Calais and the Viable Economy

I am trying to read the newspaper.  The sense of horror and helplessness which has been pre-occupying me over the last few days and weeks has driven me to write this blog.  No doubt many readers have similar feelings as we hear about the mounting numbers of desperate people in Calais trying to get to the UK and the response.

Is the situation in Calais among the many other awful things going on near and far, a signal of ever increasing chaos as our global economic system fails to serve the needs of the ‘common good’ in favour of so called ‘economic growth’, and all that goes with it including ever growing inequalities​?

I am sure I am not alone amongst readers believing that this situation requires an immediate humanitarian response. yet I fear and know that this will not happen for many of the migrants. In the longer term, we know no visas, borders, walls, detention centres, immigration laws and benefit reductions will stem the flow. If the causes of migration are not effectively addressed the numbers will probably increase.

We​, in Steady State Manchester, have done some thinking about migration and what solidarity with places outside Manchester might look like.  We think it timely to open up a conversation about a viable economic approach to migration.

We believe Manchester is and should continue to be a place which values people from outside and celebrates the richness of a diverse and hospitable region. At the same time we should recognise that most people would prefer to stay in their home country if they can see a way to sustain their lives there and live in freedom, without conflict and persecution.

Current policies focus on controlling the numbers and types of people coming into the country rather than addressing the reasons why people want to move in the first place. A viable economy would work on reducing the determinants of migration. Policies should be based on an understanding that the interests of our region are interdependent with the interests of those outside. Solidarity is key to ensuring a viable population and migration patterns.  This needs to be international, national as well as local.

We believe that if economic equity is increased, migration will fall whether it is from the North East of the UK to Manchester, Manchester to London or Africa to the UK.  Similarly if the impact of climate change is kept to the minimum more people will manage to sustain their lives where they are and this will reduce migration.  There will be fewer wars in a world where more people can provide for their basic needs, live with greater equity within their societies and between societies and where economies such as ours produces and sells socially useful goods rather than armaments.  Well functioning societies here and elsewhere are likely to be more accepting of political, racial, religious and sexual diversity.

I do not feel I have enough conversations amongst people who are concerned about the welfare of migrants about longer term strategies, let alone with people more concerned about immigration controls. I find the polarisation of views on migrants / migration very painful.  I don’t find it easy to have conversations with people with very different views to mine, however I want to find ways to understand people’s fears and learn from them. I wonder if by addressing the bigger picture in a viable way it might be possible to come up with strategies that show compassion for the situation of migrants and people in the places they are coming from AND for people who fear them coming here

Steady State Manchester suggest some ideas to reduce the determinants of migration. We believe policies need to foster equity between our region and others, good environmental measures which will ensure minimum climate change and do not fuel reasons for migration such as economic injustice, eg TTIP and war e.g. arms exports. Given the role of war and civil conflict as causes of migration, we advocate work with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade to encourage transformation of jobs in the arms trade in our region to socially useful production such as renewable energy technology. This list is far from exhaustive – we would like to hear your views on these issues and what can be done especially things that have some chance of success in the months ahead.

Economics and Climate Change: the no-nonsense guide.

Climate change is the biggest threat to the world. But addressing it is difficult. First it is necessary to know what causes it. The 2014 report of the International Committee on Climate Change said:

Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to the previous three decades,while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply (high confidence) [i.e. the scientific evidence for this statement is very good – SSM]. Between 2000 and 2010, both drivers outpaced emission reductions from improvements in energy intensity (Figure SPM.3). Increased use of coal relative to other energy sources has reversed the long‐standing trend of gradual decarbonization of the world’s energy supply. [1.3, 5.3, 7.2, 14.3, TS.2.2] ” 

Four economic approaches

Looking at the responses to climate change in economic terms, we can identify four different approaches:

1) Business as usual. Here the idea is to grow the economy so there is a surplus to invest in the technological solutions that deal with greenhouse gas emissions. A variant on this is the denialist position of carrying on as usual, ignoring the climate and ecological crisis – objectively there is little to choose between them. The reason is, as we showed in our report “In Place of Growth”, there is no evidence that the increase in greenhouse gas can be decoupled from economic growth at anything like the rate required. As Tim Jackson, in “Prosperity Without Growth” showed, the carbon intensity of the economy would have to decrease by 11 per cent per year, that’s sixteen times faster than it did between 1990 and 2009. Even some of the most prominent advocates of the Business as usual approach to climate change, the New Climate Economy Commission (although their discourse also draws on “Green Growth”) now admit thatAlthough GHG emissions are gradually being decoupled from growth rates, they are not doing so at anything like the rate required to put the world on [the politically agreed target of] a 2°C path”. Despite this, and in the face of contrary evidence, the Chair of the Commission, former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosai, makes the bold claim that “we can achieve economic growth and close the dangerous emissions gap”.

