Steady State Manchester (SSM) asks the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) to focus on quality of life in a viable economy, rather than economic growth and include the need for land for food production in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) .

THe Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) is preparing the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), which will guide the 10 councils of Greater Manchester in planning and managing the supply of land for jobs and new homes over the next 20 years.

AGMA recently asked for views on the Stage 1 document[1] of the GMSF, which sets out the planning approach and the assumptions to be used in determining future needs for employment floorspace and housing land. Their approach is based on the 2013 Greater Manchester Strategy ‘Stronger Together’ which aims to secure ‘sustainable’ economic growth of the conurbation through competing in the global economy (both notions that we find deeply problematic).

SSM has submitted two main comments.

First, we suggest a revised vision for Greater Manchester emphasising quality of life in a viable economy, rather than economic growth, with the following main points:

By 2020, the Manchester city region will have pioneered a new model for a viable economy based on a more connected and greener city, where all our residents are able to fully realise their talents and benefit from sustained prosperity. This will ensure a good quality of life for all without harming the planet.

Manchester’s tradition of creativity, culture and knowledge will continue to flourish and will underpin our reputation as a pioneering, viable eco-city-region. We will collaborate globally in order to develop the talent, ideas and investment necessary to enable this huge transition.

At the local level, greater equity and collaboration within and between communities will ensure a fairer, healthier, safer and more inclusive place to live. Every resident and every neighbourhood will be valued and able to fully participate in and contribute to the city-region’s success.

We will produce and sell socially useful goods. We will be known for a low carbon economy, with excellent and efficient services and transport choices, alongside an outstanding natural environment.

Secondly, in the face of climate change, expected global food price rises and the need for sustainable, affordable food for the region’s population, we propose that the Spatial Framework should include land for food production. This would include land (and floorspace) for commercial and social enterprises which would provide jobs, as well as land within housing areas for communities and families to grow their own food.

AGMA will now create a database of interested organisations, groups, individuals and other stakeholders who will be invited to comment on the next stages of the GMSF – the further evidence base, development of options and draft GMSF – which will be prepared in 2015/16.

Submitted by Charlotte Allen

[1] http://www.agma.gov.uk/what_we_do/planning_housing_commission/greater-manchester-spatial-framework/index.html

With GDP growing and incomes catching up with inflation all is well – or is it?

The headlines would have us believe things are now going well but the underlying trends in our economy, which would lead to us having a “viable” economy – one with social, economic justice and environmental sustainability leading to human well being, are all in reverse. What are these adverse underlying trends and why are we not promoting overall well being?

Global and UK inequality continues to accelerate with the top 1% owning 41% of the world’s wealth in 2012 rising to 48% in 2013 and by now it is well over 55%. At the current rate the top 1% will own everything in five years – not a tenable situation so what may change?

Will the economy become more balanced? There seems no sign of this as manufacturing continues to decrease and opportunities for exports deteriorate with the global slow down. The long period of salaries not keeping up with inflation means there is less money around for people to buy goods, leading companies to prefer to keep their piles of cash rather than invest it in the real economy. Further, our economies have traditionally been driven by technological innovation but few profound new products are on the horizon. The reductions in military expenditure (a good thing if the public money were spent on meeting human need) as well as companies seeking quick profits instead of facilitating long term research are partially to blame.

Will wealth and income inequalities lessen? Some say that salaries will now overtake inflation and this will soon make things better for the majority. At the upper end of the pay scales salaries are increasing faster but for most there is little sign of this happening. Indeed the underlying trends suggest more people will have to live near or below the living wage. The underlying trends keeping most salaries low include:

a) Continued Globalisation. The owners of capital can move their companies to where labour is cheap and they are still moving. Even service industries, like the provision of further education, are now moving, leading to a reduction of foreign students here in the UK. Plus the free movement of labour within the EU means an ever increasing number of people coming to the UK to seek employment, removing any risk of shortages that have traditionally forced up salaries.

b) Continuing technology innovations are being utilised, especially those seeking to reduce the salary bill. It is estimated that 700,000 middle range jobs have gone in the last 10 years as technology has made them redundant. Skilled and semi-skilled jobs in accountancy, construction, retail managers and even some professionals – lawyers and lecturers, are likely to go as technology advances take on more of their tasks.

c) The rapid and continued reduction of the State and its welfare provisions. Good secure public sector jobs have been outsourced inevitably leading to reduced employment conditions and salaries. As social security provision is removed more people are being forced to compete or enter low paid work. Many have become self-employed and most of these are on low pay. Liberalising the labour market has led to many more insecure workers with less power to seek increased pay.

d) Financialistion of our society is said to be the biggest new factor driving down salaries. Companies are being driven by short term profit as their constantly changing share holders have no long term vision. Many have little interest in training and keeping staff for long term results. Trade Unions have become much weaker, productivity lower, and more workers increase their credit to solve their needs.

