“Is it OK to invest public money in building a multi-million-pound conference centre while the A&E down the road is crumbling?” written by Victoria Bettany from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)
This question for me highlights the glaring errors in the mainstream economic model. For decades, it has been an accepted wisdom that investment in big shiny things will eventually trickle down to the masses. In some instances, investments of this type have brought new jobs to a failing economy. But time and again, this kind of investment fails to create good local economies where wealth is truly dispersed and broadly held, with local roots.
A flawed economic model operating alongside prolonged austerity has pushed much of the public sector into damage limitation mode, where innovation is considered a risk, too complex and costly to contemplate. This view is disastrous for public services and the economy at large.
Poverty, low wages and inequality are just a handful of myriad issues proliferated by the old economic model. Progressive economics promotes a system where the distribution of wealth extends to many more than the privileged few. Businesses, the social sector, the public sector, pension funds and more are the change agents required to embrace and further the movement from the old way to the new way, where prosperity, Living wages and equality are enjoyed by all.
If we want to create good local economies, we really need to think differently, and be bolder and more ambitious than ever.
In early July, an event took place at the Nishkam Centre in Birmingham, an audience of Policy makers, Think tanks and Enterprise networks gathered to hear how five cities have rejected the accepted wisdom of the old way and became part of a movement centred around progressive local economics.
Funded by the Friends Provident foundation, CLES and NEF have worked with Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and Leeds to develop and action innovative approaches to tackling the issues affecting real people that remain largely unchanged through the old economic model. This has not involved throwing up shiny new buildings or an obsessive focus on GDP. Instead they are spending their time embedding anchor institutions in the local economy to repatriate leaking wealth, engaging their community in creating a community economic plan with real outcomes, and shifting the narrative around the foundational economy specifically for sectors such as social care.
As well as working intensively with these five cities, we also created an online handbook to help community groups and local
government to create good city economies across the rest of the UK. The handbook details all of the existing powers and tools
available for each of these actors to help them take the first step towards creating better housing, procuring and commissioning for good, offering and accessing finance that works for people and places, creating affordable renewable energy and a thriving local economy. Alongside every existing power or tool we have showcased a local example of where the use of that particular tool or power has been a force for positive change.
But this is just the beginning.
The five cities we worked with and this brand new handbook are part of a bigger movement, operating outside the auspices of the existing neoliberal economic model, with a drive to grow sustainable, liveable, and connected good local economies.