  1. Green Growth. This is based on the idea that we can grow the green parts of the economy and continue to enjoy the supposed benefits of economic growth. It supposes that there is good and bad growth, and that good growth can be selected. We can thereby have our cake and eat it.

    The Green Growth approach can be found in the work of the New Green Deal Group and their call for “Green Quantitative Easing”. This is an attractive idea, especially in response to the false logic (and its erroneous household budget metaphor) of austerity, in that it shows how interest-free money can be found for necessary investments (for example for energy conservation and renewable energy) that are needed as part of a strategy for reducing emissions while generating employment and further tax receipts. But without a cap on greenhouse gas emissions at source, it would fuel the growth of unselective consumption, precisely because of the multiplier effect on overall economic activity.

    The key problem here is that there is no guarantee that the expansion will be restricted to the ‘good’ parts of the economy. We illustrated this before like this:

“… in assessing whether the impact of an increase in one element of production is good or bad, we need to understand carefully what follows from it, and be prepared to look widely, expecting the unexpected.

An example might help.
It is decided that an area of good growth is efficient and affordable public transport, so that less fuel is used to get around and people spend less on doing so. As well as these two immediate benefits the change also has the wider social benefit of increasing social contact within neighbourhoods (people get talking at bus stops), reducing road casualties and reducing the rate of respiratory illness. But there are also negative consequences. The money people save by not running cars, or at least using them less, gets spent on other things – things like foreign holidays and plasma screen t.v.’s, eating more imported food. This increases carbon emissions, not here but in places like China, and on shipping and aviation.

Taking the whole system view has a further consequence for decision making. It is the total system impact that has to be considered. Our economy is too large, at least when considered in terms of its ecological impact. What selective growth there is has to be within the setting of absolute limits, which themselves have to progressively decrease until emissions are at a safe level.”

This idea that the economy is too big leads us on to the following two linked approaches, Steady State and Degrowth. But first, we should note that Manchester’s climate change plan, “Manchester, A Certain Future” (MACF) combines elements of both Business as Usual and Green Growth. Despite this, many of those involved in its governance and implementation are sympathetic to the premises of the following two approaches.

3) The Steady State Economy. This is associated primarily with the discipline of ecological economics, pioneered by Kenneth Boulding and Herman Daly in the USA and developed by other workers such as Tim Jackson in the UK and Peter Victor in Canada. Their key insight is that continued economic growth (strictly speaking, growth in composite measures of economic activity like Gross Domestic Product) comes up against the finite limits imposed by the earth’s systems: particularly finite resources (the inputs to the economy) and sinks (where the waste goes). Moreover, economic growth does not yield the benefits that are usually claimed for it. For example, increased GDP lost its association with increased sense of well-being here in the mid 1960s. The idea of a Steady State Economy, then is one that is designed and managed so it does not have to, and is not permitted to grow forever. As our name suggests, it is this approach that initially inspired us to try and work out what it would mean for Manchester and its region. But if we have a criticism it is that the writers associated with it tend not to emphasise that the implications of climate change almost certainly imply the need for a reduction in the scale of economic activity (as we know it) so tending to a steady state won’t give us rapid enough reduction of the emissions that continue to cumulate devastatingly.

4) Degrowth, which although sharing theoretical roots (in the application of thermodynamics to economics) with the Steady State approach, is influenced by European continental traditions of critical economic and social thought (principally the work of the post-Marxists, André Gorz and Cornelius Castoriadis). The name sounds like it advocates for a reduction in the scale of economic activity, and generally it does. However, the economist who coined the term (in French, decroissance), Serge Latouche, makes it clear that his interest is more in “changing the subject” away from the dominant role of growth in conversations about the economy and economics. Indeed, he goes further, to suggest that we need to escape from the domination of economic thinking, where other considerations are seen as less important, or are translated into economic and monetary terms.

The declaration from the first international degrowth conference, (Paris, 2008) defined

…degrowth as a voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society… The objectives of degrowth are to meet basic human needs and ensure a high quality of life, while reducing the ecological impact of the global economy to a sustainable level, equitably distributed between nations… Once right-sizing has been achieved through the process of degrowth, the aim should be to maintain a “steady state economy” with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating level of consumption.” (Research and Degrowth, 2010, cited by O’Neill).