To reverse our low wage economy, some say that increasing the skills of our workforce can be a long term answer, but the evidence is that a high proportion of existing and new jobs need fewer skills and they are often gained through on the job learning. After increasing their skills few workers can now increase their employment prospects. 80% of those who started with education to levels 1 and 2 stayed on low wages after 10 years employment. Further, for those with level 3 and 4 education the ability to progress is being reduced by the hollowing out of middle range jobs largely due to technology. Even level 5, university graduates, are often finding it harder to find employment that requires their skills.

Another possibility for a reversal of our low wage economy is increasing productivity but this is a missing factor in our current economic trends as productivity has stagnated (and more productivity can mean fewer staff are needed). Even though some gains are made through technology employers are taking on more low paid workers thereby keeping overall productivity stagnant. Further, increasing productivity must be more challenging as most workers find their jobs more stressful, precarious and demanding than ever before. A recent survey of workers found “two thirds of employed people say the amount of work they do has grown over the past few years and more than one third are expected to do unpaid overtime – Only a third look forward to going to work – One in five say they have seen at least one person sacked or made redundant without good reason”. It is not surprising that the Health and Safety Executive reports increasing workplace illness related to stress, depression and anxiety in the last financial year, with around half being new cases, and this is likely to reduce any prospects of increased productivity. Cuts in key mental health services could be an important factor in increasing workplace absenteeism.

Meanwhile the wealth and incomes at the top 10% and especially the top 1% keep increasing at a rapid rate causing further disenchantment amongst many workers with 40% seeing no chance of them making any real progress.

Another outcome of the elite now holding so much wealth has been their use of it to stimulate mergers and acquisitions, leading to huge multinational corporations that are not easily subjected to fair competition, Trade Union pressure, or Governmental regulations or controls.

As there seems little chance for better income distribution will the elite use their resources to improve the economy for the rest? Traditionally it has been those with capital who have enabled the formation of new job creating companies, but since the 80’s the top 1% have found it far more profitable to invest money into the virtual economy where huge often speculative profits have been made. Most new companies are started by comparatively poor entrepreneurs who have often been frustrated in their endeavours due to the current difficulties of obtaining loans from our banks.

Some of the elite have invested heavily into the property market driving up house prices and increasing the private rented sector from 8% to 18% in less than 10 years. Private sector rents have increased far faster than inflation, leading to the greatest transfer of money from the majority to the elite in well over hundred years.

With continued consumer growth unlikely and with the elite preferring to keep their money in the financial and property markets, can the Government become the economic driver of the real economy?

Most Western Governments increased their debt levels enormously by the huge bank bailouts following the last economic crisis. The following austerity policies then triggered a period of negative or low growth leading to more Government debt. Increasing Government debt is primarily driven by a mixture of lower tax revenues and increasing demand due to rising needs. Two examples of rapidly increasing need is the health, pension and social care costs of our growing elderly population and the greater support required to the working poor to meet the gap between the minimum and living wage, especially in terms of Housing Benefits to meet soaring increase in house rents. Taxation has been reduced further by multinational companies finding ways to avoid paying and now even evading the pay of taxes using tax havens. In the last 4 years although multinational company’s profits have risen, corporation tax has decreased by over 20%. It is still decreasing along with personal taxes due to more low earners and some reduction in taxes. All this has lead to most Western Governments implementing drastic austerity by lowing investment in infrastructure, cutting or outsourcing public services and in some areas increasing taxation. Austerity is leading to Governments having less ability to drive the economy.

The recent way forward has been by central banks creating money through Quantitative Easing (QE). While it has been argued this has brought a respite, no serious economist considers it to be the solution and indeed in many places it has led to unforeseen negative outcomes. Japan has utilised huge quantities of QE but is now back in recession. Emerging markets have often been swamped with too much “free” QE money leading to harmful currency turbulence. Even in the UK much of QE seems to have ended up in a bloated stock market with further investment in financial assets, or even more disastrously pushing up house prices. Nevertheless even though currently the US and UK central banks have stopped the practice the EU central bank is suggesting issuing over a trillion Euros of QE at this time.

