A City Deal for all: Creating a ‘good’ local economy in south Wales
September 30, 2015
A broader, bolder vision of a local economy
Delegates at the Activating Local Alternatives Economies event called instead for a broader and bolder vision of a local economy. Their vision of a local economy was one that may still seek economic growth but which does so by building on the region’s strong community heritage and assets and capturing a ‘double dividend’ from economic policies.
They criticised some past and current economic policies, which they said have spent public money luring in big business, attempting to build new sectors unsuccessfully, and pushing through policies that have revolved around vested interests.
Dr Mark Lang, honorary associate at the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University, said that the city region model fits into the narrative of city competitiveness and agglomeration economics and which has thus far failed to provide a significant proportion of the population with a good standard of living or to tackle inequalities or poverty.
Those working at ground level in the poorer regions of south Wales bore witness to the growing poverty and inequality and called for the region to take its economic destiny into its own hands.
‘Why is it that despite all the money that has come in nothing has changed?’, one said. ‘We’ve become reliant on others rather than self-determined.’
Could south Wales instead become a leader in a ‘sustainable community-centric’ economy? An economy that ensures the wealth that is created is distributed evenly and fairly and which works with and builds on what it has?
What follows are a number of proposals presented during the event to feed into the City Deal process and work towards the creation of a ‘good’ local economy for south Wales, with quotes from delegates taking part in the event:
1. Building a vision of a sustainable community-centric economy
What would a City Deal look like that aimed to bring about such a local economy?
The vision suggested by delegates included building the ‘foundational’ economy of the region, ensuring business is ‘good’, and focusing on the assets and values of south Wales.
In practice this could mean building on south Wales’ heritage as the place where the NHS was born, with a community level health system and high quality care services providing good employment opportunities; developing a Ken Robinson-style education system to enable the region’s children to become creative thinkers; and placing community and values at the centre of their local economic vision.
‘We should stop trying to be the best or be
like Manchester or London and focus instead on what we have’
It could build on some of the policies set out in the Smith Institute’s Double Dividend report, which seek to capture both social and economic outcomes. They include a focus on developing social outcomes as an intrinsic and fundamental part of achieving local prosperity, rather than the downstream recipients of economic success; boosting social capital and networks; building a business community that contributes to the creation of an effective workforce; maximising the power of procurement so that every penny spent in the locality worked towards building local prosperity; and locking in local economic wealth and ensuring any economic growth stayed in and worked for the local community.
Delegates talked of a mix and match approach, with some policies that generate GVA in one area mixed with policies that focus on social outcomes in another area.
Above all, the vision eschews the one-size-fits-all approach in favour of a diversity of flexible policy mechanisms and strategies that spring from a collective vision of a good local economy.
Clare Goff is Editor at New Start magazine