Like most aspects of our lives, the national pandemic will mean we need to review how we approach growth amidst a potential recession. Julian Ellerby – the Director of Local London – suggests some of the potential solutions.
It’s time to review our approach to growth.
The implication of this pandemic will be wholesale re-assessment of how we go about so many aspects of our lives.
Take digital and virtual working. Parliament has reconvened today in a hybrid state of physical and virtual meetings. Will that become normal?
The most important lesson we can take from this emergency is resilience. How ready were we, and how ready would we be should something equally catastrophic happen again?
We will need politicians to build harder resilience into policy making to manage future traumas.
The greatest hit however has been on our economy and ability to work.
The use of furlough, grants and tax relief is papering over the cracks, but the fact that more than one million have registered for universal credit is a strong indicator of the impact.
Working here in the most deprived part of the capital, the consequences of Covid-19 is it will leave our communities even further behind.
With the global financial crash and now Covid-19 we’ve had two international traumas in a dozen years. Who can say when the next will be?
Here in East London we work as a strategic partnership of 8 local authorities as a collaborative called Local London. We work for good inclusive growth. That means ensuring benefits are felt by local people and they also have the power to influence how growth impacts on the places they live and work.
To ensure growth is meaningful there are ten areas that will make it more resilient:
1. Level closer – you must reduce inequality to mitigate future challenges
The greater the levels of inequality, the lower the resilience to manage trauma. Access to the right skills, well-paid employment, secure housing tenure, strong in-work training and a properly funded benefits system all reduce pressure on the system during the calm periods and are essential during times of crisis.
2. Change place thinking to respond to changing habits
The whole concept of workspace is changing and home as ‘office’ is now the norm. We should provide much more collaborative workspaces for those industries that need them and stronger digital capacity. In East London, we need to invest in creating a small number of multi-purpose centres for work, leisure and retail in the same way Stratford has grown following the Olympics. The key is to rethink workspace so that it pre-empts the attitudes and habits of those that access it.
3. Third sector funded effectively and brought closer to local government
The third sector needs sustainable funding arrangements in place that are closely aligned to local government. The finances should be ring-fenced and a proper package of training, development support put in place.
4. Digital infrastructure prioritised over other infrastructure
Digital investment is essential to enable new types of working and a new economy. In the same way major transport infrastructure gets significant attention, we need to apply to digital. We also need to create effective governance at scale so that all parts of the country have the best digital infrastructure.
5. Devolve responsibility for land to give local accountability
Devolve decisions about industrial land, permitted development, housing builds, workspace and even the green belt through a clear policy framework. Let local government plan strategically for their areas and coordinate strategic planning with neighbouring authorities.
6. Support SME sustainability all year round
SMEs make up over 95% of local businesses across Local London. Six out of 10 new businesses will be gone within 3 years of inception. Put in place funded enterprise agencies, better loan schemes supported by training packages and flexible apprenticeship programmes.
7. Address the gig economy up front
There is fragility in employment – low paid zero-hour contracts have inbuilt risk. Employers and employees need to have mitigations in place against risks. This means employment rights, contracts, pay, pensions and job security need a full-scale review.
8. Supply chains monitored and managed
Local authorities are using their own contracts and procurement systems to support local suppliers. But there is not enough knowledge about business interdependency. Agree standards and invest into monitoring supply chains.
9. Invest in innovation as a cross-cutting theme
Invest in innovation across public sector bodies constantly and put money into sharing best practice to scale up.
10. Create regional financial reserves for local government
Introduce regional pooling of reserves, funded initially by government. This ensures broader strategic decisions are made on where to invest or how and when to call on them.
Building greater resilience into the approach to growth will benefit everyone who lives and works in this part of London and must now be a priority.