Since the 80s we have heard the call that more structural changes are required: less regulation, especially the liberalisation of the labour market, but although such changes can give a spurt to GDP growth, many would say they have played a key role in causing our current gross inequalities – a prime cause of our current situation.

We still have some GDP growth but in an unbalanced way, dependent on unsustainable rises in property prices and consumer spending by increasing personal debit. To make the situation even more untenable we have many dark clouds on the horizon that include; global economic slow down, great volatility in commodity prices, the adverse effects of Global Warming and, another huge collapse of the financial markets.

Global economic slow down is gathering pace in virtually all countries of the world with each having its own internal economic challenges. At the G20 meeting no consensus emerged on how to change this – just countries issuing “red light” warnings. It is likely some countries will start to take defensive action such as the Chinese threat to put taxes on Australia coal imports.

The global slow down will mean many commodities will continue to reduce in price. The current low price of oil, which is still dropping, is causing concern in oil producing countries and even threatening many fracking companies in the USA who have huge debits and are now struggling to pay them. However, in the longer term some key commodities will increase in price as their availability through easy extraction has to be replaced by more expensive processes. Potash for fertilizers and rare earths are two key examples of this trend.

Global Warming has already caused adverse climate conditions leading to a significant loss of economic production in many parts of the world. In 2012 alone, the US suffered eleven “billion-dollar” weather disasters. Adverse weather plus deteriorating soils and increasing population is leading to food shortages and increasing food prices (an effect amplified by speculation), which have often lead to social instability. Between 2007 and 2012 food prices in the UK increased in real terms by 18%. In the UK this has reduced primarily due to intensive competition (as we noted in comparison with Germany in a previous post) but as the supermarkets lose profits the trend must soon be reversed.

In the short term our biggest challenge could arise as the result of another huge collapse of the financial markets. Observers of financial markets note a growing trend towards fragility. Some examples-huge unpaid debits for student loans here and in the USA, increasing personal debit, house price bubbles in many countries, vast increases in the value of financial instruments such as derivatives, and catastrophe bonds. All this while we are aware many bankers are not playing by the rules with impunity; instead a pernicious culture of short term rewards often overrides sound financial judgements. Many financial observers suggest this instability will soon lead to an economic crisis on an unprecedented scale. True or not, it leads to uncertainty that often frustrates rational decision making.

With all this uncertainty with its related increase in stress and increasing acute poverty why are we not seriously reconsidering our economic model? Change is always hard as it often involves making sacrifices but today information abounds due to the speed of the change and easier means to communicate it, but time to properly analysis it all seems in short supply. People often want quick answers to problems, making it harder to have long term more workable strategies for politicians but also for business, to put forward and follow.

Our education system has become more specialised making it difficult for many people to analysis the whole system, leading us to become highly vulnerable to underlying systems changes, which are not easily foreseen, such as the growth in extremism and the huge increase in children’s self harming. The constant flow of manipulative advertisements makes it hard for many to reflect on how they are leading their lives, frequently leading people to take actions based on implanted emotional needs to secure status than to seek healthy lives.

Perhaps most importantly we are more and more becoming separated from what is around us, leading more isolated individualistic busy lives with a lack of social cohesion. The result is we are less aware of our effects on the environment; have less satisfactory working lives with only a third of people enjoying going to work; have less stable, trusted institutions and communities to rely on and in which we can organise ourselves; and, even families are becoming more dysfunctional.

To survive happily we must stop, reflect, promote and work towards a viable economy - one which integrates economic, social and ecological well-being. We must find ways to reverse the adverse trends and start to implement them now.

Maurice Barnes

Steady State Manchester

November 2014

We publish “The Viable Economy”

image of The Viable Economy pamphlet

Today we publish The Viable Economy, a pamphlet for everyone concerned about the dangers we face from the current unviable economic system and who would like to explore an approach that integrates economic, social and ecological well-being.

It suggests a path to a resilient, more localised, stable economy that delivers what we all need and will ensure more equity and harmony in our own area and throughout the world. It argues that we can decide on rather than follow economic rules and tread lightly on the earth as well as protect and restore those systems that make life possible.

It argues that to do this we will need a system based on values that include stewardship (caring for the earth), justice, conviviality (community), solidarity, co-operation, equality and respect.

It is in update of Steady State Manchester’s 2012 launch report In Place of Growth (available here). While not fudging the problem of our ecological overshoot (the real deficit), it presents a positive message of an economy that works for all, for us in Manchester and the people at the other end of our supply chains and pollution, now and in future generations. That sounds like a strong claim, and while we are confident about the central principles we do see this as work in progress, and welcome constructively critical feedback so we can improve it.

