Opinion Piece - Blog

Covid-19, Brexit and a reconfiguration of public spend

This article originally appeared in the Local Government Chronicle

The context around public expenditure is changing dramatically. With the continued impact of Covid-19 and with the UK no longer subject to European procurement law both opportunities and sticking points are cast into sharp relief. Will the government continue with a system that seems to advance “cronyism” and wealth extraction, or will new process and legislation be used to promote the idea that the public pound must always be used wisely and well – flowing through our economy in the pursuit of social, economic and ecological justice?

Over the course of the last year, the government has published a raft of procurement policy notices, both in response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK’s exit from the European Union. These notices apply to local authorities, NHS bodies and the wider public sector.

To make the change, be the change

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, CLES researcher Eleanor Radcliffe shares her thoughts on the lot of women in the time of Covid-19, representation in local government and the seeds of hope to be found in new approaches.

A lot has changed since International Women’s Day 2020, but sadly not much for the better. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and deepened the inequalities already present within our economy, disproportionately impacting women. Worse yet, not everyone has fared equally. The poorest, disabled, lone parents, young, and black and minority ethnic women have been particularly negatively affected. The impact for working mothers has been significant, with the realities of home working compounded by the challenges of home school and providing more unpaid care. Mothers have spent two-thirds more time on childcare than fathers, and those on the lowest incomes are nine times more at risk of losing jobs due to school closures. Our society is reversing progress on the emancipation of women and non-binary people, and to make the change we need in these areas, we need to be the change.
“the budget did little to truly tackle the systemic inequalities which affect women”
The government’s spring budget was an opportunity to begin to address the disproportionate impact on women as a result of the pandemic. However, as the Women’s Budget Group have examined in depth, the budget did little to truly tackle the systemic inequalities which affect women. These include the questions of:

Health institutions as “anchors”: unlocking the potential within the NHS

This article originally appeared in the Health Service Journal.

The NHS is not just a service that provides healthcare free at the point of need. It is a social contract with the British people to deliver well-being.

Across its wide range of services, the NHS’s mission extends beyond making us better when we are ill, it is also about making sure we do not fall ill in the first place – playing a key part in addressing the wider social, economic and environmental determinants of health.

Reflections on the Community Wealth Building Summit

Back in the office at the start of a new week, the CLES team is fired with an enthusiasm that only comes with successfully bringing 200 dedicated activists and changemakers together. As we push on to drive further actions and outcomes, the team has taken some time to offer three quick-fire reflections of our own from the day about what #cwbis to us…

Rebuilding the local economy in Britain’s Seaside Towns

If ever there was an example that epitomises the misery imposed by market neo-liberalism, it’s the plight of Britain’s seaside towns.

Decades of agglomeration has led to the incubation of ‘superstar cities’ such as Manchester, leaving places like Blackpool and Rhyl deprived and depleted. As CLES reported on in 2017,  the last vestiges of their seaside heritage are now enveloped by a coil of ever-tightening social and economic decline.

Realising the potential for community business and anchor institutions

Community businesses are key drivers of the local economy and a growing aspect of Local Wealth Building. They are a key means of ensuring that wealth is more readily held, used and benefits local people and communities.

Vital to this is the extent to which community businesses are woven into the supply chains of anchor institutions. Work by CLES in three locations has found that community businesses are building local wealth and it is now time to celebrate, secure and amplify their full potential within the supply chain of anchor institutions.

From policy to practice; how Social Value can change lives in Manchester

In the last decade, Social Value has gone from unknown and untested to the flavour of the month. Here Jonty and Matthew reflect on Manchester’s early adoption of socially-minded procurement, its impact to date and its role going forward.

The idea that when local authorities buy goods and services they should ensure that the money given to suppliers produces good social, economic, and environmental outcomes might now seem like common sense, but ten years ago there was no Social Value Policy Act and very little activity around of this nature.

How grassroots housing movements can change a city

Our quality of life, financial security and mental wellbeing are determined, to a large extent, by the place we call home. Housing is an issue that is at once a personal and everyday reality, and an anonymous, complex system connecting issues from land ownership, finance, and debt, to fuel poverty, and homelessness. When it comes to creating a new economy that works for everyone, housing has a central role to play. Here we look at what lessons Manchester can take from Barcelona.