A more succinct definition is: “Living better, with less”.  It is this economic approach that we at Steady State Manchester are closest to, and which we draw on in our own work to map out what a Viable Economy might look like, in general, and for Manchester.

But how do we get there? Policy and Politics.

It is all very well to say that we need a transition to an economy of the right size, which will then be maintained in a steady state, but there are some serious challenges to doing that.

  1. How do stop degrowth causing unemployment, poverty,social dislocation and conflict? The difficulty is that degrowth has not been tried, although some countries (e.g. Japan) have got on quite well with an economy that is not growing. There is evidence from the ecological economists, Peter Victor and Tim Jackson, using macro-economic modeling, that it is possible, for an advanced national economy, to keep GDP stable, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and maintain full employment and fair income distribution. Although that is a persuasive demonstration, the challenge is still to bring it about politically. So the second challenge is,

  2. How do you achieve a degrowth society and economy, politically? For this it is necessary to wage a double struggle, against the neoliberal regime that reduces everything to a commodity (economic rationalism) where capital and markets substitute for democratic management of the economy and society, and against the illusions of Business as Usual and Green Growth. The Green Party of England and Wales has done some of this, but in waging the first struggle it has perhaps accommodated to much with Green Growthism. Moreover,some of their policies (e.g. nationalisation of the money supply and full reserve banking while based on an accurate diagnosis, are the wrong prescription for the realities of debt-based money). For a good example of how an anti-austerity campaign might be made consistent with degrowth, take a look at the recent Guardian article and 10 point plan in response to Spain’s Podemos party’s Keynesian economic programme, from Giorgos Kallis of the Barcelona Research and Degrowth Group.

For local activism, the enormity and complexity of climate change can seem like an impossibility in terms of action that could make a difference. Our approach has been to break things down into manageable chunks. So when working out what Steady State and Degrowth mean in an urban regional context, we have emphasised redistribution and equality, localisation of economic production, finance (money, debt,credit, investment) and alternative ways of assessing economic well-being. We work with actors inside and outside the “system” on all of these, while continuing to promote general understanding of the concepts and issues so an ecological approach to economics becomes part of a new everyday common sense. That in turn translates into specific campaigns. For example,

  • How much produce do the city’s supermarkets source from the region – what are they doing to increase this?

  • What investments are being made by the local government and other pension funds: have they considered the risk of unburnable hydrocarbons and investment in local renewables?

  • What are public and private organisations doing with spare land. Is any of it being made available for allotments? Have they thought about carbon sequestration and soil restoration?

  • What initiatives are going on to keep money circulating locally, rather than pouring out to fuel corporate profits and high carbon lifestyles? How can these be supported?.

  • Struggles for greater equality or against privatisation help prevent concentration of wealth which then funds high carbon lifestyles.

  • When local leaders uncritically justify things in terms of economic growth,how can this be challenged, to focus on the real impact of initiatives on people’s lives and the living planet?

  • Is green space being built on, and if so what spurious arguments (usually growth-based) are being used to justify it?

But the choice of local campaigning action will depend on a variety of factors, such as the scope for building alliances, the degree of local feeling about the issue, the likelihood of success, and there being a specific focus and demand to catalyse the campaign.

Mark H Burton

i Of whom I wrote in 2012: “I watched a dreadful speech by Felipe Calderón the fraudulently elected Mexican president which extolled the virtues of the free market, de-regulation, prvatisation, and the so-called free trade agreement with the US and Canada.  He didn’t mention the hunger in the Mexican countryside, the towns where there are just old people and children because the parents are working in sweat shops on the border, or illegally in the US – all a consequence of these policies.”

Open Letter endorsements


The Open Letter to Tony Lloyd has been endorsed by the following people to date (in addition to the many people who have verbally expressed their appreciation for it).  Thank you, everyone.  We will be adding a selection of people’s comments too. To add your name, email us at or use the form at the end of the letter.  Thanks!

Judith Emanuel
Ben Godfrey
Professor Cathy Parker
Rob Trueblood
Brian Candeland
Brigitte Lechner
Margaret Morris
Steven Longden
Paula Moorhouse
Debbie Tomkies
Dick Venes
Richard Redman
Alison Allan
Bruce Bingham
Kate Eldridge
Mary Candeland
Pauline Hammerton
David Alderson
Alison Giles
Roger Bysouth
Steven Willett
Ian McHugh
Rod Riesco
Alastair Jones
Ursula Sharma
Mike Riddell
Mike Wild
Rashid Mhar
Simon Gray
Dominic McCann
Neil Corney, Trustee, on behalf of MERCi
Anne Tucker
Matt Schreibke (via UoM Policy blog comment)
Nicole Tidmas
Ellen Meredith
Dave Eatock
Rosie Adamson-Clark
Sophie King
Carolyn Kagan

Plus 4 more who did not want their names to appear publicly.


