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Unbalanced economies – not minding the gap PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen (reporting from RSA City Growth Commission)   
Friday, 07 March 2014 12:05

Birmingham - Victoria SquareData may show that the UK is the most centralised country in Europe.  Towns and cities across the UK may be appalled at the headlong migration of their young and most talented people into the economic vortex that is London.  Beyond city boundaries, rural areas may cling on wherever they can with economies sustained only by micro and small enterprises.  But, in central policy mindsets, the peasants are not revolting.  Even Whitehall’s wizards would not dare say that, yet.

Whitehall would say there is no clear evidence that devolution could make much of a difference; no clear evidence that policies previously tried would be effective.  It’s debatable whether devolutionist policies were ever tried hard enough but it’s here that economics parts company with common sense – the sense of the common people.

To be sure it’s not easy – this quest for a more equitable united kingdom.  Diversity, choice and competition may be good but gross extremes of inequality are barely tolerable.  This is the central dilemma for the RSA’s Cities Growth Commission – engaged in finding futures for places and people outside of the London dynamo; what could or should be done?   

If asked, Whitehall will worry about scale, economic efficiency, local administrative competence and identity of local economies.  When national politicians are bracketed with bankers and electoral promises of localist policies have faded, is it any surprise that previous top-down initiatives failed to impress regional electorates?

One of the great lessons from our Study Tours (exploring ‘intelligent communities’) is that central would-be devolutionists are bound to be disappointed.  Top down doesn’t work. The only growth initiatives that are sustainable are those that arise bottom up – cities/regions seizing their own destinies – and to get away with that these communities need to summon extraordinary levels of local leadership and advocacy.  This is way beyond Whitehall’s electoral engineering capabilities.  Firstly communities must acknowledge the crisis in their midst.  Only when shaken will folks be stirred into action.  That needs a style of local collaborative leadership that may well come from outside of the tired tiers of town halls and outmoded taxation practices.   London can afford this exuberance with bankable revenues from its public transport but elsewhere, dependent on ever-reducing rations, the degrees of investment freedom are constrained.

None of this should come as a surprise now that the digital economy is empowering the people.  For those who think they are running the country it will be difficult to accept – not minding the gap but learning how to let go, back off and get out of the way.   Please cut the tape but please, this time, not lengthways.

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Notes:

This is a continuing story - our report from the Intelligent Community Forum's 2013 Global Summit refers.

See also 'Fabrics for the Future'

Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 17:10
 

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