Austerity

We need a new social contract. A local one

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.

  • Metro mayors: three ways to reset local strategy

    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.

    Whatever happened to economic development?

    Budget day for the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) used to be one of intrigue and relative excitement. In the 2000s, the Budget was supplemented by a specific annex focused on economic development and regeneration. Indeed, the Budget was where we saw exciting new renewal initiatives announced; reviews of sub-national economic development formulated; and new duties and funding initiated.

    What should a modern industrial strategy look like?

    Does the modern industrial strategy published this week offer the radical departure our economy requires? While the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (Cles) welcomes the first industrial strategy to be published in more than a generation, we are concerned it will do little to fundamentally alter the fortunes of the people and places that have been ravaged by each wave of industrial restructuring since the late 1970s.

    Post-Brexit we need to build an economy for the many

    Framed by austerity, the economic reality behind many voters choosing Brexit was a future of little promise – insecure jobs, insecure public provision, insecure futures. As a result, many leave voters felt that they had little or nothing to lose. On the back of an economic recession eight years ago, insecurity and a social recession has been built.

    The EU referendum has shone a light on the failure of the treasury’s local economic and devolution model. The ‘devolution revolution’ may have beguiled some, but it has passed many by. The promised ‘northern powerhouse’ was a canny brand which few saw any tangible outcome from. Indeed, I know of many economic development practitioners who felt that austerity framed devolution and its bullish treasury-backed city agglomeration ‘growth at all costs’ approach was flawed. However, they rightly got on with it, longing for it to be just a start, and something to grapple, amend and make progressive.

    Austerity has eroded the value of public sector work

    The UK was once proud of local government and its employees. Today, through a combination of disrespect and neglect, we are dangerously blasé. Today, a dark cloud hangs over them despite their great efforts in very hard times. Talented people have left, and, as services reduce, capacity is being hollowed out.

    We need to ease back on council cuts

    The cuts imposed on councils are too steep, happening too fast and unfairly distributed. There needs to be real-terms growth in the resources given to local government and distribution according to social need.