What are the dangers we face from the current unviable economic system?

We are continually told that economic growth is essential to all our well-being; it difficult to imagine that we can live well without it. From 1945 until the 1970’s, the standard of living of many people, in Western countries increased. Real incomes have declined in the West since then, and many in the majority world have become increasingly poor. Since the 1970s stagnation has haunted the economy. Current austerity policies illustrate how greater equity is continuously postponed.

Despite increasing inequalities locally and globally, the powerful growth lobby continues to say that where there is growth, prosperity will trickle down. But as we cope with instability and repeated crises; it is increasingly difficult to control the actions of big business and working conditions are getting worse. More and more decisions are made on the basis of how much money they will make; this influences how we think, politics and even culture. As Margaret Thatcher wanted, everything is reduced to economic activity, with the emphasis on profit and the free market, with “no such thing as society”.

This economic system damages society. Some people and areas are highly valued while others are left out. Many people are dissatisfied with everyday life (some studies say dissatisfaction is higher in the UK than in places which are far poorer,) and the political process feels irrelevant to many people.

Increasingly our lives are more individual, separated and apolitical. Institutions and values which nurtured togetherness, solidarity, co-operation and a sense of community are less valued. Has this led to widespread feelings of pointlessness and insecurity, and high levels of stress, anxiety disorders, depression and addictions? Rising inequality has increased levels of insecurity and most worrying, a lack of social solidarity – the very basis for our shared life.

Finally, but ultimately even more distressing, we are using more ecological resources than our planet can cope with. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report has shown, it is economic growth that is responsible for the most immediately threatening increases in greenhouse gas emissions that threaten runaway global warming. And climate change is just one of the ‘planetary boundaries’ that humanity is crossing, or approaching.

That then is the nature of the problem.

So what is the Viable Economy?

The Viable Economy is not something we have just dreamed up but a way of bringing together a number of ideas and practice into a framework.

An economy,

  • that is resilient in the face of bubbles, crashes, supply chain interruptions and the whim of National governments.

  • that delivers (and measures) what we need; where some sectors will grow,(e.g. renewable energy) and some must shrink (e.g. fossil fuels, financial speculation, armaments).

  • where more money stays local and there is local control over savings and investment.

  • where investment comes from within rather than as profit-seeking from external investors.

An economy which is socially viable,

  • that includes everyone, that uses everyone’s energies and talents to the full and is based on nurturing human and social capital,

  • that builds equality, solidarity and co-operation among people, here and elsewhere.

  • Less exploitation of the majority world while keeping open channels for communication and learning globally.

  • Has more space for non-commercial transactions (including care of children , adults, neighbourhoods and exchanging services and skills: the collaborative or solidarity economy.

An economy which is ecologically viable

  • Radically reducing both the use of limited resources and the emission of pollutants, including greenhouse gases: a one-planet economy.

  • Based on production and consumption for need: a frugal abundance.

  • More security for us all because the environment is protected from further destruction.

  • Resilient to climactic and other ecological shocks.

  • An economy that practices stewardship of the natural world that we depend on.

The pamphlet draws on ground breaking thinking of recent years from a variety of fields and movements, including New Economics, Social Justice, Social Ecology, Trade Justice and Alternative Development, bringing them together because ecology teaches us that everything is interconnected.

It covers eleven critical areas: growth; resilience; space; democracy and ownership; investment, money, credit and debt; distribution and equality; work and income; environment; consumerism; living well and its measurement and population and migration. For each area there is an outline of the current problems, the viable alternative and some viable policy ideas.

The themes that constantly run through these 11 areas are equity, localisation, money and measurement. We argue that greater equity is needed globally as well as locally and economically as well as socially. We recognise that greater equity is needed wherever there are preventable gaps if everyone is to live well and the economy if to be viable. This includes within Manchester and compared to other places locally and throughout the world as well as in terms of gender, race, sexuality and disability We argue that localisation of the economy can have an enormous impact on reducing ecological damage and ensuring a more stable and less exploitative approach to money.. We also consider the urgent need to measure wealth of society, not by how much we produce (Gross Domestic Product) but by measures that consider the value of what we produce, who benefits, and any damage to the planet as a result of the activity.

We have a section of population and migration, an area we have not previously explored where we suggest that the focus of action needs to be on the reasons why people have large families and want to migrate, rather than on control.

fig3 conclusion

We are launching The Viable Economy on Tuesday 9th December, 7-9pm at Central Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester. Book your free place HERE.