An open letter to Tony Lloyd, Interim Mayor of Greater Manchester

In this open letter, Steady State Manchester’s Mark Burton invites Tony Lloyd, the newly appointed interim Mayor of Greater Manchester to take steps to redress the democratic deficit in the devolution deal and to focus on supporting the local economy, including the mundane everyday economy and the social economy.  (The letter now, 9 July, also appears on the On the Platform website: HERE Thank you!)
We invite supporters and readers to endorse the letter (click for list of people who have, so far).  You can do so with the form at the end, or by email to

Update:  also published today, 6 July, on the University of Manchester Policy Blogs site is Mark’s Could DevoManc create an economy for the common good?

 Update: 16 July, 2015.  Although Tony Lloyd’s office acknowledged the letter on Monday, 6 July, so far no response has been received.  We appreciate that Tony has a great deal on his plate, and is effectively doing two jobs, that of Police and Crime Commissioner (his elected role) and that of Mayor, but we would appreciate a response.

Download the Open Letter to Tony Lloyd, or continue reading….

1 July, 2015

An Open Letter to Greater Manchester Interim Mayor, Tony Lloyd.

Dear Tony,

Congratulations on your appointment. Now that (from last week) you have taken up the position of Greater Manchester Interim Mayor, I am writing you this open letter about the direction of devolution for Greater Manchester, in the context of the enormous challenges that our region faces.

You may know that I have considerable respect for you and the work you have done for the people of Greater Manchester, ever since we were in the same branch of the Labour Party in Old Trafford in the early 1980s. Andrew Roth, in the Guardian described you as a “well informed, thoughtful and realistic regionalist and internationalist”, and I believe this to be true, although perhaps we have differences about the way to realise the goals implicit in these two stances. And this is what I am writing to you about as you embark on your demanding and vital new role. Your selection, from outside the coterie of AGMA leaders does potentially offer the prospect of a new direction for Greater Manchester’s society and economy.

1) Devolution and Democracy

Firstly, while I am disappointed that there has been no public consultation on the DevoManc deal, and no chance for the people of Greater Manchester to elect their inaugural Mayor, we are where we are. It is encouraging to hear you say,

There has been criticism of this process that, so far, decisions have been taken behind closed doors and the public has been largely excluded. I understand those criticisms, which is why I want to assure the people of Greater Manchester that they must and will be involved. We are on the brink of change that is real and will be lasting. It is vital the public takes centre stage and is part of the debate.”

How will you concretely do this though? Will you, for example,

  • Provide regular, say quarterly, reports in plain, easy to read English, explaining what you and your GMCA colleagues have been doing?

  • Will you present those reports at public meetings where you can be questioned?

  • Will you ask your other Authority members to do the same?

  • Will you explore the possibility for genuine participatory budgeting so people in communities can make plans and decisions about needed improvements, and also gain a deeper understanding of the very real hard choices faced under the unjust austerity regime?

  • Given that the GMCA Executive group is far too small and narrow to truly appraise, interpret and decide on the complexity of information and interests in the region, will you consider how other expertise can be co-opted? If so, that expertise should not be limited to the usual suspects from the public and private sector, but include practically orientated scholars from our Universities and colleges, and those “on the ground” in community and campaigning organisations. Otherwise there is a real danger of “path dependent” “groupthink”.

  • And will you look for other innovative ways to address the democratic deficit that so far is part of the package of alleged devolution of power from Whitehall, including the possibility of a low-cost, earthy, Mancunian style of Regional Assembly (in shadow form to begin with, if need be)?

Without measures such as these, people will rightly continue to be disengaged from local politics and the decision-making process, with all the risks that brings. Bringing the people into the tent is no easy process, although as an internationalist you will be aware of inspirational examples where this has been done, but it can mean much better priorities, plans and decisions than those cooked up by an isolated elite behind closed doors.

2) What is it all for?

At this stage I’m not altogether clear how you see the Greater Manchester Economy. In Steady State Manchester we take seriously the idea that the economy must be viable, economically yes, but more fundamentally, socially and ecologically.

