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.
The report from the RSA inclusive Growth Commission has now been launched – ‘Making our economy work for everyone’. Chaired by Stephanie Flanders, of JP Morgan Asset Management, this work sought to identify practical ways to make local economies across the UK more economically inclusive and prosperous. However, it is arguable that the ideas are limited in terms of wider social justice and economic resilience. Instead of making an economy work for everyone, it’s more likely that it will merely make our economy work for just a few more.
For many years, economic development has been a thin gruel for social inclusion; based overly on economic growth (sometimes at all costs), trickle down and spatial agglomeration. So, it is heartening that the commission seems to have partly picked up on the ideas of CLES and others (you can read our RSA submission here). This includes the understanding (if not a truism) that investment in social institutions and people is as important as investment in economic infrastructure; or, how the spheres of the economic and the social are not separate, but linked. They also highlight the excellent practical work CLES are engaged in: Community Wealth Building and Anchor Institutions.
Devolution needs to get social. For too long the poor, low-paid and unemployed have been seen as a cost, with successive national policies seeking to reduce welfare budgets and cut spending on community activity. This is folly. Investing in the poor and society should be seen as investment in economic potential and productive capacity. Moving forward, this inversion of thinking and action has to be a key part of devolution.
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.
Our historic and contemporary work around anchor institutions has led to a realisation that in times of economic uncertainty and austerity there is a host of unrealised potential within anchor institutions in places all across the UK which needs to be harnessed further. In this CLES 10 we therefore outline ten key steps to realising this potential.
This CLES Bulletin details CLES’ thoughts on the 2016 Budget.
From time to time a new phrase is coined. Sometimes the new phrase articulates a new solution, at other times it reinvigorates an old one, or – more cynically – masks it. In economic development we now have the phrase ‘inclusive growth’. Does inclusive growth represent a step change or is it just a new oxymoronic phrase for the failing cycle of growth and exclusion? Maybe it’s just semantics, a new term for the toxic ‘trickle down’?
How Preston City Council is managing its finances has won praise from Labour’s shadow chancellor. John McDonnell MP said initiatives being run by the city council to drive up local spending and working with the local Chamber of Commerce were a ‘new economics’.