Copies will be on sale there, or you can download the pamphlet as a pdf file , HERE

Of Devolution, Power and Inequalities – a report from Manchester Policy Week

On Monday 2nd November I attended the first day of the University of Manchester’s Policy Week. The “big event” was Michael Heseltine’s keynote “The Forgotten People”. At least he was honest about his approach to devolution: there must be a top down boss, but he did advocate devolved control over far more money, including a larger chunk of the infrastructure budget. “Then we will realise the energies of the locals and get real growth – This is consistent with his behaviour when he was the President (Minister) of the Board of Trade, when apparently he often wore the President of the Board of Trade suit from 18th Century and had his desk put on a platform so he was always higher than the rest of the people in the room! He also made clear any devolved power must be within the overall policies set by National Government, which made me wonder how much devolved power there would really be!!!

I also attended a session on employment inequalities where we were told that:

1. Since 2002 as GDP goes up, except for the high pay, real salaries have gone down – for Full, Part, Women and Men. Often overtime pay gone.

2. As bottom salaries have been raised though minimum/living wage, the gap between bottom and median has got smaller.

3. 700,000 middle income jobs have gone in the last 10 years and with GPD increasing, the rate of decline of these jobs is increasing. The drop has been particularly seen so far in accounts-related work, retail managers, within construction, housing and postal workers, plus in some manufacturing areas.

4. World-wide the rich are getting richer but in the UK we have a huge concentration – over 50% of the top 1% for all EU countries resides in the UK.

5. Growth of the self employed in UK is huge 56% increase from 2001-2010 and another 46% since 2010 and majority of these are on low income.

Perhaps the most surprising finding outlined is that adding skills to Level 1 and 2 (O level) workers leads to virtually no improvement in their employment – pay or conditions.

Adding skills to Level 3 (A level) and 4 workers shows a marginal chance of their employment improving but as these middle income jobs are quickly disappearing it is becoming harder for that gain to be continued.

Adding skills to level 5 (university) workers still gives them a chance of employment improvement but as the percentage which gains is dropping due to increased numbers of workers with Level 5 education and decreasing middle income employment, leading to the term “Educational con”. Gradually people are finding their costs for higher education; often resulting in large debits has less and less influence in increasing there job prospects. We were told an increasing number of employers prefer to train in house. This year Manchester College has made its first large scale lecturer redundancies – a similar threat to universities seems to be on its way.

The current lack of social mobility through work related activities was highlighted by a key finding – Only one in five people who were employed on low pay in 2002 had escaped low pay by 2012.

What is to be done, with increasing contracting out, especially in the public sector, plus rapidly decreasing middle income jobs leading to crowding of the job market at the bottom end reducing any chance of shortages leading to pay increases? The panel only suggested very small technical answers. I accused them of avoiding the basic question of the growing imbalance of power between employees and employers, suggesting real change would only come when workers had increased power through TU, ownership, and employees’ power on Boards etc. One of the 6 speakers came back and said yes the imbalance of power is the biggest problem, but I thought the others just looked bemused.

Maurice Barnes
Steady State Manchester collective

For a contribution from SSM to Policy week, see also this post.

A Living Wage, a Viable Economy, a Liveable City Region

The difference between the NMW and the Living wage is around £50 per week and £2'000 per year. Which has something to do with why over 50% of those in poverty are in-work.

The difference between the NMW and the Living wage is around £50 per week and £2’000 per year. Which has something to do with why over 50% of those in poverty are in-work.

This week was Living Wage Week. The new Living Wage rate, uprated in accordance with increases in the cost of living, of £7.85ph outside London was announced. At least 21.8% of people in Greater Manchester currently earn less than it, and this is similar across the UK. To mark the event SSM, along with signatories from other Campaign groups including GMB Union, the GM Living Wage Campaign and the Green Party sent an open letter to the leaders (and city mayor) of the Greater Manchester Local Authorities.