Unfortunately the Treasury model, and that of AGMA/GMCA to date has been very orthodox, and the DevoManc deal seems based on the following notions:

  • Attracting inward investment to boost competitiveness in the globalised economy;

  • Prioritising large infrastructure developments and other high-profile projects;

  • Enhancing workforce skill and mobility, and

  • Making savings from “public sector reform”.

All this has the aim of increasing “economic growth” with the dubious assumptions that some benefit will trickle down (most recently exposed by the Pope himself) to the more disadvantaged sections of the population, and that the consequent increase in emissions can safely be ignored.

Yet could increased regional autonomy instead support a different kind of economic and social development, that increased economic, social and ecological resilience as it built up co-operative and collaborative economic and social structures to provide authentic and durable security for citizens?

What would such an evolving alternative look like and what kinds of support could you as Mayor, and your colleagues realistically offer? This is new and difficult ground, but we suggest these starting points.

  1. A recognition that a large part of the economy is mundane, relatively resilient and affords modest but real prosperity to many: economic development needs to value and sustain what colleagues at Manchester Business School have called the Foundational Economy, rather than putting too many eggs into glamorous, prestige projects.

  2. A recognition that much of the economy is, as it were, outside “The Economy”. There are many day to day exchanges that bind and reinforce people and communities and these are under-valued (as Cllr Amina Lone and her colleague Dan Silver found in their excellent study of the Blackley community). Such exchanges are typically not monetised, nor are they visible to the usual measures of economic performance. Moreover, what Manchester NGO MACC and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies call the “civil economy” is already a reality as new kinds of collaborative arrangements evolve between and among public, private and social sector institutions (like colleagues in Sweden, we might well want to go expand this to five sectors, including academia and community activists). So economic development needs to recognise the creation of value in all these domains of the community economy and find ways of supporting them without getting in the way or forcing them into a straight-jacket. It needs to develop ways of keeping money circulating and recirculating locally, rather than gushing outwards to more favoured centres and havens.

  3. This latter point is vital to the “paradox of austerity”: on the one hand, as a walk around some areas of the city makes clear, there is an abundance of wealth – conspicuous and wasteful consumption, and yet we see a continual paring of the money for social provision. An innovative devolution will need to find ways of capturing and sharing the value, including under-utilised assets. This needs to go beyond the familiar formulae, whether of taxation or corporate social responsibility, combining the idea of the social franchise that business enjoys with our community, with practical agreements and platforms for realising this sharing.

These ideas demand a move away from at least three pervasive myths:

1) That it is desirable and possible to win the game of global competition. Instead we should de-link in relative terms from the excesses of globalisation, simultaneously working in practical solidarity with those exploited at the other end of our present supply chains while re-localising key elements of the economy.

I am sure you know this from your experience in International Development: we must play our role in changing the global system that appropriates value from the weaker regions and concentrates it in countries like ours, even as we address poverty and deprivation here.

2) That it is possible to keep growing our economies without fatal damage to the very systems that make human life possible: instead we need to embrace the challenge of managed degrowth toward a smaller-impact economy.

I know that you have supported strong action on climate change, and this as leading climate scientists, Manchester’s Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows tell us, is no more than its realistic implementation.

3) That somehow there are magic bullets that can more than marginally reduce need and dependency amongst our populations: instead we need a welfare reform that sees both dependency and interdependency as assets for a convivial society and economy.

This is the last topic we engaged on, when I was a senior manager in health and social care and you were representing one of your constituents. I think we both know that while much can be done to reduce the impact of illness, disability, and the consequences of pervasive economic and social deprivation, there is an intractable core of need, at both individual and population levels, and this is what our Welfare State is there for. It, and those who rely on it (as we all do at times) make a positive contribution to our collective economic and social well-being.
I certainly do not envy you the
poisoned chalice of integrating health and social care, which under conditions of extreme austerity is a recipe for damaging burden-shifting and inter-sectoral raiding, and I trust that you will be outspoken in campaigning against the cuts and supportive in the building of broad alliances to make that struggle. While Richard Leese is correct to say it is not possible to walk away from the problem, neither will it be acceptable to the people of Greater Manchester that you merely implement the disastrous “fiscal water-boarding” planned by the present government.

