Where Do We Go From Here?
This isn’t where we intended to be
Tim Rice’s lyrics for Evita reflect the realisation that last year’s plans are, tragically, now history.
Last week we commented on a position paper issued by the Centre for Local Economic Strategy (CLES) — Owning The Future. That paper made it abundantly clear that the struggle to respond to Covid-19 has exposed fault lines that must not be ignored when the pandemic has passed. It also became clear how, with a little imagination, much can be achieved.
With a central emphasis on creating and sustaining thriving communities, CLES sketched out the options and preferences. But simply having choices isn’t going to fill the vacuum. Without action, opportunities for fresh thinking will be lost in the stampede to restore the old world. So how, exactly, can we navigate a way forward?
Authority and Agency
One benefit of the current crisis has been a renewed sense of purpose. Local governments have been re-energised to meet the needs of their communities. Responses have been described as ‘imaginative’ and ‘proactive’. This may not be true everywhere, but many communities appreciate the effectiveness of any Local Government Authority reaching beyond those existing merely as Central Government’s Local Agencies — the difference being evidenced by those who think for themselves.
‘Thinking things through’ calls for more of the same energy and application demonstrated in recent redeployments — often carried out with remarkable speed, agility and coordination across organisations and departments. When faced with the bigger picture, all manner of accommodations can be found — and the need right now is to consider the immediate next steps.
That is why CLES have suggested a 3-part framework — Rescue, Recover, and Reform — to help frame and encourage local responses.
There will, no doubt, be other frameworks, other strategy debates, and whole pantheons of priorities.
The key message from CLES is that work on shaping the future must surely be happening now — and, for intelligent communities, this work has no end.
Download and study the full CLES framework, tasks and suggested actions.
Rescue is obviously the immediate need.
Community wellbeing demands far more than polite applause for keyworkers or bunting for VE day. Critical supplies and skills for organisations — businesses and charities as well as our public sector — must be maintained. Local economic rescue demands awareness of vital needs and the imagination to find novel interventions. For so long under-valued, maybe this is the time for FE colleges to shine?
Recovery will present new challenges.
Central government has sensibly initiated support schemes to safeguard jobs and businesses, but these emergency schemes will not last forever and some transitions will be needed. Inevitably general support packages will have holes in provision and a great many jobs may be lost, particularly amongst the smallest of businesses.
Local economic health is hugely dependent on the fabric of fixers, menders and makers for all sorts of ‘socially productive’ needs — activities rarely featuring in the sector statistics that drive central economic policy. In a coastal community, for example, who really appreciates the wealth of work locally linked to all those marine craft still waiting in yards to be launched? Very small businesses are vital for the local economic fabric. They ensure that locally generated wealth circulates as much as possible before eventually being leached away into distant moneybags and on-line giants.
Reform must wait — but surely not for long.
Some folk are keen to extract wealth but care little for those who generate it. Local leaders need to recognise the money-suckers and consider how best to protect the value added by the local authority. Building thriving communities means, for example, that essential infrastructure like Full Fibre broadband is often best developed by providers who care for local communities and shape their services to meet local needs — an arena where local leaderships can play a vital enabling role.
But whatever framework is chosen, it is for Local Authorities to maintain momentum and think through how best to leverage the community assets. Your place (or any place) is not average — we all have different priorities. So, fret not about ‘postcode lotteries’ but rejoice that your place — the place you call home — works for you.
As Madonna’s Evita sang, ‘Certainties disappear . . . What can we do for our dreams to survive? / How can we keep our passions alive?’ Places, communities, are the bedrock of nations and can never be commoditised by some general one-size-fits-all central command.