The letter urged them to take action on in-work poverty and inequality and demonstrate a commitment to the Living Wage and principles of Fair Pay. It’s below:

Living wage letter signatory logos
Dear Leaders of the Greater Manchester Local Authorities:

Richard Leese Manchester City Council Leader, Ian Stewart Salford City Mayor, Sean Anstee Trafford Council Leader, Jim McMahon Oldham Council Leader, Richard Farnell Rochdale MBC Leader, Sue Derbyshire Stockport MBC Leader, Kieran Quinn Tameside MBC Leader, Clifford Morris Bolton Council Leader, Michael Connolly Bury Council Leader, and Peter Smith Wigan Council Leader,

We wrote to you in May 2014 asking about your plans to reduce pay inequality through a Living Wage and a commitment to Fair Pay. We received no response.
This week is Living Wage week and we are writing to you again to urge you to champion the Living Wage and Fair Pay.
We are very encouraged that the all of the councils in GM have demonstrated a commitment to paying a living wage to their direct employees now or in the near future, and that many have recently uprated their living wage policies to meet the official Living Wage Foundation rate of £7.65 during 2014.
However, although raising bottom pay to a Living Wage has marginally reduced pay gaps, in 9 out of 10 Councils (with the exception of Rochdale) top pay is still over 10 times that of the lowest paid, with top earners still in the top 1% of earners in the UK.
Little progress has been made either, in securing a living wage for outsourced council workers or making outsourcing companies accountable for pay gaps, which can see top managers earning up to 200 times that of the lowest paid.
We urge all GM councils to:
Implement the new Living Wage rate of £7.85 per hour as soon as possible and demonstrate commitment to the Living Wage now and in the future by becoming accredited Living Wage Employers.
Reduce their pay gaps over time so that no employee earns more than 10 times that of the lowest paid, this would help pay for a Living Wage for all council workers and demonstrate a commitment to Fair Pay to the private sector.
Ensure all workers employed in the delivery of outsourced council contracts are paid the Living Wage.
Make outsourcing companies accountable for pay gaps by including them as a consideration in awarding contracts.
GM councils should also work together to ensure the savings made by the Treasury from implementing a Living Wage for all council workers, are transferred through the city deal arrangements to help cover the cost and further tackle low pay and poverty in the region.
We believe the GM councils can, through these steps, create a more equal economy, one which is better for everyone and more sustainable, by reversing the disparities that have opened up between high and low earners.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,

Steady State Manchester (Benjamin Irvine)
Equality North West (Philip Duval)
North West Green Party (Laura Bannister)
Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign (Tom Skinner)
National Community Activists Network (Joe Taylor)
Macc (Mike Wild)
GMB North West and Irish Region (Kevin Flanagan)
St Antony’s Centre for Church and Industry (Kevin Flanagan)

A large number of Greater Manchester residents have also expressed their support.

See report: ‘In Place of Pay Inequality: How local authority pay policies can help make Greater Manchester more equal and sustainable, and why it matters’, Steady State Manchester/Equality North West, March 2014.

Also: ‘Living Wage and the Role of Local Government’ Centre for Local Economic Strategies/GM Living Wage Campaign


The letter follows from one sent earlier this year, in which we asked what plans Local Authorities had to tackle income inequality and in-work poverty, if they would make a Living Wage a performance requirement for companies undertaking council contracts, reduce their pay gaps and make outsourcing companies accountable for pay gaps too.

It was based on the report we did with Equality North West, which argued that tackling income inequality is not only key to an economy which is a fairer but is an essential part of sustainable development if we are honest about resource constraints, climate change and solidarity with the majority world.

Whilst the majority of GM Councils are supportive of the idea of the Living Wage, recently uprating previous lower city-specific living wage rates to the official Living Wage Foundation rate for their direct employees, or hoping to do so soon, this support is thin:

Little progress has been made on outsourced contracts: of those that have any intention to influence contractors they have tended to adopt ‘encouragement’ strategies, rather than aiming for 100% compliance by making it a condition of contracts. Research suggests 73.6% of Manchester City Councils contractors don’t pay a Living Wage. Islington council has secured Living Wage on 98% of their contracts in contrast.

As we said in our report, without making a Living Wage a condition of contracts, a Living Wage for direct employees only, is likely to leave indirect incentives to outsource services based on lower labour costs as councils are forced to find savings, undermining and negating any progress on pay equality.

Reluctance to become accredited: Salford City Council was the first accredited Living Wage Employer in the North West but it is the only accredited GM Council. Manchester is currently deliberating over the specifics of its Living Wage policy and is apparently reluctant to become accredited as it’s worried it won’t be able to keep meeting the uprating in line with inflation. This doesn’t demonstrate a sustained commitment.

Accreditation also requires a commitment to work to secure the wage for subcontracted workers, so this reluctance compounds the above point.