With best wishes for your biggest challenge yet,

Yours sincerely,

Mark H Burton

Would you endorse this letter?  If so please use this form, or email us

Care, community and contribution in the viable economy

What will communities look like in a viable economy, how will we care for one another?  We have a range of thoughts and feelings and are curious to know whether they resonate with yours.  We are scared about how the cuts in health and social care are impacting on our communities, especially family, friends, neighbours and others who need care and/or who are isolated.  Yet our own and others experience as users and providers of paid and unpaid care suggests that transformation is urgently needed.  We are aware of many brilliant examples of strong, caring communities which value their members which we can learn from.
We read and liked the New Economic Foundation’s (nef)  report ‘Towards a New Social Settlement’, the goals, proposals and process resonate with our own,   and it has given us food for thought. It inspired us to write this in the hope of developing a conversation with others who want more clarity on thinking these issues through within Greater Manchester.
‘ Towards a New Social Settlement’  is‘ a framework for deciding how we want to live together, our expectations from Government and what we want to achieve for self and others.’ They consider that needs have changed since the postwar settlement and the goals should now be greater equality or social justice, promoting environmental sustainability and more equal distribution of power.  They stress these need to be addressed together and throughout the whole system.  They advocate more discussion – about planning for prosperity without economic growth, moving investment upstream to prevent harm, nurturing human resources in order to value and strengthen ‘unpaid work, everyday wisdom and social connections’ and fostering solidarity in order to achieve these goals. They identify four areas for action to move towards the new settlement; rebalancing work and time, releasing human resources by valuing unpaid assets and activities and promoting co-production, strengthening social security and planning a sustainable future.
And like all good writing it begs some questions we would like to explore further.
The ideas of fostering solidarity and co-production feel exactly right.  We would like to get a more robust understanding of the potential for promoting these ideas especially in inner city areas.  However, we do think that “core economy” is a misleading term to talk about something which is specifically outside the economy.
Transformation is and has always been taking place. For example, the introduction of personal budgets for health and social care, which were successfully campaigned for by the disabled people movement based on a civil rights model imported from the US.  What has emerged has raised some important questions for a movement like ours:  how do you ensure sensitive, respectful, user-controlled care and support, with adequate funding, while pooling risk (a key NHS principle), and enhancing democratic, collective voice and influence in the overall direction of the system? It has led to more community-based, respectful and flexible care for some and erosion of entitlements and worker conditions (including vital things like training, supervision, team building…) on the other. We are encouraged by approaches and services that focus on what people can contribute and which support their ability to contribute rather than concentrating on everything that is wrong with them (the asset-based model in place of the deficit model).
We wonder if there is enough talk about nurturing our need as people to contribute. Can the needs of well meaning professionals, volunteers, families and friends to contribute inadvertently diminish the potential contribution of people who rely on formal support and their need to contribute?
One of us was struck by this recently.  Her 90 year old father got a homeshare (someone who shares his home, the ‘homesharer’ provides several hours support each week in lieu of rent).  The daughter thought going through an agency was a good idea; they might be able to look after the interests of two potentially vulnerable people should anything go wrong.  The father did not want this, he did not want to be a client.  He wanted to be an active agent providing someone with a home – to make a contribution!  He feared the agency would diminish this sense that he could contribute.
Is being aware of this need of individuals and communities to contribute an important underpinning, if co-production is to become a norm?
To what extent do ‘strong communities’ rely on a few key individuals? What enables these individuals to be active? Who will be around to contribute with the radical changes in access to social security and pensions? Can we assume that strategies such as a shorter working week will generate more community involvement?  What policy initiatives will be required in order to grow and nurture the ethos and practices of mutuality and solidarity?
The option of a citizen’s income is attractive. The nef report argues that there is no ‘silver bullet’ ; an adequate citizens income is unaffordable  and it is too individualistic a solution to social security.  Is this something we have to accept?  There have been alternative simulations both in the UK and elsewhere that suggest otherwise .
We would like to generate examples of where interconnected and systemic policies have had the type of impact necessary to sustain and build communities which successfully care for their populations. So we are on the lookout for these locally and internationally – if you can point us in the right direction for any, please do.
The nef report is right in arguing that we need to move investment upstream to prevent harm.  Haven’t public health and other services been trying to do this for years? In some ways they have been successful but so have consumption patterns, drug companies and clinical services at ensuring we need more and more treatment services!  Again we need more examples of where interconnected and systemic policies have had the type of impact needed. Please let us know of local and international success stories if you can.
All in all we feel the vision is right and we want to look more at how the capacity to realise it can be maintained and developed. Please let us know if you would like to do this with us, either by emailing us or by leaving a comment on this post.

Malmö: re-imagining the city

The Steady State Manchester team:

In this post on his personal site, SSM’s Mark Burton reflects on a visit to Malmö in Sweden, a city that has been compared to Manchester. What are the key characteristics of its green policies and how far do they really go? What innovations are there that we might learn from here in Manchester and the region?

