Published: 5th Jul 2016
chip building1
The chip building in New Islington, part of the urban renewal of east Manchester

What’s the alternative?
The city is not short of alternatives to the current model and one of the most compelling is for Manchester to become Europe’s answer to America’s hippest city – Portland in Oregon. Here social and economic outcomes are matched and intertwined, a ‘whole place’ approach sees neighbourhoods and civic life as important as business and its high-tech green economy and buzzy cultural life makes it one of the best places to live in the world.

This vision was set out in a report by Macc called A Civic Economy for Manchester. For the first time the social sector in Greater Manchester – the voluntary and community bodies, co-operatives and social enterprises active in the region – were mapped and given a value – £477m total income each year –, one that eclipses income from the football and cultural sectors.

The report set out a number of principles aimed at strengthening the social sector that exists and helping it to play a key role in the region’s economic story. It called for greater links between the social and the private sectors, for a social enterprise strategy for the region and for collaborative place-based leadership.

‘We need to accelerate social and environmental outcomes and democracy in Greater Manchester as we think we can achieve something better’, said Neil McInroy, chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, which produce the report.

The plan made some headway within Manchester Council but preceded the Devo Manc deal. In an article on progress with the civic economy work a year on from its publication Mike Wild blasts the unambitious mindset that holds back the social sector by insisting it do everything ‘at scale’.

‘The potential for the social sector will remain untapped if devolution is focused solely on an economic strategy which is only implemented as large scale programmes’, he says. ‘It seems to me that this is to mistake structural simplicity for efficiency.’

Other visions for the region include the Viable Economy produced by Steady State Manchester, integrating social, economic and ecological wellbeing and Manchester: A Certain Future, the city’s shared plan to tackle climate change, with strong involvement of the private sector.

Progressive procurement
But the city’s radical economic past is today all but hidden in its reverence to the mainstream capitalist model. The region that witnessed the birth of the co-operative movement, that saw the chartists flourish, and where Engels got much of his inspiration is today less tolerant of alternative models.

Chris Walsh, co-founder of the Kindling Trust, an organisation creating a local food ecosystem in the region, has witnessed numerous reports published and pilots tested around sustainable living in the city but says that little gets embedded.

He cites the Homes for Change project, introduced in Hulme in the 80s as a pioneering example of high density co-operative living but which never fulfilled its potential. ‘The city talks the talk in terms of sustainability but doesn’t embed it. It is obsessed with very traditional economic growth.’

His organisation works with local schools and universities to embed local organic food into public procurement processes. With one in four meals eaten outside of the home being paid for by the public sector he says that progressive procurement could bring about a sea change in health and environmental outcomes.

Manchester Council has undertaken pioneering work in its procurement practices to align them with social and environmental outcomes. Since 2009 it has mapped its top 300 suppliers; more than 60% of this procurement budget is now spent within Manchester and its work linking spend with social outcomes has had knock-on effects down the whole supply chain.

‘We were involved in delivery of social value way before the social value act. Back in 2007 we made it an objective to maximise the benefits of our significant spend’, said Ian Brown, head of corporate procurement at Manchester Council.