Opinion Piece - Blog

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.

Local government & the commons: the time has come

From Barcelona to Cleveland, from Paris to Belo Horizonte, cities are increasingly questioning the growth machine urbanism of the past 30 years. This new municipalist movement is not about adding social and environmental concerns to a traditional urban agenda; this is a change of the political and economic model.  A model that seeks to redress the failings of liberal economics, by building a more economically and socially just alternative.

In June 2017 the new municipalist movement gathered in Barcelona – a city at the forefront of progressive urban policy – for Fearless Cities, the first international municipalist summit.  Community organisations, city-mayors, councillors and citizens from six continents met to discuss the potential of cities to ‘spur democratic transformation across the world’. The dense three day programme included sessions ranging from remunicipalisation to developing feminist economies, through to bringing radical democracy into the city council.

Including the excluded to build a more inclusive society

“…we must think of the relationships between citizen and state before we think of the structures…realising a common language, shared values, empathy, respect and a way to work together is essential”. – Jenny Rouse

Earlier this month, CLES held an event to close the first phase of our ‘Elephants in the Room’ series. Funded by Lankelly Chase, the event reflected on a year’s worth of work undertaken in Greater Manchester, bringing together 15 decision makers and 15 people with lived experience of severe disadvantage to build an understanding of how they could work in partnership to tackle the causes of inequality in the region.

Elephants in the room

Within the public and voluntary sectors, the coming together of citizens and professionals to design, deliver and evaluate public services is often called ‘coproduction’ and is very of-the-moment. The idea is that citizen’s knowledge and first-hand experiences of disadvantage are just as valuable as the professional knowledge and budgets of people working in these sectors. If these two forms of knowledge come together effectively, the result should be services with a greater potential to change lives.

Improving the social efficiencies of local markets is not protectionism

Over the course of the last ten years, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) has undertaken work around, what we call, ‘Local Wealth Building’. This work has sought to challenge the orthodoxy of the UK’s approach to economic development.  In recent weeks, this work has been portrayed by national media as a core cog in reinvigorating our local economies and places. It has come with some critique, the more pertinent of which this piece seeks to address.

What is Local Wealth Building?

Local Wealth Building is a growing movement in Europe and the USA, and the ideas and practice of local wealth building are coming to the fore as a reaction against a liberal economic approach to ideas, and the extractive nature of return on local inward investment. The orthodox assumption that economic benefits will ‘trickle-down’ to the local economy and will benefit communities is being challenged, like never before.

A true Living Wage – 5 reasons it’s needed

The new real Living Wage was announced this week as part of the Living Wage Foundation’s ‘Living Wage Week’ and reveals the work still needed to ensure employees and families are paid what they need to live. As part of CLES’ belief in progressive economics for people and place, CLES has contributed to the Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign and our work around community wealth building through anchors has supported the proliferation of the Living Wage.

There has been progress in this agenda, but there is work to do to ensure that everyone is paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work. It is not enough to view job creation as success, we need good employment, which is secure, paid fairly, and provides opportunities for progression. This blog highlights why the advancement of a true Living Wage is important.