No commitments to more equal, Fair Pay: Whilst reducing the top-to-bottom pay ratio of Islington Council to 1:10 was the complimentary measure taken by Islington to reduce inequality, alongside securing a Living Wage as far as possible, in 9 out of 10 GM Councils the gap is still above 10 times the lowest (now ‘Living’) wage, and none have targets to either maintain or reduce it. The largest gap is in Manchester where the CE’s top salary of £203’782 is 14.6 times the annual Living Wage salary of £13’955. This puts all those Chief Executives in the top 1% of earners in the UK.

Devolution, economic powers and the character of growth: This week also saw the announcement of a major devolution deal for GM. It will see decisions over spending in key areas like housing, transport and infrastructure being made at the GM level as a strategy to better deliver economic growth for the region. The question we should be asking is does it increase GM’s power to choose the character of its economic growth, power to produce a more equal distribution or even to pursue forms of qualitative economic and social development not just an increase in the volume of activity?

If the idea of the Living Wage is to remain patchy, rather than a new ambitious national minimum, then, as people have been pointing out for some time, Central Government and the Treasury are a major beneficiary of councils paying and securing the living wage from suppliers. It would therefore make sense for this saving to be reimbursed to them to help cover the cost. Unfortunately that doesn’t appear to have been arranged as part of the deal, it should be a priority.

If Greater Manchester is to have more democratic political and economic autonomy to build the regional economy it wants, (perhaps an economy for all), wouldn’t measures to secure a Living Wage and encourage Fair Pay form a central part?

We’ll post any replies we receive to the open letter here.

Steady State Manchester at Manchester Policy Week

I was one of the panel for a question time session on “An Economy for All” on day five of University of Manchester’s Policy Week, organised in conjunction with CLES and chaired by CLES Chief Executive, Neil McInroy (1). Each panellist gave a three minute introduction. I was asked specifically to address the ecological dimension. This is what I said.

I want to try and broaden the idea of “An Economy for All” by suggesting that the “All” should also include people living in fragile environments (places like the Ganges delta or precarious shanty towns in Central America, those on the front-line of climate change), people who have not yet been born, and also living things that are not people.

Because we are living in a state of extreme ecological malaise whereby the very systems that make life possible are being destroyed by human activity.

These systems are being progressively destroyed as a direct consequence of human ‘economic’ activity, whereby our ecological footprint by far exceeds the available carrying capacity of the planet: that’s the real deficit. That means that globally our footprint is a third bigger than the minimally sustainable level while in the UK the footprint is twice the available capacity.

For dominant economic models, the environment is just an afterthought. Yet without the environment, there is no basis for economic activity, since it is the source of its inputs, and where it puts its wastes.

The invisibility of the environment to conventional economics leads to a naïve, misplaced optimism that technology and markets will come up with solutions to ecological problems.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report has shown(2), it is ‘good old’ economic growth that is responsible for the most immediately threatening increases in greenhouse gas emissions that threaten runaway global warming And climate change is just one of the ‘planetary boundaries’ that humanity is crossing, or approaching.

The conventional emphasis on growth (narrowly defined in terms of GDP) leads to various kinds of delusion that the impacts can be resolved, for example by improved energy efficiency, that growth can be disconnected from the flow of materials from extraction to pollution, despite the complete lack of evidence that more than a relative decoupling is possible. And conventional economics has a further sting in its tail when it tries to convert the ecosystem into monetary value, commodifying the natural world, displacing forest dwellers, and bolstering carbon emissions through trading and financial speculation in them.

We therefore need to be not just economically and socially viable, but also ecologically viable.

An economy,

  • Based on production and consumption for need: a frugal abundance.

  • Providing more security for us all because the environment is protected from further destruction.

  • Resilient to climactic and other ecological shocks.

  • An economy that practices stewardship of the natural world that we depend on.

But those are relatively abstract ideas. What does it mean in terms of practical policy?

We can prioritise certain areas for action – and you’ll notice a synergy with what the other speakers are emphasising.

  • Increase equality – since those on high incomes lead more carbon intense lifestyles – spending their surplus on luxury goods, travel and so on; and because in a post-growth economy, inequalities can no longer be masked by the illusion that the cake is growing.

  • Relocalise the economy – using a guiding principle of subsidiarity – that which can be produced locally should be. Start with things like food and textiles, building what I call the Replacement Economy .

  • Tackle the nexus of credit, debt and investment – so that the wealth of the local economy is invested for local prosperity rather than profit-seeking globally – e.g. via a regional green development bank, or, given the appetite for city economic sovereignty, through a Greater Manchester Pound (on the model of other parallel currencies like the Bristol Pound, creating money that can be spent into the local economy).

