Everyone seems to be talking about inclusive growth, from academics and the voluntary sector to business leaders and the Government. Here, Dr Henry Kippin and Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE look at what people actually mean by inclusive growth and the steps needed to achieve it, using Oldham Council as a case study.
- There are currently three parallel arguments about inclusive growth at play, but they all need to happen at once
- Much more needs to be done to boost the assets, aspirations and capabilities of communities
- The industrial strategy must address the public sector not just as providers of essential services, but as anchor institutions with a social and economic footprint
- We know that progress as a place and as an economy needs a strong relationship between all three inclusive growth, co-operative services, and thriving communities
- Inclusive growth must be about creating a different social contract with explicit links between social purpose, economic progress and public service
The emergence of the inclusive growth agenda should give us cause to celebrate. It stands for a model of economic progress in which more people can share in both the creation and the proceeds of growth in our cities. But the model of inclusive growth as currently constituted cannot hold the weight that is being ascribed to it.
Inclusive growth shifts the focus away from “any job at any cost”, prioritizing in-work progression and models of lifelong learning and up-skilling that specifically target people who have been furthest from the labour market. New Economy analysis produced for the Inclusive Growth Commission estimates that getting inclusive growth right nationally could increase Gross Value Added (GVA) by £192bn per year. At a local level, this agenda offers hope for the places that Prime Minister Theresa May characterised as ‘left behind’ to benefit from the boost in local growth proposed in her Industrial Strategy green paper.
A consistent concept?
We should welcome inclusive growth as a welcome shift in the orthodoxy, but we should also question and unpick it. Can Christine Lagarde, Theresa May and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation really be talking about the same thing? If they are, can the concept really have any bite? One recently published report cites good examples from inclusive planning in Portland to new models of employability support in Barcelona. But what does inclusive growth mean on the ground for places like Oldham within big urban conurbations like Greater Manchester?
The current debate sees three parallel arguments at play:
- A stabilisation agenda – doing what it takes to sustain the prevailing economic model through lowering barriers to access for marginalized economic groups or places. Incremental progress on skills, vocational pathways and support for in-work progression are characteristics.
- A public service infrastructure agenda – acknowledging that growth and effective public services are two sides of the same coin. Making the case for investment in human capital development from ‘cradle to career’, and acknowledging the productive potential of public sector spending.
- A rebalancing agenda – questioning whether the logic of agglomeration economics needs to be adapted or even subverted for areas in which a different (and perhaps slower return) investment case needs to be made.
However, these are ‘and-and’ arguments: they all need to happen in concert.
Achieving inclusive growth
Against all three, Oldham is making progress through initiatives like Warehouse to Wheels, which encourages warehouse workers to gain HGV licenses, and a new Career Advancement Service which invests in employed residents’ capacity to boost their earning potential. The Oldham Education and Skills Commission, independently chaired by former education minister Estelle Morris, set out a blueprint for a more integrated education and skills offer that local partners are driving forward. And at a Greater Manchester level, there is huge potential to work across the city-region to make smart investments that could boost inward investment in, and rapid transport links to and from, the boroughs.
What we know in Oldham is that even a perfect storm of these initiatives is not enough to turn the aspiration of inclusive growth into an everyday reality. Much more needs to be done to boost the assets, aspirations and capabilities of communities. We cannot expect people to move in from the margins without investing in the underpinning social networks and infrastructure that will enable them to do so. This means seeing our roles in the public sector not just as providers of essential services, but as anchor institutions with a social and economic footprint that needs to be understood and augmented.
Ignoring this substantial missing piece in Oldham would be putting hope before experience on a grand scale. Ignoring it within industrial strategy at a national level would be a disaster.
The Oldham Model
The Oldham Model that is being developed in response is based on three interdependent actions: inclusive growth, co-operative services, and thriving communities. We know that progress as a place and as an economy needs a strong relationship between all three. It means that we are tightening the links between siloed areas of service delivery, so that, for example, neighbourhood social networks, social value procurement and digital innovation become part of the same agenda. We are creating strong alignment between Oldham’s areas of growth potential and the social challenges that hold it back, exploring models of ‘good GVA’ that would help us to understand progress. And we are using the opportunity of GM health and social care devolution to drive our ambitions for boosting social innovation within Oldham’s communities.
Our experiences of developing these agendas tell us that inclusive growth must be more than a better offer for people who are ‘just about managing’. It is about creating a different social contract in which the links between social purpose, economic progress and public service are made much more explicit. This is the only way to achieve what Oldham West and Royton MP Jim McMahon has rightly argued is growth that is ‘felt by everyone across society”, and which our Leader Cllr Jean Stretton is committed to driving across GM.
None of this will be easy, because the odds are stacked against changing a model that has presided over the hollowing out of northern England’s former industrial powerhouses, and which continues to undermine the notion of social infrastructure as a source of economic potential. But change the logic we must. It is time to make it count for our people and places.