The Inclusive Growth Network is based on the understanding that inequalities exist within our biggest urban areas, rural economies and in the heart of our nations’ capital cities – including London. Just 20 minutes from one of the world’s biggest financial centres, the leaders of Barking and Dagenham LBC (an IGN member) know all too well that wealth, productivity and opportunity do not just trickle down the Jubilee line; they need to be created from the ground up. Inclusive growth is not just about narrowing the gap between London and the rest of the country, it must go further to rewire the whole economy and enhance the life chances and outcomes for all our communities.
With glaring focus, the pandemic has once again highlighted deep seated inequalities in the UK. As unemployment rises and economic pressures ratchet, the scale of the levelling up challenge will only intensify. A new approach is needed with local leaders at the helm to create inclusive economies. To accelerate this, the Centre for Progressive Policy has launched the Inclusive Growth Network, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and supported by Metro Dynamics and the RSA. The network brings together 12 councils and combined authorities – from Glasgow to Cardiff, Bristol to Belfast – leading the drive for an inclusive economic recovery.
Through membership of the Inclusive Growth Network, regional leaders and councils will have access to a package of peer-to-peer support, tailored research, policy innovation and implementation advice. Leaders will be able to draw on practical examples from good jobs to green growth and healthy communities.
COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses of our overly centralised policymaking processes. National policies are simply too blunt an instrument to tackle complex economic and social challenges alone, especially where each is narrowly defined and sits within a siloed departments and funding streams. Place-based leadership allows for strategic, systems thinking and delivery. Armed with the data, information and ideas for change, the IGN will ensure members can learn and support one another, get access to cutting edge innovation and insight from UK partners and connect into a growing international network of institutions and initiatives designed to create inclusive economic growth. From New York’s Coalition for Inclusive Growth to the G7’s Business 4 Inclusive Growth, the world is waking up to the economic, social, political and moral imperatives of shared prosperity.
The UK government’s levelling up agenda goes some way to meeting this challenge, grounded in addressing the regional inequalities that have characterised and held back the UK economy for decades. But so far levelling up has largely been defined as a promise to narrow the gap between London and the South East and the rest of the country. Despite rhetoric around building up people as much as hard infrastructure, Whitehall officials still refer to local economic growth policy in terms of physical regeneration. Whilst this can be a valuable source of economic recovery and long-term growth, local leaders understand the equal importance of investment and innovation in social infrastructure – including skills, early years and childcare, employment support, quality of housing, mental health and other community services – in enabling their places to weather economic storms and emerge stronger.
As many commentators have argued, COVID-19 has accelerated consumer trends, challenged conventions, and raised questions about the future of how and where we will live and work. It has also instigated profound structural changes to the economy that might be further exacerbated by the impact of Brexit. Local leaders here and around the world face an uncertain future. The Inclusive Growth Network seeks to be a beacon for innovation and practical, real-world change. As expectations rise for central government to demonstrate competence and clarity, the IGN will showcase successes of local leaders in delivering a better, bolder vision for people and places across the UK.
Charlotte Alldritt is Director, Centre for Progressive Policy