Opinion Piece - Blog

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.

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.

Community Wealth Building

What is Community Wealth Building, why is it important, and what has CLES been doing about it?

Over the past 10 years, CLES has amassed a body of work around Community Wealth Building and Anchor Organisations in Greater Manchester, Preston, Birmingham and 11 cities across Europe. This pioneering work is focused on building an economy where wealth – including the spend of local anchor organisations – is recirculated locally for the benefit of local communities.

Industrial Strategy: foundations in the right place?


“Place is not just one of the five foundations, ‘place’ is where you dig the foundations!” – Stuart MacDonald

The new industrial strategy represents a welcome step change in policy direction, but will the first industrial strategy in a generation really shape a stronger, fairer economy?

What’s looking good

The new strategy starts to go beyond sector deals which have driven our approach to industry over the past few decades, setting out a framework of 5 foundations and 4 grand challenges from which a new approach to industry can be developed. The inclusion of ageing as one of the Grand Challenges is extremely positive, while ‘places’ are considered one of the 5 key foundations and the idea of Town Deals is hugely welcome. Although light on details, the strategy starts to set out mechanisms for addressing the country’s challenges (National Productivity Fund and the Shared Prosperity Fund) and deliver ‘a stronger, fairer economy.’

An uneasy budget for a country ill at ease with itself

These are perilous times for UK economy. Our public services face rising demand alongside declining budgets. Our labour market is haunted by sluggish productivity and the threat of automation. A whole generation has been priced out of the housing market. And that’s even before we get to the all-consuming Behemoth that is Brexit, which will continue to pose both political and economic challenges for years (if not decades) to come.

This budget is for you, if…


“If you’re a wealthy, healthy Londoner, own your own business and are looking to purchase your first home at about £500k, this budget is the one for you. If you’re anybody else, or genuinely in need, the budget doesn’t have much to offer.” – Victoria Bettany

This budget has failed to make any real commitment to the people missing out in the places that are missing out. National government needs to work in equal partnership with our regions to shape fair budgets that work towards social justice for everyone everywhere.

While any steps taken to make getting on the housing ladder a little easier are welcome, the abolition of Stamp Duty on homes up to £300k (and a discount on those up to £500k) by the Chancellor looks set to have very little impact outside London. The average cost of a home purchased by a First Time Buyer outside the capital and the South East is £153k, the average Stamp Duty paid is £568. Whilst I’m sure this saving would be welcome it is unlikely to cause a significant delay to a purchase.

Beyond industrial strategy


As the government moves towards publishing the Industrial Strategy white paper (due by the end of November) they have the findings of the Industrial Strategy Commission to digest, but will its key messages get lost?

Beyond Industrial Strategy

The final report of the Industrial Strategy Commission recognises that the challenges facing the UK economy go far beyond the need for an industrial strategy, even if it is the first for a generation. The independent commission provides a subtle, yet damning indictment of the UK’s approach to stewarding the economy, and makes a number of broad positive suggestions for a way forward. However, given the fundamental nature and the current frame around industrial strategy, the points are likely to be lost. We need to move the messages of the commission beyond industrial strategy if we are to create a more socially just, locally led approach to the economy.