Local action for a new economy
- Local elections, local action. It’s local election day tomorrow in England (and parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales), so today’s Digest looks at what’s happening at a local level to build a fairer, more sustainable and more resilient economy.
- ~~Local elections, devolution and the North. IPPR North set out the importance of this year’s local elections, particularly for cities, towns and rural districts in the North of England, and argue that the Government’s forthcoming devolution and local recovery white paper offers an opportunity for a clearer, more transparent framework for allocating and distributing devolved powers.
- ~~Mapping local action. The New Economics Foundation’s ‘Change the Rules’ gathers together lots of resources on the policies needed at local level, and maps a wide range of local enterprises and projects including cooperatives, mutuals and community businesses.
- Community wealth building. One of the most interesting ideas to emerge from local government in recent years has been that of ‘community wealth building’. Pioneered in the US city of Cleveland, and in Preston here in the UK, community wealth building is the idea that, as far as possible, local spending in a city or locality should remain in that city or locality, so that it can create jobs and wealth locally rather than elsewhere. Under a ‘CWB’ strategy, local councils and other ‘anchor institutions’, such as hospitals and utilities, commit to sourcing as much as possible of their services from local businesses, enabling jobs to be created and retained locally. Some cities, including Preston, have been particularly focused on supporting cooperatives and other community enterprises to meet local demand, ensuring that local wealth is even more equally spread.
- ~~Community Wealth Building after Covid-19. In their October 2020 report, think tank Common Wealth offered a vision for democratising the economy after Covid-19, with recommendations including the reform of procurement practices and the creation of a Community Wealth Building Act.
- Climate action at local level. In the last few years a growing number of local councils have ‘declared a climate emergency’ and committed themselves to action on climate change, including the ultimate goal of ‘net zero’ emissions..Local authorities’ powers are limited, however, and most have few resources for non-statutory work. So in their place there is a great deal of imagination and innovation going into local authority action in this field - as well as a demand that central government gives local councils more powers and resources.
- ~~Local powers to act on climate. UK100, the network for local elected leaders (including city mayors) taking action on climate change, has published a comprehensive examination of the powers local authorities have, and need, to deliver on climate.
- ~~Net zero. UK100’s ‘Net Zero Local Leadership Club’ brings together those councils now committed to achieving ‘net zero’ emissions, as soon as possible and by 2045 at the latest. The UK100 ‘knowledge hub’ provides a series of case studies of how different local authorities are acting to reduce their own and local emissions and to adapt to the climate changes we are already experiencing.
- ~~Climate Emergency. A new organisation, Climate Emergency UK, is seeking to map and coordinate local declarations and activities. They have produced a list of councils which have declared climate emergencies, and their website allows members of the public to search for their local council and what (if anything) it is doing about climate change.
- ~~Global local action. C40 Cities is the collaborative network of city mayors from the world’s largest cities committed to action on climate change and a sustainable future. Led by the mayors of Los Angeles and Milan, these cities last year committed to investing in a ‘green and just recovery’, and showcased what they are doing to deliver it.
- ~~Green recovery. Jonty Leibowitz, then at CLES but now adviser to Labour Shadow business and climate minister Ed Miliband, has set out how local authorities can build secure green recoveries at local level.
- Local and regional banking. In pursuit of more locally and regionally governed economic development, there has been increasing interest over recent years in a more localised and regional banking system. Unlike many countries the UK’s banking system is more or less entirely national (and international), and the argument is made that this inevitably skews financing for business investment towards London and the South East of England. In other countries, notably Germany, local and regional ‘stakeholder’ banks, largely or wholly publicly-owned, have played a critical role in ensuring that investment and job creation are well distributed geographically, and that small and medium sized businesses which might be ignored by large private banks are provided with patient (long-term) finance.
- ~~Regional banking in Germany. Daniel Ticsher explores the benefits that regional banks bring to diversity and resilience, finding that Germany's more diverse banking sector weathered the global financial crisis better than the UK’s highly concentrated private banking system.
- ~~A more diverse banking sector. The New Economics Foundation establishes the economic case for a more diverse banking sector, arguing that this ecosystem would be more resilient, socially focused and give better returns to customers than commercial banks. Elsewhere NEF proposes that the UK government retains its majority stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland and transforms it into a public banking network.
- ~~Regional banks in the UK. Responding to the closure of local branches by retail banks in many communities, All In, the Royal Society of Arts and others make the case for a community savings bank for the North East, In the South West, South West Mutual is aiming to be a regional high street bank exclusively focused on the south west of England.
- ~~Stakeholder banks. In OpenDemocracy’s e-book New Thinking for the British Economy, Christine Berry proposes a UK ecosystem of stakeholder banks.
- ~~A Post Bank network. The Communication Workers Union and the Democracy Collaborative propose the creation of a publicly owned Post Bank network supported by regional development banks.
- ~~Local banking in Scotland. Common Weal presents the case for a local, mutually-owned 'public-good banking network' in Scotland to restore bank branches to communities which have lost them.
- ~~Cooperative local banking. The New Economics Foundation explores the benefits of cooperative banking. It cites international evidence showing that mutually-owned banks are more focused on supporting high streets, are better at lending to SMEs, and are likely to be better managed and more stable in a crisis. It has published a guide for people and community organisations interested in establishing a new regional community bank.
