy raises huge questions about public sector austerity, growing inequality and the price we pay for treating homes as commodities. Neil McInroy gives his view to New Start on the way forward for housing, community relations and cities
Neil McInroy: ‘If any good can come out of this horror, it will be a rejection of the idea that cities are predominantly a market’
The horror of Grenfell is linked to deepening and widening inequality and injustice in our cities. The chasm in housing choice and wealth – while particularly brutal in Kensington and Chelsea – is replicated across the country.
Following the General Election the Conservatives are to form a minority government. There is now new uncertainty as to the stability of the new administration and questions as to the extent it will be able to focus on building an economy for everyone. However, whilst national politics and government are important, it’s worth reminding ourselves that that change does not begin and end in Whitehall.
Theresa May has advocated stepping in to repair markets where they are not working, but will the first industrial strategy in a generation really deliver an economy that works for all places?
We wrote back in January about how a modern industrial strategy needed to be backed up by a greater spatial and redistributive drive. This advocated direct investment toward areas of the country, which were not just the ‘winners’ but were also being left behind. Indeed, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), British Chambers of Commerce and the manufacturers’ organisation EEF urged the Government to boost living standards and improve productivity in the country’s poorest regions, adding that we must avoid the outdated ideas of “picking winners”. 
Next week, on May 5th, newly elected metro mayors in six combined authorities begin their first day in office. This is an historic opportunity to reset policy and address longstanding economic and social issues, as Neil McInroy and Victoria Bettany outline below.
To date, policy opinion and mayoral manifestos have offered a laudable, but often limited, set of tactical policy innovations, including cheaper transport for sections of the population, actions around a living wage, housing affordability and tackling youth unemployment. Given the scale of the challenge, these may not be enough to successfully reset strategic policy. Rather, three key things need to happen.
1. Re-organise the economics of devolution
Financial investment and return has dominated the economics of devolution, hence the focus on property development and land value appreciation in city centres and other hotspots. Indeed, this focus has been over-egged in devolution deals through economic agglomeration and ‘earnback’ on growth. If this trickle-down approach is retained, we can expect the deepening of geographic divides across the combined authorities, with little significant increase in new or decent jobs. Of course, a focus on financial return is a universal component to city success but it should only be a part of the mix, and not take undue precedence over other forms of economic development and social investment.