Can collaborative economics see Birmingham return to its glory days?

A mural on the wall of Jericho Foundation

What is local economic development for?

A need for a broader vision of local economic development, one that includes and values small businesses and social organisations and that has a wider sense of what local economic development should be, emerged from the event. As Manchester has set out a civil economy strategy to broaden its vision of economic success, and Enfield is focused on its foundational economy, so too Birmingham and its regions are seeking a vision for a different type of local economics.

‘We have to shift the goal from one of maximising GVA to one of understanding who benefits’, one delegate at New Start’s event said.

The scope of current economic policies – set by the Leps and local authorities – is restrictive: businesses and organisations that could stimulate greater local wealth are left out of the picture; the fixation on growth leads to a narrow set of outcomes.  A broader vision and wider range of actors would create a local economics that works much harder for people and places.

One model for a collaborative approach to local economic development comes from RESO in the south-west of Montreal. Since 1989 this community economic development corporation has brought together the community, private and public sectors and trade unions with the socially explicit aim of being ‘a movement for good economic development’.

RESO’s collaborative approach creates a bridge between

the needs of the poor and of the local business community

When it formed, its mission was to halt the cycle of social and economic decline in its neighbourhoods. Today it is ‘abuzz with renewal’ after 30 years of a localised approach, working in particular with young people and the unemployed and providing hands-on support for local business, through training, advice and an early warning system of potential business loss. It joined-up economic approach creates a bridge between the needs of the poor and of the local business community, increases local procurement and leads to a virtuous circle of success.

But in Birmingham and the west Midlands, competing goals and a lack of opportunity for the ‘small’ to play a part have held back a more inclusive approach to local economic development. Small and social businesses are left out of the region’s local economic strategy and are treated differently to the private sector. One delegate called for a ‘level playing field’ between small and large, social and profit-motivated.

As the West Midlands Combined Authority gets off the ground, it needs to develop a shared vision of ‘good’ local economic development around which the region’s stakeholders – large and small – can unite and work together. Some starting points could be the inclusion of small businesses and social organisations within its strategic thinking – be that the local enterprise partnerships or a broader regional body; having the same offer for voluntary organisations as for private; and changing the expectations of local economic development from that of maximising growth to building the common good.

Clare Goff is Editor at New Start magazine

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