Originally posted on Uncommontater:

Our cities have grown up as the result of a number of factors. Manchester, with its origins in the Roman period, was a relatively small centre until particular geographical, historical, social and economic factors coincided to make it the world’s first industrial city. It then declined, until, facilitated by its business friendly Labour administration, it found a new role as a post-industrial centre. That renewal, according to the official story, is founded on science and technology, science, finance, tourism and sport, emphasising external direct investment, skills and competitiveness. In reality, a construction boom, together with the resilience of some economic sectors, has been at least as important.

Comparisons have been made with other cities with similar history. I have been lucky enough to visit several of these (including Hamburg, Barcelona, Newcastle, Sheffield and Glasgow) and have just been to Malmö, Sweden’s third city (by train). It is a…

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From loyalty points to community currency: releasing value for the local economy

The development of community loyalty points, which aim to give a leg-up to people living on the poverty line, is picking up momentum with two proof-of-concept projects slated to go live later this summer in Wigan and Hull.

The aim is for the points to become the world’s first digital community currency specifically aimed at alleviating economic hardship and promoting social value.

A Bitcoin-style ‘crypto-currency’, will allow people to earn digital credits in return for voluntary work or contributions to their local community. The tokens would then be redeemable against goods and services provided by participating companies and organisations. and its social sector partners are expecting that councils will opt to support the idea so that people will be able to use points in part payment of core expenses like council tax, rent and business rates.

The idea for the digital currency came about as a result of adult social care and social prescribing work carried out in the Scholes area of Wigan, and anti-poverty work carried out by Hull City Council welfare rights and financial inclusion teams.

Community or complementary currencies are nothing new. They have been used throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to fill the void when national currencies or welfare systems fail. In recent years, initiatives such as the Brixton and Bristol Pound have achieved some success retaining spending power within their own communities.

Money is generally loaned into existence as debt. In these new schemes, community loyalty points will be earned into existence against the completion of defined socio-economic outcomes.

The objective is to stimulate grass roots activity that is measurable and which serves the public interest thus giving funders an opportunity to commission specific outcomes that the community get paid to deliver.

It also gives business an opportunity to support such activity in a way that produces measurable social impact.

In Wigan, the rewards scheme will begin with paper-based tokens that can be redeemed in a local shop for products supplied by commercial wholesalers that are looking to reward more sustainable lifestyles. It will soon progress into a digital rewards scheme where individual users will carry their own password-protected wallets on smart phones or other devices so that transactions will automatically update their points balance.

For the scheme to take off, residents must be able to use the points to buy things they actually want. Wigan is consulting its community on the 25th June.

Councils could agree to back the currency, for instance by accepting payments of points against written-off council tax, rent and business rate arrears.

Business could play a part, redeeming the currency for low-risk, low-value commodities, such as off-peak services or unsold tickets for one-off events.

This helps them unlock stored value in expensive and under-utilised assets like football clubs, cinemas and theatres. The community loyalty points can help these businesses develop pricing that rewards social outcomes and increases the use of their facilities.

It also helps them to capitalise on the personal and community connections that are difficult for online companies to establish.

Harnessing markets to deliver social outcomes is all a part of the new economy. Advances in technology can now unlock the stored value in underused resources and match it with unmet needs.

Potentially it’s a win for business, a win for community and a win for individuals.

Mike Riddell


Further reading:

Lietaer, B. A., Arnsperger, C., Goerner, S., & Brunnhuber, S. (2012). Money and sustainability: the missing link: a report from the Club of Rome-EU Chapter to Finance Watch and the World Business Academy (First edition). Axminster, Devon, United Kingdom: Triarchy Press.
Ruzzene, M. (n.d.). Beyond growth: problematic relationships between the Financial   crisis,are and public economies, and alternative currencies. International Journal of Community Currency Research, 19 (Section D), 81–93.

The Open Veins of Greater Manchester

Open veins of Greater Manchester: based on "Manchester City Region" by Jza84 - self-made (but based on this map).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Open veins of Greater Manchester: based on “Manchester City Region” by Jza84 – self-made (but based on this map).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

In Greater Manchester and the North (which we now have to call the Northern Powerhouse) new investment is coming. New transport minister, Patrick McLoughlin, has confirmed that HS2 (the Y shaped high speed railway with its foot in London and its tops in Manchester and Leeds) will be built (price tag at least £50Bn). The M62 trans-Pennine motorway will be “upgraded”, and links to Manchester International Airport will be made quicker. And the antiquated rail links Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Hull will be improved. This goes with a huge further investment in the airport; at £1Bn, that’s fifty times the money being spend on cycling infrastructure in the region, and equivalent to two thirds of the entire Greater Manchester Transport Development Fund.

