Interview: former CLES deputy chief executive, Matthew Baqueriza-Jackson

Matthew Baqueriza-Jackson is an independent policy advisor who recently left think tank CLES, where he had been for 13 years.

He spoke to Thomas  Barrett at New Start’s offices about embedding social value in local government, and procurement in the Brexit age.





What successes stand out from your time at CLES?

We forged an area of work around what we call local wealth-building. It started in 2005, and it was borne out a frustration with the economic model. It was at a time when there was lots of regeneration money knocking about. That disappeared overnight so we started thinking differently about wealth.

We started a programme of work to understand places and how can wealth can be harnessed more effectively for social, economic and environmental benefits.

We measured Manchester City Council’s spend, then worked with them strategically to shift the process of procurement. That’s a 10 year bit of work.

Procurement officers are now thinking about social value as a matter of course. There’s a degree of excitement in the process and a realisation that it can influence a range of agendas.

Those thirteen years have been framed by that. It stands out and has put CLES on the map.

How do you unlock the potential within communities?

The wider system needs to change so it isn’t just about how a top-down local authority changes the way it undertakes procurement. It’s about looking at health and education and how to join these up for communities whilst fostering social capital and community spirit. There has to be matching up between top-down economic development and bottom-up community spirit and development.

It depends a lot on your community leaders but you also have to a local authority willing to change its economic model and approach. It’s not just about growing an economy but growing people too.

There are so many great examples such as community land trusts like Granby 4 Streets or share schemes or community currencies. There are so many alternatives to the orthodoxy. You have to realise those opportunities.

How has Greater Manchester benefitted from devolution?

Devolution agendas, apart from in Greater Manchester, haven’t kicked in. We still live in the most centralised state in Europe and the Government want to control.

They want to change the direction of economic policy and give places power but with restraints of authority, they’re not doing that.

Devolution has given Greater Manchester a figurehead. Andy Burnham has given it a new direction and moved them away from an economic growth model to a more socially focused one. There is now a homelessness charter and a work and health programme. It’s all helping but he’s still restrained in what he can do.

It works here, but it may not work in other locations. I was recently in West Yorkshire and they’re grappling with it.

What have you been up to since leaving CLES?

I’m going to Poland today, I’m undertaking a three-year project with the EU. It’s part of a project called Urbact, which involves sharing knowledge and learning across European cities around themes. I’ve been involved in procurement in 11 cities across 8 countries to help redefine the way they think about procurement so they are thinking more about the quality of the provider.

How will Brexit influence procurement?

Some see it as a challenge, but in some instances, I see it as an opportunity, particularly around public procurement.

For years local authorities have said they are restrained from EU procurement legislation and the bureaucracy. We can redefine as a nation what our procurement strategy should look like.

It will follow the principles of the EU legislation because it’s a good piece of legislation, but I think there’s a chance to beef up the social value act,  so rather than encouraging authorities encouraged to think about social value, why not stipulate that they should? Embed it into all contracts whether that be goods or services.

Central government needs to get its act together, they spend £280bn a year buying stuff and they don’t have any social value element, they make decisions based on cost and compliance, there’s some fuzzy targeting but central government needs to start thinking about social value, it should not be seen as intrinsically linked to local economic benefits but social and environmental benefits.

How do think tanks like CLES stay relevant?

We categorised ourselves as a think and do tank. Lots of think tanks provide thoughts but our influence has always been through action and influencers on the ground.

The real change we’ve instigated is through local authorities to change their behaviour and through communities to upskill and change their capacity. Real life change and action on the ground is really important. CLES has never been about being at the heart of Westminster. We’ve been about changing the direction of local government so they can deliver environmental and social change.

To be controversial, and speaking as an independent, people don’t realise how tough it is out there, we’re the 6th richest country in the world but we have the same challenges we had 40 years ago. You’re amazed by the levels of deprivation in some areas of Manchester. There needs to rethink in the way we do economic development. Government are obsessed with competing with France, Italy and The United States and that’s why GDP is such an important metric for the government. But we need to think differently so the whole way we undertake policy brings change for real people.

Thomas Barrett
Senior journalist - NewStart Follow him on Twitter


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