  • At the same time stop chasing inward investment and building trophy projects, hoping for crumbs off the BRICs table, but focus on the real local economy.

  • Tackle the culture of consumption – not by blaming citizens for their consumption patterns, but by building a culture that has real alternatives to the assertion of fragile identity through largely passive consumption.

  • Change the conversation, emphasising indicators of local economic well-being, like the recirculation of money and the distribution of wealth and income – rather than statistics like GDP and GVA.

Thank you

These ideas and more are explored in our forthcoming pamphlet The Viable Economy launching on 9 December but available here electronically before then.

I also contributed to a workshop on access to information on the Tuesday – read the text here.

1) The panellists were:

Prof Danny Dorling, The University of Oxford
Mark Burton, Scholar-Activist, Visiting Professor, Manchester Metropolitan University and member of the Steady State Manchester collective
Angela Rayner, Labour PPC for Ashton and a Unison steward (NHS)
Sandy Lindsay,  MD of Tangerine PR and Board member of Forever Manchester-community foundation for Greater Manchester

2) See http://report.mitigation2014.org/spm/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers_approved.pdf

3) This idea combines Modern Money Theory with the practice of alternative local currencies. See Guinan, J. (2014). Modern money and the escape from austerity. Renewal, 22(3-4), 6–21. and Lewis, M., & Conaty, P. (2012). The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy. New Society Publishers.

Mark Burton

A lesson for Britain: Brazil promotes food security and local food procurement, strengthening family farming « Localise West Midlands

A lesson for Britain: Brazil promotes food security and local food procurement, strengthening family farming « Localise West Midlands.

From the Localise West Midlands project comes this interesting piece on legislation to promote local food procurement in Brazil.  This is somewhat at odds with the country’s agricultural extractive policies (for example the industrial farming of soya for export), but consistent with some of its other policies such as the cero fome (zero hunger) programme.

“A School Meal Law (Pnae) was passed, requiring 30% of the public food purchases for school meals to be made locally from family farmers. It strengthened local and regional markets, fostered the circulation of profits in the region, recovered regional food habits and promoted the establishment of associations or cooperatives, which play an instrumental role in organizing food production and protecting the economy of the poorest sectors of the population.”   Read more here…

Having Enough Good Food for the Manchester Region; who we need to influence and what we need to do, to multiply our impact?

Twenty three people came together at a workshop organised by Steady State Manchester (SSM) on Saturday 18th October. In a spirit of shared learning participants generated priorities about WHO we need to influence and WHAT we need to do, to multiply our impact.

The workshop included people involved in urban agriculture and community food growing as growers, researchers and environmental campaigners. They came from Liverpool and Todmorden as well as Greater Manchester.

The workshop kicked off with six three minute presentations.

Mark Burton (SSM) briefly outlined what a viable economy is, why it is important and why SSM is interested in food, he said:

food is a lens through which we can look at our present predicament and start to visualise how to develop a viable economy – one which reduces inequality and conserves the planet.’

The speakers were asked to identify an issue which would make the most difference to multiplying our impact. They included Catherine Burgess from Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton, Lucy Danger from Manchester Emerge and Fareshare, Chris Walsh from the Kindling Trust and Nick Green from Incredible Farm in Walsden. Several speakers felt the key to progress was improvements at all stages of the supply chain.

All pre-registered participants had been invited to bring an issue to share which they felt would make most difference. During the course of the afternoon a range of issues were presented, explored, amended and by the end emerged in new forms. Issues which were transformed into actions concerned ensuring all food is used, communication and bringing Housing Associations on board with viable approaches to food. Many participants left with jobs to do.

Participants could see the great potential of ensuring that more of the food that is grown is used. Debbie Ellen, who had sent the issue she would have presented if she had not been unwell, reported that a frightening 30% of food that is grown is wasted because it is graded out as the wrong size shape or colour. She argued that changing European Union regulation change could reduce this. Workshop participants will make links with local European parliament members with a food remit to explore working with them to change European Union regulations. Others want to work with supermarkets to tackle waste.

In terms of who we need to influence, there was commitment to encouraging Housing Associations to more actively support viable food issues. Several ideas for getting together and improving communication at all levels gained support including: participants will interview one another about their successes and failures and post them on On the Platform; organising community meals which both connect people and encourage conversations about good food support for an existing project to establish a Greater Manchester Food Council and promoting provocative activities (watch this space for details on the last one!)