“Open Veins” was a metaphor used by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano to capture the plunder of his continent by the empires of Europe and North America1. Among many memorable pearls was the observation that South America’s transport infrastructure (as today we must call roads and railways) pretty all much ran from centres of production to the ports, thereby facilitating the haemorrhage of wealth. Could something similar happen here?

We’ve commented before on the flawed policy of airport expansion, locking the city into aviation dependency and scuppering our efforts to stem greenhouse gas emissions. Here we question the direction being taken for infrastructure investment in the region. We’ve also suggested that the huge sums involved could be better spent. Deciding in advance that transport infrastructure is the answer to our regional economy’s problems tends to lock analysis into a path-dependent trajectory that ends with … big transport infrastructure projects.

What we do know is that investing in high speed rail and airports is not the solution to a broken, unbalanced economy. Professor John Tomaney’s evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Transport concluded that

… it is very difficult to substantiate the argument that high speed rail is likely to have a positive impact on regional inequalities. Cities which are the location of HSR stations may gain some benefits, but distribution of net benefits needs careful analysis. Some of the benefits accruing to regional cities may be at the expense of neighbouring places, while in countries with dominant capital cities net benefits tend to accrue to these.

Looking at the UK situation in more detail, the report examines those arguments which suggest that other kinds of transport investment may make a bigger contribution to the objective of regional rebalancing than HS2, particularly those which improve inter-city connections between cities and regions outside London and the South East.”

Open veins indeed. That argument, however, seems to support the case for the improved links between Northern cities, known as HS3. Here we need to distinguish between the need for better links than the current slow and overcrowded, diesel, multiple unit “bog car” (as train enthusiasts used to call them) links we have at the moment, and the trophy project of High Speed rail. There is a theory behind the move to high speed connections and motorway “improvements” across the north: “agglomeration economics”. We explained this before:

The theory of agglomeration; attracting skilled workers, the ‘creative class’ and creating the conditions for investment through focusing on infrastructure and promotion of the city as an attractive location, is the expression in regional economic development of failed neoliberal economics. It minimises public intervention in the operations of the market and economy and suggests that only supply side interventions are permissible.”

As Professor Karel Williams of Manchester Business School notes, however,

The academic evidence on city size and growth rates is ambiguous because there are many complexities; agglomeration itself is a mysterious and alchemical process between underspecified variables……

It would be sensible to turn away from seminar room conjecture to the specifics about London’s economic success and the north’s supposed failure. This contrast is certainly demonstrated if we look at standard measures such as relative output (or GVA), which show London drawing away. But much of that widening gap is caused by specific factors which operate in London and cannot easily be replicated in the north.”

Those specific factors lie in the special case of London’s financial sector in that de-regulated and globalised neoliberal concrete dsytopia called “financialisation”.

But, what might an alternative programme for investment look like? We set out the principles for this once before. But broadly we would want to prioritise investments that:

  1. Reduce rather than increase ecological damage, including via greenhouse gas emissions.

  2. Make the region relatively more economically self-sufficient and resilient (which doesn’t mean “glorious isolation”, but a rebalancing).

  3. Provide quick benefit in terms of sustainable livelihoods and quality of life – public sector affordable housing and energy demand reduction (e.g. via greatly enhanced insulation) are known to meet these criteria. Food production is also a priority in terms of resilience to global shocks to our dependency on long, global supply chains in an uncertain and warming world.

  4. Enhance public health (hence the need to learn from other cities on what serious sustainable city transport involves).

  5. Prioritise the social infrastructure more than the hard physical infrastructure.

  6. Restore and protect our soils and water – for example via ambitious upland conversation schemes, redesign of our sewage (a fine resource!) and water management systems, and sustainable woodland management.

Realistically, given the election result, there seems little chance of a turn-around in the failed neoliberal-agglomeration-trophy investment strategy in the short term, but city-regional devolution, despite the undemocratic nature of the DevoManc model, does potentially offer some spaces for articulating and promoting sane alternatives, shifting the balance of investment and pioneering alternative approaches.

Mark H Burton


1 Galeano, E. (1998). Open Veins of Latin America:  five centuries of the pillage of a continent. London: Latin American Bureau.