Inclusive growth is a buzzword in local government these days, but how can it be delivered in practice? That’s the question that NLGN and Barrow Cadbury Trust have been trying to answer in a series of workshops that we’ve been running across the country this autumn.
While grappling with this issue, we’ve heard familiar concerns about constraints on local government power, and had to confront the contested nature of the term ‘inclusive growth’. However, we’ve been able to overcome this by conceptualising inclusive growth in the broadest possible way – as a concern not just with the pace of growth, but with who it’s benefitting. By doing this, we’ve been able to have some inspiring conversations.
Across all kinds of policy areas, pioneering councils are rethinking their economic approaches, so as to ensure that everyone in the communities they serve is benefitting from the proceeds of the local economy.
Areas of particular focus have included:
- Procurement: Many in the sector are trying to make use of ‘social value scoring’ during the procurement process to try and further an inclusive growth agenda. Some are trialling highly ambitious moves, such as weighting social value at 30%. However, there is recognition that councils can do more to use their power as procurers to engender change in the wider local economy. Proposed ways of doing this have included things like: creating shared procurement practices with other local anchor institutions to multiply effects; creating specific metrics for inclusive growth that can be scored against, and building in a radical community wealth building ethos into councils’ approaches to dealing with partners.
- Skills: Due to looming challenges like climate breakdown and automation, there is a recognition across the sector that huge changes in the labour market are coming. Accordingly, the long-term inclusivity of the economy depends on people having skills that future-proof them against these forces. Two major ways of approaching this seem to have emerged. First, many are talking about the importance of re-skilling programmes, and ensuring local skills offers are flexible and responsive to economic change, meaning that no one in the workforce is left-behind. Secondly, there is an increasing emphasis on collaboration around skills – by allowing businesses to shape skills programmes (to some extent) it is possible to ensure that people have the most relevant skills possible for the local economy.
- Redevelopment: Redevelopment and the repurposing of space is another major part of many councils’ thinking on inclusive growth. From this perspective, redevelopment means more than simply investing money to revitalise highstreets or build more housing. Instead, an ethos of inclusive growth creates a more focused conversation around things like attracting people and investment to areas of economic decline, and repurposing of derelict spaces to create new opportunities for SMEs and social enterprises.
- Community Empowerment: Perhaps the most interesting conversations we’ve had around inclusive growth have concerned how the concept links to ideas of community empowerment. One idea that is gaining increasing purchase is the notion that to ensure people benefit from inclusive growth outcomes, they have to be an active part of the policy process. With this in mind, we have seen numerous instances of councils finding ways to ensure that communities have some role in shaping inclusive growth policy, through things like ‘poverty truth commissions’ and innovative social research projects.
We have one workshop remaining, to be held in Westminster on Friday 29th November – please sign up to help us develop the thinking around this area and to share best practice with colleagues from other councils.
Do also look out for our full report on inclusive growth, which will be a practical guide to delivery in practice, and will be published early in the new year.