Where do you find deprivation in England today? The North? Coastal towns? Inner cities? The depressing answer found in today’s newly published Index of Multiple Deprivation is clear: everywhere.
The spectacle of this year’s Sunday Times Rich List has revealed, yet again, that Britain’s richest are getting richer still. Published yesterday, the list shows that Britain’s 1,000 richest individuals and families are sitting on record wealth of £771.3bn, up £47.8bn in a year. The UK’s billionaire count has climbed to 151, up six on last year. The threshold at which the super-rich make the list has risen £5m to £120m.
In other news (from the same paper on the same day) we learn that an emergency food bank has been set up in the Whitehall offices of a government department, after cleaners and other support staff became the victims of a payroll blunder by one of Britain’s biggest outsourcing companies. The human cost of this incident adds to the growing number of people in the UK who cannot afford basic needs such as food.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Voluntary sector leaders have said the devolution process should be reformed to ensure charities are properly represented as service providers.
One third of civil servants should be moved outside London as part of the devolution of powers to local areas, according to a new report from the Policy Exchange.
Devolution deals with councils are being squeezed by ‘narrow negotiations’ with Whitehall that were ‘stacked in favour of the status quo’, a new report has claimed.
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.
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.
A think-tank has urged councils to use new devolved powers from Westminster to help tackle poverty and inequality.