Placing the Inclusive Growth spotlight on the North

Leanne Kelly | 05 Jul 2017 | Comments

The Inclusive Growth agenda has been about encouraging the acceptance and use of a new framework for economic success – where as many people as possible can contribute to and benefit from economic growth – and a rejection of the persistent ‘grow now, then distribute’ or ‘trickle down’ model of development. This growth is about tackling place-based and social inequalities, and not about maximising the total change in gross value, revenue or job numbers – rather the quality and distribution of these.

This new framework would seek to bring balanced economic growth, both between and within areas, to help shape the post-Brexit economy and to release new growth potential.

The northern cities are a natural subject of the Inclusive Growth lens, where they have a set of relevant elements on the demand side - large populations spread across more local communities; growth potential, especially with infrastructure developments arriving; and lingering issues with productivity and poverty. And on the supply side – anchor institutions are often key in local employment and purchases, whilst the northern city regions have an excellent opportunity here with devolution, as has been well recognised.

The recently published Inclusive Growth Monitor, by the University of Manchester and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, places these city regions in a national context, and shows a relationship between the economic inclusion and prosperity themes (places above median inclusion tended to have above median prosperity). Across the 39 combined authority areas, the Northern city areas all ranked in the bottom third – with their own inclusivity issues and separations from wider UK growth. Liverpool (38th) and North Eastern (Newcastle, 36th) showed challenges in labour market inclusion and workless households, and were labelled ‘low prosperity, low inclusion’ areas alongside Sheffield City Region (35th), for example.

The monitor can help focus efforts in Inclusive Growth, where there is visibility and awareness of some of the underlying issues as well as comparisons between areas. The cities and their leadership can now look at how to address these gaps and incorporate these into new budgeting and decision making.

However, the agenda must not exclude the already ‘left behind’ or overshadowed places. The cities will be the hosts of major new infrastructure development and investment, but the inclusivity and prosperity of this development overall will be driven by the feeder towns, including the capturing of contracts by local businesses, those living in the surrounding towns will also feed into new job opportunities and engage in using new infrastructure and development for work and leisure. Disconnected, deprived or left behind places will reflect a lost opportunity here.

As such, the smaller, medium towns can also be engaging, shaping and using a set of applications that follow on from the new conceptual framework of what economic success looks like, as well as link up with Inclusive Growth developments in the cities. These applications may effectively cover:
• an accessible and recognised measurement of Inclusive Growth and economic success
• the diagnosis of inclusivity and prosperity problems
• the matching of these problems to intervention proposals, or policy adjustments, that can be assessed, prioritised and monitored
• the raising of finance for schemes that have a focus on inclusivity, where the benefit-cost ratios and initial returns may be lower but the value comes in releasing cumulative impacts over time that strengthen communities and the long-term economy.

By addressing the challenges of small local areas, connecting them to growth and disconnecting deprivation, the UK can enhance the value of infrastructure and other developments, raise the quality of life through Northern towns and city areas, and move towards more long term and balanced prosperity.

Atkins is developing an approach that both captures the multi-faceted nature of inclusivity – labour market dynamics, place environment, wellbeing, connectivity, local business and productivity - and supports places in meeting their own Inclusive Growth challenges and aspirations. This approach will consider not just the decisions the authorities can take but also the relationship of socio-economic outcomes to public service provision and the role of local anchor institutions in driving local spend and good work processes.