Housing in Manchester

Cities across the world, from Rio de Janeiro to Rome , London to Lagos, are facing housing crises which are set to render as many as 1.6billion people around the world without access to affordable, adequate and secure housing by 2025 . A fundamental problem is that the prevailing economic model views housing as an asset, rather than a right – an issue which Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham, has recently made calls to address.

Poverty: It’s about wealth, stupid!

For decades, our economic system has been based on a hope that a general rising tide of economic wealth will benefit us all. With the release this week of the annual UK poverty report 2018 by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, we should now firmly reject this idea once and for all.  For all the description and seemingly endless talk of inclusive growth and other policy reforms, we often ignore the fundamental determinant of poverty in this country: the unequal allocation of wealth.

We must accept that the UK political economy, with its market liberal economic growth model, is intrinsically incapable of ensuring that wealth is fairly distributed.  We are the fifth largest economy in world, but fifty-two percent of our wealth is held by the top ten percent, and 20% by the top 1 per cent.

Amazon’s New York deal; something rotten in the state of local economic development

Amazon’s cushy deal with New York State is further proof that local economic development has become dominated by a failed model; one which enriches global corporations and impoverishes local residents. We must be bold and recognise that agglomeration economics will not save our cities, writes Jonty Leibowitz.

Last week, Amazon finally announced that they would be building their $5bn new national headquarters in Long Island, New York, as well as a new national ‘Centre of Excellence’ in Virginia. The reveal of the location for ‘HQ2’ has been the culmination of a thirteen-month process in which Amazon received bids from over 238 cities to host the new sites, which will bring in an estimated 50,000 jobs.

Social Value is not enough – It’s time to restore Public Values

Last week the government launched a series of new initiatives around ‘Social Value’, a much vaunted policy agenda which started with the passage of the Social Value Act in 2012. Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington has announced that by summer 2019, government procurements will be required to take social and economic benefits into account in certain priority areas, as well as new transparency rules for those bidding for public contracts.

The government’s attempt to get businesses to consider their social impact can be understood as an acknowledgement that something has gone awry in the state of commissioning public services. The dramatic collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion in January 2018 has prompted a new wave of governmental thinking about how goods and services are purchased. With public opinion increasingly moving against poor provision of public services (most noticeably the much criticised railway system), this extension of the Social Value Act represents the government’s response.

Work is killing us. Here are five ways to stop it.

Fourteen to sixteen hour shifts, six days a week; low wages; potentially fatal accidents a regular risk… this isn’t a description of working conditions at CLES, but of work during the industrial revolution. Thankfully, since then, capitalism and the world of work has been transformed. Child labour is illegal, employees have gained employment rights and health and safety regulations mean that going to any workplace is significantly less dangerous than it might have otherwise been.

However, just because the number of work-related accidents has fallen over the decades doesn’t mean that modern work is harm-free. There is mounting evidence of the dangerous effects on health of modern work practices. This is most severely demonstrated within the ‘gig economy’, in sectors where workers gain flexibility at the cost of employment benefits (sick pay, parental leave and the like) and work that is, more often than not, offering unstable hours and low-paid.

The secret to Preston’s success

Preston has been identified as the most rapidly improving urban area in the UK to live and work, according to the 2018 Good Growth for Cities index, but what’s behind its success and how can we build on it?

A bootstrap economic policy

While not playing an exclusive role, Preston’s adoption of a local wealth building approach to its economy has been a factor in the city’s success. In particular, by exploring the supply chains of some of the city’s largest employers and purchasers of goods and service, there has been a reconnection not with only the local economy but also with the local people at the heart of it.

Beyond the fringe: thinking seriously about wealth, power, and ownership

A general rule of thumb with fringe events during party conference season is that unless you are serving warm food, you can rarely expect attendance figures to rise above thirty people. This figure might reduce if your event is too early in the morning, and further still if on the last day of conference. Therefore, the fact that almost one hundred party members, councillors, and activists attended our ‘Future of Public Services’ fringe at 9am on the last day of Labour Party conference (without a sandwich in sight) suggests that there is significant interest and traction on this agenda.

The huge appetite for new ideas was palpable across the three days in Liverpool. On Wednesday morning, there was standing room only as CLES welcomed Shadow Chancellor, Rt Hon John McDonnell MP, Lisa Nandy MP, Jim McMahon MP, Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz OBE, and writer and broadcaster, Paul Mason to discuss how we must restore ‘public value’ to public services if we want to transform British society.