Opinion Piece - Blog

Wonga’s demise is the tip of the iceberg in a rigged economy

Rather than seeing the collapse of Wonga as the end of the payday loan era we need to question the underlying factors that lead people to rely on such providers, writes David Burch and Matthew Todd.

Wonga did not collapse because of a lack of demand for fast credit. Instead, new regulations – such as limits on the daily interest rate and the total amount that borrowers could pay in interest and fees – created problems for its business model. Indeed, the macroeconomic factors that created the boom of payday lenders persists and there are worrying signs that, despite Wonga’s collapse, financial distress has risen – the number of people contacting the debt advice charity StepChange for assistance is at record levels, and the rate of personal insolvencies has also increased.

Birmingham prison: the neglect of public values

The blistering words of Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, about the appalling state of Birmingham Prison ring in the ears – drugs, violence, fear and filth. Accurate parallels have been drawn with the squalor of eighteenth century prisons. While many have pointed to staggering challenges facing Birmingham this is not a unique case.

Commentators have variously blamed the shortcomings of G4S, a failing policy of privatisation, a decade of unrelenting austerity (with cuts of over 40% to prison budgets) leading to systemic failures in the criminal justice system which is now on its knees. Underlying all of these is something more insidious and deeply pernicious: an abject absence of the values which should imbue public services, including human dignity, equality and allocation of resources to ensure that everyone is able to access public goods (such as security, housing, healthcare) regardless of their own, private means.

A new era for the UK economy?

On 17th July CLES convened the UK’s first Local Wealth Building Summit. Hosted by the University of Birmingham and funded by Barrow Cadbury Trust, the event celebrated ten years of work to build wealth in communities across the UK and posed the key question – how do we grow these ideas so they are no longer simply a powerful alternative but a new economic mainstream?

From Kirklees to Dagenham, Birmingham to Preston, and even across the pond in Ohio, delegates and speakers spoke passionately about the work being done in communities to counter the extraction of wealth from people and places, build greater equality and create inclusive economies.

Building an inclusive economy in Kirklees: the movement continues…

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies & Cllr Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council

Kirklees Council and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) have begun work to develop a more inclusive local economy through a new approach to economic development, ‘local wealth building’. In so doing, the Council joins a progressive movement of local authorities using this approach from Barcelona and Bologna to Preston and Salford.

Local wealth building’ aims to reorganise the local economy so that wealth is broadly held, with local roots, and where benefits are recirculated.  The local wealth building movement, of which CLES are at the forefront, seeks to provide resilience where there is risk, local economic security where there is precarity, and to ensure opportunity, dignity and well-being for all.  A key part of this is how established organisations (‘anchors’), from local hospitals and manufacturers to local authorities, can use their assets, employment practices, and spend to improve local economic and social we-llbeing. Through local supply-chains and responsible employment and asset-management practices, these organisations are partners in reshaping local places and empowering local people for a more inclusive economy.

#Northernfail – It’s not just about oversight: it’s a question of ownership.

With the recently coined ‘northernfail’ hashtag now trending on Twitter, social media is awash with real time reminders of the unacceptable levels of service being provided by the Northern Rail franchise.

Anyone who’s used the service recently, or has talked to colleagues or friends who have, will immediately see why it’s been branded as a fiasco. Serious delays and cancellations are now ubiquitous; disruption, upset and misery are the everyday reality for users of this service.

Public Policy for the benefit of all

As a passionate advocate of progressive social justice, I’ve looked at CLES many times over the years and thought that it would be a great place to work. Joining this inspiring team of individuals, at this point in my career, feels like the perfect move.

Working for CLES offers me the chance to bring together the knowledge and skills I’ve developed over the last 9 years across academia, local government, health and the voluntary and community sector, to help reshape public services and local economies for the benefit of all.
In my first week at CLES, I’ve been looking at the fantastic work that so many local organisations are doing…
The notion that public policy should benefit everybody is well rooted in both my own and CLES’s philosophy, but the challenge of translating this core belief into everyday action, for everyone’s benefit, remains pervasive for policy-makers at all levels.

The reflections of a Lead Expert on the Procure Network

Over the course of the last two and a half years, I have been fortunate enough to be the Lead Expert for the URBACT III Programme’s Procure network. Involving 11 cities from 8 countries, the Network has sought to change the way in which municipalities and wider anchor institutions think about the process of public procurement.

My role as Lead Expert has been to: understand the challenges those cities face around public procurement and what they are already doing; to stimulate exchange of ideas through facilitating transnational meeting with all the cities; providing bespoke support to each city around how they can change policy and practice; and to shape action plans for the future.

We still have a huge job on our hands

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.

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?

CLES welcomes Polish delegation

Last week, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies hosted a delegation from Poland on a visit to North West England. Consisting of Mayors of Cities, Chief Executives of Municipalities, Procurement Officers and Social Economy Organisations, the delegation wanted to learn about progressive local economic development activities being undertaken in the UK and explore how they could be transferred into a Polish context.

The first day sought to orienteer the delegation with the City of Manchester and its history, as well as introducing CLES and what we seek to acheive. We explained how economic growth in the City has been imbalanced and has failed to address inequality. A tour of the city centre and surrounding areas sought to explore this imbalance further.

How to create good work and inclusive growth in a 21st century economy

According to official government statistics, 2017 saw the British economy witness its highest period of employment since records began, with the lowest rate of unemployment recorded since 1975. It is a “jobs factory”, according to the Chancellor Philip Hammond. Yet if we dig a bit deeper the state of the labour market seems much more perilous.

Real wages continue to fall, and many of the new jobs that have been created are within the ‘gig economy’ – temporary or insecure work, which more often than not is low paid, and without the benefits more traditional employment contains (sick pay, holiday pay etc.). What does that mean for those in these jobs? Although ‘flexible working’ can be a benefit to some groups, such as students, their increased use appears to show a worrying development of whole business models circumventing employment taxes in a race to the bottom to achieve a ‘competitive edge’, representing a wholesale transfer of risk from employer to employee.

How to Help ‘Left Behind’ Places

A boy born in Blackpool can expect to live nine years less than one born in Chelsea. I found out this startling fact when visiting Blackpool for a piece of work CLES is working on – evaluating the ‘Transience Project’, a pioneering new approach to public service delivery.

Whilst visiting, I could not help but feel that the town – which at one point was a holiday destination for one in five Britons – is an area that has been ‘left behind’ in terms of its economic and social opportunity.  The explosion of cheap flights to Europe has led Blackpool’s (and other seaside towns across the country) tourist industry – and the economy that relied upon it – to crumble. The ensuing poverty breeds and attracts a range of social problems – from drugs to crime among others.