The last few years have seen scores of councils publish inclusive growth plans – a radical admission that the economy, as presently constructed, is failing to deliver for millions of people. This has been an overwhelmingly positive development, and we at the New Local Government Network were impressed by the energy on display at the series of Inclusive Growth in Practice workshops we ran across the country in the autumn, in partnership with Barrow Cadbury Trust.
At its core, inclusive growth is simply concerned with ensuring that everyone benefits from the effects of a growing economy. This necessarily creates a huge scope for intellectual inquiry, and this has been reflected in the breadth and diversity of the plans that councils have published. Productivity, skills, procurement, redevelopment – all of these policy areas have been interrogated to see how they might relate to visions of a more inclusive economy.
Our latest report: Cultivating Inclusive Growth: in practice is full of examples of what councils are doing to promote growth – from discount business rates for locally owned enterprises, to schemes to keep graduates in the area. However, there is one area of policy that is conspicuous by its near absence. At present, it seems, environmental thinking is completely siloed off from work on transforming local economies. While our report does include environmental measures as one of the 16 potential policy levers at councils’ disposal; the practical examples we found were fewer and less sophisticated than in areas like, say, procurement.
This is more than a missed opportunity – it is a serious oversight. Any meaningful vision of inclusivity in economic policymaking must take seriously the inclusion of future generations, as climate change is likely to create vast intergenerational inequalities. If, by creating growth and opportunities today, you prevent people further down the line from doing the same, then your economic policy regime, no matter how equitable in the moment, is a deeply exclusionary project.
By failing to join up environmental and economic thinking, there is a risk that those tasked with implementing inclusive growth do not reflect on how climate emergency is likely to transform our economies, independently from any plans they make. Regardless of who is in power at a national level, global political forces are likely to ensure that future governments pursue some sort of decarbonising agenda. If growth today is created in industries that are not likely to survive these changes, then you are simply storing up economic problems for your community in years to come.
The disconnect between these two policy areas seems to reflect local government’s slightly uncertain approach towards climate change more generally – and it is easy to see how inclusive growth may seem like a more pressing, or perhaps, more obviously local thing for councils to concern themselves with. However, in the 2020s, attempts to transform anything under local government control, be it something discrete like a piece of physical infrastructure, or something more amorphous like a local economy, simply have to be underpinned by serious environmental thinking.
It’s too serious an issue to ignore, and to do so is simply to waste time. Our faltering economic model, and the rapid degradation of our physical environment, are two of the biggest challenges facing policy makers today – and they will have to be confronted together. This must be reflected in both how we work, and the policies we put out going forward.
This article originally appeared in the LGC Briefing.