covid-19

Public services for people over profit

This piece originally appeared in the Guardian.

From test and trace to care homes, it’s time to bring public services back in house and award contracts to social enterprises.

England’s “world-beating” test-and-trace service has failed to materialise. Riddled with problems since its inception, it has been described as barely functional, with demand up to four times that of capacity and 90% of tests failing to hit the 24-hour turnaround target.

Digging Deep for Change

This piece originally appeared in the Municipal Journal.

We are optimists in local government. But that optimism is being stretched to breaking point: by this pandemic, by ongoing public service austerity, rising demand, insecure finances and stalled devolution. As the context worsens and our early hopes of ‘building back better’ dim, we’re going to have to dig deep.

In April, CLES – the national organisation for local economies – argued that we faced a moment of historic importance. Our argument then, as it is now, was that this pandemic will require unprecedented action to safeguard the wellbeing of millions, but that it also represents an unprecedented opportunity to drive a huge transformation and build a greener and fairer society. Yet, as the months have passed, these big changes have not materialised. If we are to live up to the necessity and opportunity that COVID-19 has afforded us, there are three key things we are going to have to confront.

Wealth building for our local economic recovery

This article was originally published by LGiU

Economic recovery from Covid-19 looks set to be a long and painful process. Beset by business failure, huge levels of unemployment and social hardship, it will take government action on a scale unprecedented in modern times to safeguard the wellbeing of millions and drive the transformation required to build back better.

The public health crisis has seen an amazing response from communities, with energy and imagination that comes from solidarity, empathy and a genuine belief in the power of working together. This power needs to be harnessed, however. With the main economic crisis unfolding at pace, we now have private equity firms waiting in the wings to snap-up distressed business assets and take an even greater ownership stake in our economy. The stakes are high and to prevent us from falling into an “Amazon recovery”, where big businesses and corporate behemoths are the only winners, we must seek to animate the power of the community within the commercial economy.

From Coronavirus to Community Wealth – Building Back Better in Northern Ireland

Just over a year ago, our organisations – the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and Development Trusts NI (DTNI) – jointly penned Time to build an inclusive local economy – A Charter for Change, setting out a community wealth building approach to local economic development in Northern Ireland.

A lot has changed since then. Theresa May no longer occupies Number 10; Leo Varadkar is no longer Taoiseach; Stormont is back; Brexit is happening – bringing with it disruptions to trade in Northern Ireland. And we have suffered, and continue to suffer, the enormous social and economic turmoil brought about by Covid-19.
“For all too long, the economy in NI has not been working well for people and place.”
Amidst all this change, some things, however, have remained constant. Northern Ireland’s economy – even prior to the onset of coronavirus – had still not recovered fully from the financial crisis. For all too long, the economy in NI has not been working well for people and place. Poverty and inequality remain stubbornly entrenched, and NI suffers from the highest rate of economic inactivity across the UK – an unenviable record it has held for over three decades.

Own the Future – In practice

While the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown accelerates, a yawning gap is opening where we urgently need a national plan for economic rebuilding.

There can be no substitute for this – the crisis has shown it will take government action on a scale unprecedented in modern times to safeguard the wellbeing of millions and drive the economic transformation the pandemic has shown to be so critical. But below the radar of UK national policy debates a truly progressive economic response is being forged which foreshadows the approach we so urgently need.

  • Own the future: a guide for new local economies

    Build back better. It’s a powerful phrase, but as post-Covid-19 economic policies begin to emerge, those three words are starting to ring hollow.

    Based on what we have seen so far, there is little reason to think that what will transpire over the coming months and years will build back anything other than a worse economy than the one we had before. We will continue along a path that delivers on GDP but leaves a stain of rising in-work poverty, that creates a gulf between property owners and renters and that is accelerating rapidly towards ecological disaster.

  • A green recovery for local economies

    Covid-19 and the climate emergency both expose in different ways the fundamental lack of resilience in how we develop local economies in the UK. There has been a lot of talk about how we must “build back better”, but if we want a green recovery worthy of the name, it will mean confronting these underlying issues once and for all.

    Local economies are, right now, between a rock and a hard place: the rock – an unprecedented economic collapse, with mass unemployment, business failure, and social destitution for many; the hard place – the looming threat of climate emergency, with every new hot day a reminder that the clock is ticking towards ecological collapse.

  • POLICY PROVOCATION

    A Green Recovery for Local Economies

    2nd July 2020
    ...
  • Community is economic energy – we must use it

    This article originally appeared in the LGC

    Post-Covid-19, local authorities must guard against merely following the economic development path taken after the global financial crisis. Then, as now, the bounceback was predicated on a stimulus programme in which national government sought a return to growth via its willingness to part investment in “shovel ready” hard infrastructure and regeneration projects. But whilst these shovel ready projects offer construction jobs over the very short term, over the longer term, jobs are dependent on subsequent investment.

    Therein lies the rub: in a highly-probable global recession investment will be sluggish at best. With many of these projects predicated on commercial office or retail development, securing additional funds will be challenging, especially given ongoing social distancing measures, changing consumer behaviour and the normalisation of home working.

    Maximising social value to build back better

    Despite initial talk of a “bounce-back”, with Covid-19 we now face unprecedented economic and social crises. Economic recovery looks set to be a long and painful process, characterised by business failure, huge levels of unemployment and social hardship. In CLES’ policy provocation, Restoring public values: the role of public procurement, we explore the role for public values in public procurement in the light of Covid-19 and proposes a way forward that considers how the spending of public money can be harnessed to maximise its social value and deliver greater social, economic and environmental justice.

    Whilst there is now talk of a UK national stimulus package, we must also redouble our efforts to ensure that every single pound of existing and new UK public money is used wisely and well. Public money should flow through our economy to maximise social value in the form of Jobs, opportunities for local enterprises, and advancing zero carbon objectives.

  • Wealth-building for our local economic recovery

    This article originally appeared in the MJ

    As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown, calls for local government to lead the economic recovery are getting louder. Key among these voices are local politicians who have stewarded their places through the last two months. Many are convinced of the imperative to build back better, committed to leaving behind the failed models of trickle-down economics and ready not just to recover, but to embrace progressive reform with ideas such as community wealth-building.

    For these local leaders, this unfolding crisis has brought home what they already knew – that the economic model we have followed in recent decades has failed and will fail further if not amended. Far from delivering the promise of prosperity for all, it has left too many less secure and worse off, enriched the already wealthy few and propelled us further down the road to ecological disaster.

    The role of the NHS in post-Covid-19 local economic recovery

    This article originally appeared in the HSJ

    During this pandemic the need to mobilise health service capacity has been a key priority and the need for ongoing NHS readiness remains. However, we should now also start to consider the wider role of health institutions in local economic, and social, recovery and reform.

    Covid-19 and the determinants of health

    As recent work by CLES, The Democracy Collaborative and the Health Foundation has shown, health institutions are considerable anchor organisations with presence and heft within the local economy.  Anchors can exert sizable influence through their commissioning and purchasing of goods and services, through their workforce and employment capacity, and by creative use of their facilities and land assets. Positive use of these aspects can affect change within the wider economic, social and environmental determinants of health.