Environment and climate change
- Net zero and greenwashing. A group of respected climate scientists branded the concept of net zero “a dangerous trap”, sparking an important debate within the climate community. The authors argue that net zero “helps perpetuate a belief in technological salvation and diminishes the urgency surrounding the need to curb emissions now”, pointing to the “fantasy” that bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) will allow for achieving net zero whilst avoiding the “difficult truth” of “immediate and sustained radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in a socially just way”.
- ~~In defence of net zero. Business Green’s James Murray described the article above as “a nuanced and in-depth assessment of the risks attached to the net zero concept” but gave a passionate defence of net zero targets as “one of the most successful environmental campaigns ever seen”.
- ~~How serious are we? The European Climate Foundation’s Joss Garman summarised the debate and pointed to the Treasury’s Net Zero Review next month as a “key moment” for the UK to demonstrate distance from greenwashing schemes that “lack integrity, transparency and detailed delivery plans”.
- A rocky road to net zero? The FT’s Sarah O’Connor casted doubt over whether the green transition will create as many jobs as promised if the government follows its current path. O’Connor criticised the government for scrapping the Green Homes Grant as an example of “bluff and bluster”, where “seriousness and attention to detail” is needed, pointing to examples in Canada and Germany where policymakers have produced detailed sectoral plans for job creation and reskilling to secure a just transition for the most affected communities.
- Business and net zero. 6 months ahead of COP26, a network of leading business groups launched The UK Business Group Alliance for Net Zero (BGA) to “increase political and business ambition”, with “a particular focus on enabling a successful delivery of COP26”.
- Working life in lockdown. The Centre for Labour and Social Studies’ (CLASS) Work in 2021: A Tale of Two Economies report brings together original analysis of ONS data, interviews with trade union reps and a survey of 2000 workers to paint a picture of workers’ differentiated experiences of the pandemic and how they are organising in response.
- Four-day week in practice. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) struck an agreement with South Midlands Mail Centre to implement a four day week to boost productivity, create 37 “new full-time, four-day jobs” and reduce reliance on agency staff. The agreement came after a two year negotiation with the Royal Mail Group Board, which the CWU accused management of “managing decline through significant job losses” and introducing “dehumanising technology” with “unagreed productivity measures”.
- Human-centred technology at work. The Institute for the Future of Work launched a project in partnership with the Carnegie Trust and the CIPD to develop best practice guidance for businesses as they introduce technology to balance employee concerns about work intensity, surveillance and work-life balance.
Health and Covid-19
- The case for a public inquiry. The Institute for Government outlined the case for an investigation of government actions during the Covid pandemic, calling for a public inquiry to start this month: “Delaying an inquiry is unnecessary and unhelpful, with anonymous briefing and leaks filling the vacuum in public discussions about the government’s management of the crisis. An inquiry is the correct way to uncover the truth, deliver accountability, and learn lessons”.
- Vaccine IP waiver update. The Independent’s Ben Chu produced a summary of recent developments on the debate to waive coronavirus patents, whether the Biden administration may support it and the technical challenges of increasing vaccine manufacturing capacity.
International cooperation and migration
- UK continues cuts to international aid. The UK imposed a “devastating” 85% cut in aid to a UN family planning programme “that could have helped prevent some 250,000 maternal and child deaths”. Sky News’ Deborah Haynes summarised the impact in a short Twitter thread.
- Brexit and the creative industry. Over 300 creative organisations signed a letter urging the government to negotiate a visa waiver with the EU so artists can tour across Europe. The letter also called for an emergency fund for the creative industry to prevent job losses and business failures.
- Reforming fiscal rules to confront uncertainty. NIESR released a substantial report on how to design a new fiscal framework, produced with the help of a variety of experts such as former central bankers, civil servants and Chief Secretaries to the Treasury.
- The macroeconomic case for the Green New Deal. Economist JW Mason gave a 25 minute video presentation explaining “why the economic situation calls for even more spending than the (surprisingly ambitious) proposals from the Biden administration”.
- US infrastructure debate. The Democracy Collaborative’s Thomas M. Hanna commented on the US debate over what should be considered as ‘infrastructure’ and asked “who should own and control our infrastructure?”, pointing to failures in public-private partnerships in the past and advocating community control and democratic public ownership.
- Climate is more important than debt. Peter R Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, argued that the debate over US stimulus spending should favour addressing climate change rather than containing fiscal risks: “because it probably won’t be possible to accomplish both, climate mitigation must come first”.
- “The Free Market is Dead: What Will Replace It?”. An article for Time Magazine reiterated the argument that a paradigm shift is underway in US economic policymaking: “corporate America’s newfound support for more public investment is not a temporary phenomenon. We are witnessing the most profound realignment in American political economy in nearly forty years.“
- “The left is winning the economic battle of ideas”. The FT’s Chris Giles published a piece proposing “the left is winning the economic battle of ideas”, pointing to the levels of discontent sparked by the pandemic as a trigger for more radical economic ideas: “working out how to meet the public’s legitimate expectations of a leftward shift in economic policy without undermining opportunities for growth will be the great economic experiment of the post-pandemic world.”
- The Return of the State. A book containing 20 essays by council members of Progressive Economy Forum detailed how to restructure Britain for the common good through a variety of policy areas, from public service reform, changes to corporate governance, industrial strategy and more.
- Symposium on a Systemic Recovery. A group of leading economists including Mariana Mazzucato, Gita Gopinath, Paul Krugman and Mark Carney discussed rethinking the design, operation and management of the overall economic system in an OECD conference on ‘A Systemic Recovery’ (a 3-hour video of the event can be watched here).