7. Co-produced local economic development:
During our visits to the ten cities, a key problem kept emerging: that local economic decision-making was made by the few, not the many. The public sector and big businesses – through local enterprise partnerships – are the main actors and drivers of local economic development in the cities we visited. The social sector and local communities are often not given a seat around the table when local plans are being drawn up. The work of CLES and others shows that the most resilient local places are those that have strong networks and connections between the public, private and social sectors. When the three sectors work together on the decisions that affect local communities, a more place-based economic strategy emerges, one that is focused on the specific needs of communities, eradicating poverty and ensuring that money stays and flows within a local area. Following our event in Manchester, in which a vision of the city as a civic economy was discussed, civil society organisations in the city have become more involved in its social and economic strategy. A voluntary, community and social enterprise reference group has been established within the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and the sector now has a role in the city region’s devolution strategy. A ‘people’s plan for Greater Manchester’ has also been established to give citizens a say in the devolution process. Other glimpses of how a more collective approach could work were found in Belfast – where the West Belfast Partnership offers a broad-based partnership between community, statutory, business and political members – and in Sheffield, where Sheffield University has increased its role in the city and is creating new networks in the creative sector. In Leeds, Team Kirkstall – created by a group of small businesses and local businesses after working together when the city suffered major flooding – and the Empty Homes Doctors, which brings a range of actors in to solve the empty homes problem, are using a networked approach to social issues. In Birmingham the Digbeth Social Enterprise Quarter is home to 50 social enterprises who come together as a network to work on local economic, environmental and social impact reporting.
Who’s doing it:
Greater Manchester civic economy | West Belfast Partnership | Sheffield Creative Guild | Team Kirkstall | Empty Home Doctors | Digbeth social enterprise quarter
What it needs:
Instead of viewing local communities and civil society as mere downstream recipients of economic success (as beneficiaries of actions designed to deliver agglomeration and ‘trickle-down’ growth), they should be seen as active upstream parts of a system that creates success in the first place. A greater recognition of social networks and move to co-production are essential. Social networks are formed through social capital acting as a mechanism for joining people together in socially and economically productive ways. Such networks of solidarity and reciprocity are important in supporting alternate local economic activity. Under a co-production model, citizens contribute more resources to achieving outcomes, share more responsibility, and manage more risk in exchange for much greater control over resources and decisions.
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine