A political party argues for degrowth

Remember when politicians in the UK wouldn’t risk arguing strongly against austerity? That changed with the June General Election but there are still things that appear to be “unsayable” in polite political company.  One of those is to suggest that the goal of so called economic “growth” should be abandoned.  You can’t say that: political death!  Not so for the independent republican left group CUP (Popular Unity List) that today launched a debate on degrowth in the Parliament of Catalonia, the region known for innovative, progressive politics as well as for a contentious debate about independence from Spain.  There follows a translation (from Spanish) of an interview with Sergi Saladié, spokesperson for the CUP group, from the website 15-15-15.  The population of Catalonia is about 2.5 times that of Greater Manchester, a little larger than the North West of England.  If with possible independence or increased autonomy, Catalonia were to pursue degrowth, then the kind of regional policies we have been promoting would be relevant there too (and we have also learned from innovations there, not least from what the Barcelona in Common city government is attempting).

Degrowth to be discussed in the Catalonian Parliament. An interview with Sergi Saladié, parliamentary member Popular Unity List – Consitituent Call.

In the Plenary Assembly1 of 7th September, the CUP will address the Catalan Government, specifically the Vice President, minister for the economy and the treasury, Oriol Junqueras, about the limits to growth and the need to assume the tenets of the degrowth movement for resilience. At the same time the independent left group will present a motion which could open the way to abandoning economic growth in the country as it sets out to secede from the Spanish state. The magazine 15/15/15 interviewed Sergi Saladié, the member of parliament who will present these initiatives tomorrow.

15/15/15: Sergi, explain to us what exactly it is that will be presented tomorrow by your grouping in the Plenary of Parliament.

Saladié: Technically we will introduce an interpellation2 to the Government, specifically to the Vice President and Minister for the economy and treasury, Oril Junqueras. We will set out the need to push for and specify public policies for degrowth as well as a series of proposals the Government could begin to enact.

15/15/15: As far as we know this is the first initiative of this kind, to introduce the debate about degrowth so explicitly in a parliament in Spain, or even at the European level. Do you know of any other similar initiatives? Has it been hard taking this step

Saladié: We do not know about other similar initiatives3. Initially as a political organisation (CUP) and especially as a parliamentary group (CUP-Crida Consituent) we had proposed to introduce a Law of Degrowth in the Catalonian parliament, even knowing with some certainty that we would not have the necessary support to see it through. The basic idea was to open the debate about degrowth in the Catalonian Parliament and thereby also in Catalan politics. Because of the political situation and the legislative calendar , along with the call for a referendum for October 1, we have had to opt for a more flexible instrument, like an interpellation.

15/15/15: What expectations do you have? Or rather, what are the most and least that you hope for from the initiative you are presenting this morning

Saladié: In the interpellation we will set out our arguments for the need to advance and realise degrowth in our society, and listen to the position of the government. The realisation of possible achievements will be through the subsequent motion that will be debated in the next parliamentary session. In that motion we will present a set of minimum demands where we will call on the government to create an intergovernmental and cross-sectoral commission of experts in degrowth, and the introduction of the debate on degrowth into the future Catalan constituent process.

15/15/15: I believe that many people, both inside and outside Catalonia, will be shocked that, at this moment, in the middle of the maelstrom of the process towards independence, with the referendum imminent, your group introduces this issue, that is not exactly an easy question. How do you relate it to the independence process and why have you chosen to present it at this historical moment?

Saladié: Our organisation sees the process toward the independence of Catalonia as an opportunity for a break with a political regime, yes, but above all as a path that opens up opportunities for social, economic and political transformation that allows the achievement of an authentic sovereignty, especially in those fundamentals for the development of life, such as energy and food. And we understand that degrowth is an indispensable route for reaching sovereignty in these things.

15/15/15: We assume that it is valid to interpret the degrowth position as already dominant in your group. Has it been a difficult internal debate? What can you tell us about the process that has put the CUP in the vanguard, if you’ll permit that expression, of the renovation, in degrowth terms of the left in this part of the world?

Saladié: Don’t make assumptions so quickly (laughter). The debate in the heart of the organisation has just begun, starting from the subgroup on energy and degrowth that took a proposal to the parliamentary group, and this group thought it opportune to give it political space. In parallel, this subgroup promoted a debate about degrowth in the CUP summer school last July. The internal debate has just begun, and that’s why the motion can be an element that also helps develop this internal debate.

15/15/15: You know the famous phrase of Juan Carlos Monedero [academic and former leading member of Podemos – SSM], that reflects not only the position quietly assumed by Podemos but also that of the majority of the Spanish left, that “talking about degrowth isn’t how elections are won”. The CUP doesn’t appear to fear a cost in electoral terms from the steps it is taking, positioning itself not only as an anticapitalist grouping but also now as “degrowthers”. Is that so?

Saladié: The CUP isn’t guided by criteria of electability and indeed we always express our political positions without sophistry [or what in the UK is called “triangulation”]. So our organisation isn’t afraid to speak publicly about degrowth and initiate an open debate in Parliament.

The other thing is that the CUP already is seen as a degrowth organisation. Linking with the previous question, the CUP still hasn’t agreed to position itself as “degrowthist” in any of its internal decision-making bodies. We expect that the ongoing work of the working group on energy and degrowth will allow the introduction of the debate within the organisation and that it will be able to position itself as degrowthist in the near future.

15/15/15: The eyes of a good part of the left, not just the degrowthist current, but that which still bases its policies on economic growth, and not just from within Spain, are tomorrow on the Catalan parliament. Are you going to publish the documents that you will present? Will it be possible to follow your intervention and the subsequent debate?

Saladié: Yes, the idea is to put the documents from the interpellation not only on the website of CUP but also on diverse degrowth sites.

As the plenary assembly is expected to be complicated by dealing with various laws relating to the referendum, the order of the day will be altered. Even so, through the Catalonian Parliament website it will be possible to follow the interpellation live (here, for those that can follow Catalan: https://www.parlament.cat/web/canal-parlament/sequencia/videos/index.html?p_cp1=8102705&p_cp3=8105387 ).

Translated by Carolyn Kagan and Mark Burton: Steady State Manchester

steadystatemanchester.net

1 The Plenary Assembly of the Parliament of Catalonia is the highest body of the Parliament of Catalonia, competent to decide any question within the remit of the Parliament

2 Process of submitting formal questions to the Government resulting in a debate

3 However, for the UK see the work initiated by the All Party Group on Limits to Growth: http://limits2growth.org.uk/

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What’s gender go to do with the viable economy?

wordcloudA small, thoughtful group met in Manchester City Centre to consider some of the key features of Steady State Manchester’s flagship policy proposals, the Viable Economy on a sunny summer’s night. We talked about the gender implications of the different aspects of the Viable Economy and also looked briefly what might be missing in Diva Manc’s Calls to Action (for a Greater Manchester that Works for Women ), presented to the incoming Mayor of Greater Manchester, in terms of the viable economy.

A number of issues ran through the discussion:

  • An economy that is good for women is good for all and that we should also be considering wealth, race, disability, sexuality, faith – indeed all forms of inequalities.
  • Across the world women are disproportionately negatively affected by climate change.
  • It can be very hard for all sorts of people to consider gender unless directed to do so, as the unconscious gender biases we hold remain just that – unconscious.
  • We need to keep an international perspective when discussing gender and the viable economy and the environment.
  • Care is needed not to generalise across all women (or indeed all men).

We had a wide ranging discussion, drawing on examples of practices and projects with women very centrally at the core.

VE Key Feature 1. Living Well and more equally. More is produced locally, providing decent green jobs and spreading the wealth. Women in general can only benefit if wealth is spread more evenly. There is a large gender pay gap at the moment starting at apprenticeship level and continuing through the lifespan to pensions. Local production could be more convenient, and enable women to juggle home demands with paid work, but as more distant jobs close, questions would need to be asked about who then loses their jobs, and who gains in local jobs. In part it will depend on what is produced locally. In rural areas, the local economy depends entirely on the unpaid work of women in problem solving, attending markets, dealing with money, and doing administration for farms and small businesses.

VE Key Feature 2. We are more secure because the environment is protected

from further destruction. Globally, women are disproportionately badly affected by climate change for lots of different reasons. Less environmental destruction will enable them to maintain livelihoods, live healthily and not suffer from environmental disasters.

VE Key Feature 3. Resilience: access to goods, especially food, will be more secure should there be shocks. In terms of resilience, a lot can be learnt from the informal social networks developed and maintained mostly by women in both rural and urban areas that, for example, support children, bring cultural activities to localities (for example, school fairs, park festival), share care. More women organise, and run the activities and stalls in some local festivals, such as Woolfest in Cumbria, whilst men mostly participate passively. This pattern is repeated at different levels. Whilst men and women are equally likely to volunteer, women are more likely to undertake informal volunteering, and to do this on a regular basis. Women are more likely to volunteer locally. Women form the ‘glue’ that holds communities together and makes places good to live in.

There are lots of examples of ‘exchange economies’ where local people form networks (usually organised by women) to exchange food, tools, unwanted goods. Whilst e-platforms enable some of this sharing, the most resilient examples are face to face exchanges.

VE Key Feature 4. More money stays local – our city’s wealth will be used for needed developments, for example energy efficient, affordable housing. It will be important to look at land ownership and how land is treated as an asset. The vast majority of peri-urban privately owned land is held by men, although the pattern may be changing as younger people acquire land through joint ownership. If women are not represented on decision making bodies, likely developments will be gender blind. (Just having women’s representation does not ensure a viable economy approach, but nor does not have women’s representation!). More promotion might be possible of informal money systems, like the Xitique of Mozambique – small, informal, collective savings process outside banks and not involving repayable interest.

VE Key Feature 5. Balance. Some sectors must grow (e.g. renewable energy) and some must shrink (e.g. fossil fuels). Women might well have a view on which sectors should grow the most and the fastest. The things that affect their lives more, maybe than men’s, include public transport, the manufacture of ‘light’ goods that can be carried easily (e.g. carbon neutral reclaimed wood bricks for fuel), home care, shorter working weeks, children’s shoes. The specific as well as the common interests of women need to be given voice. We are so used to not thinking about gender it can be difficult to facilitate this voice in practice rather than just in theory.

VE Key feature 6. Focusing on the things we want the economy to deliver, rather than growth for growth’s sake (GDP and GVA measures). It makes no sense to think of the economy without thinking about the household or about community maintenance, both largely women’s concerns. Ask women and the things ‘we’ want may look different. For example, if greater availability of fresh food is one such thing, who will collect and prepare this food? How will household tasks and caring be more evenly balanced. Care as an ethic for the economy, rather than a practice, about which women have written (see work by Julie Nelson amongst others)

So what is missing from the viable economy that Diva Manc has promoted?

Gender balanced leadership and representation and enabling women to contribute to policy making. This is about not leaving it to chance, but finding active ways of encouraging and supporting women to participate and take on leadership or representation roles. It is also about how local decision making happens and whether existing processes are gender friendly and accessible for women. Women’s loyalties may differ from men’s and this needs to be understood and taken into account.

Challenge conscious and unconscious bias against women – this is needed in everything we do and may start with some awareness raising of what unconscious biases might look like and how they operate.

Close the gender pay gap – The Viable Economy does discuss pay inequality. Indeed the one and only mention of gender in the pamphlet is in a section on inequalities, along with the other inequalities that must also be addressed.

Making Greater Manchester a place of choice for women and girls to live, work, study and care. This includes the delivery of quality of care across the lifespan; access to safe and affordable travel options; access to safe and affordable housing; and the ending of violence towards girls. More work needs to be done to include the household in analyses of the economy and violence towards women and safety as part of the spatial developments.

What can Steady State Manchester Do?

  • Continue the conversation more widely.
  • Examine all of our proposals from a gender perspective on an ongoing basis.
  • Consider a gender addendum to the Viable Economy
  • Promote the Purple Flag accreditation of our place based night time economies.
  • Make relevant links with Diva Manc and the Women’s Equality Party

 

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Policies, policies, but are they any good?

Earlier this year we published our paper: Policies for the City Region. How does what we are proposing differ from what others are saying? Where do we agree with others proposing alternative approaches to the ones that have dominated our cities and regions in the recent past?

Alternative policy frameworks

To explore this, we’ve made a comparison of our Policies for the City Region with three other offerings:

We chose these because they all focus on the same context that we did: the devolution of some central government powers to City Regions and the establishment of new governance arrangements, including the new Metro Mayors. All would be described as centre left in orientation politically but each makes some moves to break with the former consensus established under New Labour (harnessing the market, finance and urban speculative development with the promise of trickle-down redistribution at some unspecified date in the future).
CLES has focussed on local economic development with a strong economic and social justice agenda. They have emphasised the role of “anchor institutions”, including councils, as economic actors with potential leverage for principled economic and social change, not least through soft powers of “place-shaping”.
IPPR is rather more conventional, but, particularly from their Northern branch, have made some suggestions that speak directly to the problems of maldistribution in our city regions.
Finally, Burnham, while from the Labour Party mainstream, was also an MP representing a peripheral area, not associated with the neoliberal regime that has dominated Greater Manchester politics and strategy. He crowd-sourced his manifesto (learning from the radical democratic project of Greater Manchester People’s Plan, which unfortunately didn’t live up to its promise due to circumstances beyond the control of key actors and a general lack of capacity). Significantly, Burnham signalled a break from the urban development strategy2 of city centre flats and offices, peripheral warehouses and distribution hubs and green fields housing for commuters, instead arguing for a strategy that renovates the region’s (post-industrial, left-behind) towns.

We cannot pretend that this is an exhaustive set of relevant offerings for comparison but these are approaches that might have some synergy with our own, while revealing both where we make a distinctive pitch and also where we have gaps.

Method

We conducted a close reading of the policy papers, and produced a long comparison table, structured according to our own Policies for the City Region. From this we made ratings of the weight they give to a number of key policy themes, and we graphed those ratings. We produced word-clouds (using http://www.wordclouds.com/), based on frequency counts from each text (taking out high frequency words that have no particular policy meaning). We do not pretend that our methodology was particularly sophisticated, although we do have experience as qualitative and quantitative social science researchers. We are satisfied, however, that it does the job we need it to do, that is, to elucidate the key policy themes as they differ and overlap between the four frameworks.

Results

Across the four frameworks, the following were key themes:

  • Energy transition: less energy, clean energy

  • Housing supply and affordability

  • Strengthen the low carbon economy

  • Sustainable and affordable food

  • Anchor Institutions

  • Economic localisation

  • Finance

  • National redistribution

  • Jobs: supply side (i.e. training, skills, qualifications, incentives for workers)

  • Jobs: demand side (i.e. economic measures for job creation)

  • Other income

  • Community

  • Spatial dimension

  • Health and Social Services

  • Democratic accountability & governance

According to this analysis, for Steady State Manchester, energy transition was the most important, followed by (equal ranked) economic localisation, community and democratic accountability.

For CLES, anchor institutions was most important, followed by national redistribution, and (equally ranked) community, jobs (supply side), and finance.

For Burnham, energy transition, national redistribution and community were equally top ranked, followed by democratic accountability and governance.

For IPPR-North, the emphasis was equally on energy transition, finance, national redistribution, health and social services and democratic accountability and governance.

However, the similarities in the overall headings hide some differences of emphasis. So while SSM emphasises an overall reduction in energy usage as well as conversion to clean energy (with large reductions on aviation and motor car usage, affordable low-energy housing central demands), the Burnham and IPPR-North proposals are less radical. CLES, however ,has nothing on this theme in their manifesto.

None of the other three frameworks came out strongly for the kind of radical economic localisation that SSM has been calling for, and IPPR seems to go in the other direction, seeking to “Prioritise international profile and connectivity, and collaborate to drive trade and investment”. However, CLES, and to a lesser extent, IPPR-North both give attention to the role of anchor institutions which we can see as aids to a re-localisation of the economy.

While Finance does not feature in SSM’s top four themes, we nevertheless give it serious consideration, as do IPPR-North and CLES: strangely the Burnham manifesto has little here, a missed opportunity since the mayor could really help push for strong local and regional financial institutions serving economically excluded communities as well as local business.

We all have ideas about jobs and income, but differ in emphasis. Burnham and IPPR-North give roughly equal consideration to supply and demand side levers. SSM only considers the demand side (and indeed is sceptical about the effectiveness of tinkering with supply factors like qualifications) and CLES, surprisingly perhaps has more to say about the supply side.

Of course, the four different interventions are doing different things: SSM is consciously presenting a radical alternative that integrates the economic, social and ecological, within our Viable Economy framework. CLES is seeking to influence and work with the incumbent administrations who fund much of its work (in the order of half its funding but from authorities across the country – funding from GM authorities is relatively small), with a particular emphasis on the construction of the social and economic dimensions of place through institutional leverage. IPPR-N is largely orientated to the policy community, updating a broadly right social democratic model of the State-economy relationship. Burnham was both fighting a campaign and managing the potential clash between entrenched power in the city region and the demands from community and labour movement, while also seeking new ideas given the expiry of the neoliberal consensus nationally and locally. An index of these differences is the differing emphasis given to spatial issues. For SSM, these are critical because they are where we can see the relationships among community, economy and ecology made manifest, negatively as in the consequences of Manchester’s flawed and patchy regeneration and redevelopment and positively, as in the possibilities for a retrofitted city region as garden city – both rural and urban – in response to the existential eco-socio-economic crisis of these times. For Burnham, as noted, the situation of those areas, “the towns”, that haven’t benefited and won’t benefit from the boom in the Southern and city centre districts, is a critical concern, conveniently perhaps allied with the movements to resist vandalistic rebuilding of the centre and the trashing of green spaces in and around the conurbation. It is not surprising, then that spatial concerns are important for both, but they are pretty much absent from the contributions of IPPR-N and CLES.

We too have gaps in our contributions and some of these are, in effect, addressed by the other interventions. We’ve had little to say (as SSM) about service provision (education, health, social care) despite expertise in these areas within our collective: it’s not that we aren’t interested but rather, as a group, our focus is elsewhere. However, perhaps surprisingly we have rather more to say about social security, benefits and their relations to work and community than the others, at least in the pieces we’ve considered (IPPR itself has had a lot more to say on the matter, for example in a much bigger, and often problematic, piece of work, the Condition of Britain report3).

You can explore the comparisons yourself:

Comparison table (click).

Word clouds.

SSM policy wordcloud

SSM policy wordcloud

CLES policy wordcloud

CLES policy wordcloud

Burnham policy wordcloud

Burnham policy wordcloud

IPPR-North policy wordcloud

IPPR-North policy wordcloud

Rating comparisons

Overall ratings of the 4 policy frameworks for importance given to the theme

Overall ratings of the 4 policy frameworks for importance given to the theme

policy comparisons ratings compared to the other 3 groups' offerings

policy comparisons ratings compared to the other 3 groups’ offerings

Overall ratings of the 4 policy frameworks for importance given to the theme within own framework

Overall ratings of the 4 policy frameworks for importance given to the theme within own framework

Data table for the above three graphs (click).

We think our approach is the best (of course) – dealing with the real issues that face us all, even if there are gaps, and avoiding false solutions.  But what do you think?  We’d welcome your thoughts.

The inevitable footnotes.

1The campaign website has now been taken down. Some manifesto pages have been archived here: http://web.archive.org/web/20170706124010/http://www.burnhamformayor.co.uk/ourmanifesto and we made a composite pdf file of all the separate manifesto sections: here.

2For our analysis and links of the orthodox spatial strategy see https://steadystatemanchester.net/2016/12/23/greater-manchester-spatial-framework-our-response/

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Policies for the City Region, the last installment: Community.

Here is the final piece in our serialisation of our policy suite: Policies for the City Region.

People working together on wellbeing concepts

People working together on wellbeing concepts

Our argument here is simple: a viable economy requires a lively and resilient community.  The State and local State can and must create the conditions for this, not by dumping responsibilities on hard pressed communities but by supporting community development without dominating it or colonising independent social movements that arise from the community.  Key elements are building trust and ending the culture of distrust and surveillance against citizens that has come to characterise the British Welfare State. You can download the full set of policies here. You can also see out policies page HERE and our publications page HERE.

We hope you have enjoyed the series and found it challenging and useful.  We’d love to receive constructive feedback  Email us or use the form at the bottom of this post.  Further work will look at how our work both complements and completes the work of other critical policy contributions and also look at the way the bigger picture challenges efforts at local reform.
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9 Community

A viable society and economy means we live in communities that are convivial, caring and proactive. But for this to happen the State, including its local institutions, has to help. This is not a matter of dumping responsibilities on hard pressed communities (which typically comes to mean women) but instead making sure that community groups and organisations (formal and informal) have the resources and support, material and intellectual, to lead, to invent, to design, plan and implement improvements. This is not particularly easy for State organisations which have tended to either dominate or to withdraw inappropriately. We need a different approach.

Any “economic strategy” should consider those various activities that are in their way economic and also the spinal supports for people’s everyday life and for the official economy itself. They are variously,

a) monetised and exchanged, but hidden from official view: the hidden economy in which positively speaking, people make ends meet and aid one another, and negatively speaking may avoid taxation and regulation; or

b) monetised but not exchanged (the remaining “social wage” public services), or

c) not monetised, being part of everyday life, but provide human resources for the economy (bringing up children, cleaning the house, cooking in the evening), or

d) not monetised but potentially could be, though that might not necessarily be desirable (fixing a neighbour’s gate, babysitting, growing fruit and vegetables in an allotment or garden).

These various “undeclared” elements of the economy and of everyday life also provide an additional lifeline for many people who rely on mutual aid, free goods, or the “informal economy”. Moreover, their consideration also brings to the fore the gendered nature of not only these undeclared aspects of the economy but of the economy as a whole: changes in these areas disproportionately affect women, on whose unrecognised labour the economy (and society) as a whole relies upon.

9.1 Collaborative design and accountability.

Policy 9.11: Councils to develop their role as facilitators and catalysts for community initiative.

The thinking behind it:

The “neoliberal period saw a change in the model of public authorities from the paternalistic “we do everything” model to one of commissioner and market enabler. We know that model to be highly flawed, often acting as little more than a way of channeling public wealth into private hands. But a redefinition in terms of community enabler, sometimes leading, more often following community initiatives, would be a welcome change for post austerity Greater Manchester, one that would build on initiatives and new thinking from innovating authorities in the city region.

Councils, as key bodies of the local State, and as the part that is locally, democratically accountable, can change the way they work with communities. Rather than the council deciding what it is going to do and then conducting tokenistic consultations with a limited number of people and a limited range of options (converging on what the intention already is), the norm should be collaborative design of solutions – the more complex and expensive of which certainly need to be worked up by full time staff, with meaningful collaboration at each step. To work in ways that encourage and utilise community knowledge, creativity and enthusiasm will mean proper resourcing, not least for the kind of mass deliberative processes required to approach complex issues and decisions. Models of co-production in neighbourhood participation and decision making exist1, and we encourage further experimentation in different kinds of localities.

Other innovations that would support this change of direction include elected members holding open meetings at which they report back to citizens on their work, inviting challenge and alternative perspectives. They should be supported to do this by council staff. Moreover, the Localism Act (2011) has provision for communities to bring together Neighbourhood Fora and draw up neighbourhood plans2. Support should be given to enable these to happen in every locality.

9.2. Trust

This collaborative approach to the community requires a change in attitude based on trust.

Policy 9.21: Ease up on the official culture of surveillance and distrust, for example in relation to benefits. Enact this through training and clear instruction to, and monitoring of, public servants.

The thinking behind it:

If we want a society and economy that builds community, strengthening solidarity and mutual aid, without using that as an excuse to cut collective welfare arrangements via the State and its organs, then we need significant cultural change. One aspect is a change in attitude by the State and its agents, not least an easing up on the official culture of surveillance and distrust, for example in relation to benefits. What does it matter, particularly as the world of work itself changes, if people mix and match from a menu of benefits and cash transfers for services rendered? It makes little difference to public expenditure but can be a contribution to community economic resilience and prosperity.

9.3 Families and children

Policy 9.31: Provide affordable child care.

The thinking behind it:

This policy paper is not centrally concerned with social policy: that is a possible focus of further work3. But our concern with redistributive policies does raise the question of ways of helping those on low incomes. We have already mentioned guaranteed incomes and guaranteed jobs as possible options. Free or heavily subsidised child care is another option, particularly relevant to families with young children. Combining this imperative with the goal of building supportive communities leads to some innovative options, for example via cooperative arrangements that meld public funding with hours contributed by parents using the resource4. Such schemes would become more financially robust if working hours were to be reduced and if the local State could provide assistance, for example via cheap accommodation.

Policy 9.311: Protect remaining Sure Start provision.

The thinking behind it:

Sure Start, the programme to support young children and their families, aimed at “’giving children the best possible start in life’ through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development”5. The programme was found to be effective in improving both the developmental status and the home environments of young children6. Despite this, Sure Start provision has been under constant threat of cuts. If we are serious about affordable child care and redistribution going beyond incomes to include the generation of “human capital”, then this is an obvious area for protection and prioritisation, especially in the most deprived areas.

Policy 9.32: Provide or facilitate the provision of community centres and hubs with affordable room hire.

The thinking behind it:

Building resilient and supportive communities is not easy without a basic infrastructure. Many neighbourhoods lack common space for people to meet and to support a variety of activities from parent and toddler groups to rehearsal space for musicians. Key to enabling this to happen is a commitment to increasing common spaces (or ‘the commons’)7 Public services, including local government and schools can do more to make available such facilities, either by exploring multiple uses or by facilitating initiatives such as identifying under-utilised buildings as community assets, placing them on the council’s Register of Assets of Community Value and then working with community groups on ways of securing funding and designing effective ongoing management arrangements. Public services can crucially offer incubator space to help get social enterprises and community organisations going, testing viability before going it alone.

Conclusion

Our approach to policy formulation for the city region is distinctive in that we proceed from the ecological via the social and then to the economic. This reflects the fundamental nature of the ecosystem as the basis for human life: threats to its integrity are threats to human society, here and worldwide. Our approach then examines the economic as a support system for the kind of just and convivial society we envisage, with the economic systems constrained by the two goals of ecological safety (living within planetary limits and achieving social and economic justice). We do all this with an emphasis on the regional scale – that of the city-region (and its eco- or bio-region). We have drawn upon the contributions of other organisations and individuals, not all of whom start from the same place as us, but whose ideas are consistent with our eco-social-economic approach, sometimes without and sometimes with some adjustment.

The policy framework offered here does not pretend to cover everything – areas for elaboration and further work include social welfare, housing and health. And while we have explained the thinking behind the ideas, we have not given an exhaustive account of the theory and evidence underpinning the ideas. Much of this can be found in our other publications, available freely, along with other shorter pieces on our website which also has signposts to the work of others who share our general orientation.

We hope that the proposals here are helpful for a variety of people and organisations who share the aim of making Greater Manchester a better place. Please do use the material here – if you can acknowledge us, then so much the better.

Policies for the City Region

published by

Steady State Manchester

March, 2017

1Loeffle, E. (nd) Why Co-Production is an important topic for local Government. http://www.govint.org/fileadmin/user_upload/publications/coproduction_why_it_is_important.pdf

2DCLG. (2011). A plain English guide to the Localism Act. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/5959/1896534.pdf p.15

3Burton, M. (2014). Convivial Social Policy? Uncommontater. https://uncommontater.net/2014/10/12/convivial-social-policy/

4Coote, A. (2014). People, planet, power: towards a new social settlement. London: New Economics Foundation. http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/people-planet-power-towards-a-new-social-settlement

5Sure Start (wikipedia entry – accessed 22/02/17) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sure_Start

6National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS). (2011). The impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on five year olds and their families. http://www.ness.bbk.ac.uk/impact/documents/RB067.pdf

7Bingham-Hall, J. (n.d.). Future of Cities: Commoning and Collective Approaches to Urban Space. Theatrum Mundi. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/498858/future-of-cities-urban-commons.pdf

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Policies for the City Region – serialised: Part 8, Jobs and Income.

We continue the serialisation of our report, Policies for the City Region. In this

Graph: Productivity comparison for the member states of the OECD

Productivity comparison for the member states of the OECD. – Koyos (OECD StatExtracts  via Wikimedia Commons

installment we focus on jobs and income, again suggesting ways in which we, in our region, can improve the availability, range and quality of jobs and more broadly, improve the lamentable distribution of wealth and income within the city-region.  Controversially we again go against the grain by arguing against the pursuit of  overall increases in labour productivity.  This installment needs to be read in conjunction with other sections, not least those on the role of anchor institutions and the previous section on finance and national distribution.  You can also look at our acclaimed briefings on Universal Basic Income and the Alternatives to UBI.   There’s still  more to come!  But if you can’t wait: download it here. You can also see out policies page HERE and our publications page HERE.

 

  1. 8 Jobs and income

A credible regional strategy also needs a local strategy for redistribution, especially, as we and an increasing number of scholars1, argue, growth will have to be curtailed because of its destructive impact on the climate and ecosystems. It is in any case slowing as the capitalist economy hits multiple crises of accumulation2, typically described as secular stagnation. Moreover, this entails a rethinking of the relationships among jobs, incomes, productivity and work. While the policy levers available to a city-region are limited, there are things that can be done. Proposals here should be read in conjunction with those on the role of anchor institutions in enhancing equity (section 4).

8.1 Local innovation for welfare reform.

Policy 8.1: Conduct a feasibility study for a jobs guarantee and/or a form of basic income.

The thinking behind it:

Over the last thirty years, the structure of employment has changed markedly, and it is set to change further. Certain sectors have decreased and jobs have been displaced in areas where cost savings can be made by automation, or by outsourcing the work to cheaper labour markets. Beyond the standard policy mantra of “jobs’n’growth”, there is increasing interest across the political spectrum in the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), also known as Citizens’ Income . This is an unconditional income paid to every individual as a right of citizenship3. While this might seem like a policy prescription requiring national level implementation, there have been trials in a number of cities and regions internationally. There are a number of questions that arise about UBI, however, and alternative approaches such as Participation Income4 or the Job Guarantee5 / Government as Employer of Last Resort, or the Green Job Guarantee6. also need to be considered, instead of, or for implementation in hybrid form with UBI. The participation requirement, common to Job Guarantee and Participation Income7 (and implicit in the last Labour government’s Future Jobs Fund for younger workers) could be placed under community governance enabling priorities to be set covering jobs that need doing in the local neighbourhood. Elsewhere we have also argued that such schemes could be funded via a cap and share scheme for personal carbon budgets8.

8.2 Productivity?

Policy 8.2: Make sectors more, not less, labour-intensive

The thinking behind it:

Mainstream economic dogma claims that one source of the economic woes of the North West is its lower labour productivity. The typical basis for comparison is the economy of London and the South East but that is inflated by the finance, insurance and real estate sector and by the disproportionate head-quartering of companies there. Productivity is actually not a particularly useful concept in many areas of the economy that we want to build upon: the foundational areas of education, health and personal care, for example, are inevitably and rightly labour intensive. In a post-growth economy productivity is counter-productive since it reduces the availability of employment9. Even within a putatively growing economy, increasing productivity is not likely to benefit the lower wage and lower skill sectors10. The policy aims should therefore be to seek and promote more labour intensive options while both reducing working hours11 (feasible since there is a pool of labour to be absorbed) and maintaining pay levels. The exceptions are where machinery and automation can reduce unpleasant and unnecessary drudgery.

8.3 Stimulate local enterprise development through civic participation

    1. Policy 8.3: Establish mechanisms to support and fund the emergence of community enterprises in each locality.

    The thinking behind it:

    Many people are excluded from the labour market for various reasons, including, for example, lack of skills, lack of availability for full time work, living with long term health conditions, lack of travel to work options. In some areas there are no jobs for people to do that fit with their family commitments. Any of these reasons confine people to a life as recipients of welfare benefits and often with the associated stresses of unemployment and living on low incomes. And yet, levels of community need remain high in nearly every locality. It is possible to stimulate the development of local community enterprises, both including and not including paid work, through citizen engagement and participation. People care about their local areas and make all sorts of positive contributions to them. Building on local interests, creativity and commitments, it is possible to deliver a network of activities, grounded in local interests and local need, as, for example, the experiment carried out in West Norwood12. Local community-asset enterprise funds would be needed to catalyse the ventures.

…..to be continued, or if you want it now, download here:  https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/policies-for-the-city-region-the-longer-version-v3-final.pdf

You can also see our policies page HERE and our publications page HERE.

1See for example Buchanan, M. (2017). A Climate Change Economist Sounds the Alarm. Bloomberg News. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-01-31/a-climate-change-economist-sounds-the-alarm

2Streeck, W. (2014). How will capitalism end? New Left Review, (87), 35-87. https://newleftreview.org/II/87/wolfgang-streeck-how-will-capitalism-end

3Steady State Manchester. (2016). Universal Basic Income (or Citizen’s Income) – a digest of issues. https://steadystatemanchester.net/2016/05/09/universal-basic-income-or-citizens-income-a-digest-of-issues/

4Atkinson, A. B. (1996). The Case for a Participation Income. The Political Quarterly, 67(1), 67–70. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-923X.1996.tb01568.x

5Tcherneva, P. R. (2012). The Job Guarantee: Delivering the Benefits That Basic Income Only Promises – A Response to Guy Standing. Basic Income Studies, 7(2). http://media.wix.com/ugd/f4c1a3_a41dc8241e4e482591b513791ef17a2e.pdf ; Alcott, B. (2013). Should degrowth embrace the Job Guarantee? Journal of Cleaner Production, 38, 56–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.06.007

6Godin, A. (2012). Guaranteed Green Jobs: Sustainable Full Employment (Working Paper No. 722). New York: Levy Economics Institute. Retrieved from http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_722.pdf

7And distinct from “workfare”, forced labour to obtain benefits, since at least the minimum wage would be paid and the work is not for benefit of a profit-making concern.

9Jackson, T., & Victor, P. (2011). Productivity and work in the “green economy.” Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1(1), 101–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2011.04.005; Santarius, T. (n.d.). Green Growth Unravelled – Resource Governance – Heinrich Böll Foundation. Retrieved December 6, 2012, from http://www.boell.de/ecology/resources/resource-governance-ecology-green-growth-rebound-effect-15794.html

10New Economy (GM) (2016). Low Pay and Productivity in Greater Manchester http://neweconomymanchester.com/media/1703/low-pay-and-productivity-in-greater-manchester-main-report.pdf

11NEF advocate a 21 hour week. We made similar proposals in our In Place of Growth. Changes to national policy would greatly facilitate this but local initiatives could help – councils for example becoming “right length working time” employers. http://neweconomics.org/2010/02/21-hours/

12Cathcart-Keays, A. (2015). How do you create a city for all? The answer lies in West Norwood. Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/dec/02/create-city-for-all-answer-west-norwood

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Let’s talk about the elections

Let’s talk about the elections!

Wednesday 14th June 6.30-8pm
Lounge at Manchester Methodist Hall
Central Buildings, Oldham St, Manchester M1 1JQ

We’ve now had both the Greater Manchester Mayoral election and the General Election. Together these define a new context for our work towards a more Viable Economy in Greater Manchester. So what are the opportunities and risks of the new situation.

In both cases there has been some move away from the formerly dominant models of how to develop and manage the economy and the spaces we live and work in. There is a renewed emphasis on social justice and fairness and those who did best in the elections were critical of much of standard policy formulae of the last 35 years. But in both cases there is still an emphasis on so called “economic growth” and a technological optimism about the serious challenges facing, not just people in Greater Manchester and the UK, but humanity in general.

Steady State Manchester is not a party political organisation. Our collective has members of the Labour, Green and Women’s Equality Parties, as well as unaffiliated people. Many of us, party members or not, took part in campaigning and in hustings events and we do share what is (perhaps unhelpfully) called a “progressive” outlook. But we share an understanding that continued expansion of the “economy” will not deliver social and economic justice, and worse, that it means a suicidal race to economic and environmental catastrophe.

So join us on Wednesday 14th June for an open discussion to explore what the new context means for us and how we can both use the opportunities and minimise the threats involved.  Here is an initial analysis and perspective from one of our members on the General Election results in Greater Manchester.

Wednesday 14th June 6.30-8pm
Lounge at Manchester Methodist Hall
Central Buildings, Oldham St, Manchester M1 1JQ

No need to book.

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Policies for the City Region – serialised: Part 7, Finance and distribution.

We continue the serialisation of our report, Policies for the City Region. In this  installment we focus on money and exchange, again suggesting ways in which we, in our region, can improve the investments are made and value circulates.  A similar proposal to ours on a regional community bank has also just come out from the University of Manchester – worth a look for some more detailed thinking.  We also share our thinking on distribution of wealth at the national level, challenging some conventional narratives. There’s still  more to come!  But if you can’t wait: download it here. You can also see out policies page HERE and our publications page HERE.

6 Finance

6.1 Regional investment fund or bank.

Policy 6.1: Establish a council sponsored investment fund or bank, emphasising environmentally and socially friendly sectors.

The thinking behind it:

The banking and financial system in the UK is highly concentrated in a few “too big to fail” institutions. One consequence is that because profits are chased to satisfy shareholder (and executive) expectations, investment tends to flow to other financial vehicles, thus magnifying the finance bubble: it does not go to local industry which, especially in the case of smaller firms, finds it difficult to obtain investment. This contrasts with the situation in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands where regionally-based public banks (not state but not privately owned, rather like the UK building societies and former trustee savings banks) account for a significant share of banking.

It is not enough simply to establish local/regional banks and funds though. They would need to focus on the kinds of investments that a resilient, viable city region requires, not on sectors that by expanding will increase carbon emissions, traffic congestion, biosphere erosion and inequality.

We therefore propose the establishment of a council sponsored investment fund, or better, since less constrained in terms of money supply, a bank, supporting mostly SMEs and social enterprises working in broadly foundational areas, emphasising environmentally and socially friendly sectors. The form could be a public, municipal or community banking institution. Proceeds from fossil fuel divestment could be used to help establish the bank, which would also be somewhere for local investment and re-investment.

  1. 6.2 Infrastructure for alternative finance and exchange.

Policy 6.2: Prioritise an infrastructure for alternative kinds of finance and exchange by promoting and supporting credit unions, time-banks and other alternative financial and exchange institutions

The thinking behind it:

In addition to banking services that serve the needs of the viable economy, there is also a need for a richer support system to improve matters for people with limited income and wealth. At the same time, by sharing in the abundance of our over-productive global economy it may be possible to reduce demands on the ecosystem. There is already good practice on diverting overstocked food to citizens and community groups. Similarly more could be done to make surplus service capacity available (e.g. premises that are only used part of the day or week, empty seats on public transport and in private vehicles). Practical experimentation could be employed to identify effective ways of achieving the dual aims of making available under-utilised assets in the mainstream economy to people who are money-poor while recognising voluntary action in the community.

We therefore propose that the Combined Authority and the municipalities do more to promote and support credit unions, time-banks and other alternative financial and exchange institutions. This would also help release resources to support the many activities of the informal and core economies1.

  1. 6.3 Local currency

Policy 6.3: Establish a Greater Manchester Unit of Currency which would circulate within the conurbation.

The thinking behind it:

The parts of the economy we would want to support are beset by two problems. Firstly, under conditions of austerity, there is now a shortage of government money for anything but the most basic of services. Secondly, money leaks out of the local economy, because of the open nature of the economy and the way profits are extracted and invested elsewhere by some of the big corporate firms. To address these two things, one potential tool is the complementary currency.

We can start from the insight that there is not a fixed amount of money available: most money is created through the process of lending by banks, and State budgets do not function like household or company budgets, but are elastic in nature2. Moreover, it is entirely possible for the local State (e.g. metropolitan councils or the Combined Authority) to establish or sponsor parallel, or complementary monies3. There are some choices to be made in doing this of which the most critical are

* Should the complementary currency be linked to sterling?
* Should the quantity of such money be limited or open ended?
* Should the money have a limited shelf-life (demurrage)?
* Could it be used in payment or part payment of local fees and taxes?

It would be feasible to establish a Greater Manchester Unit of Currency which would circulate within the conurbation. It would be available to small enterprises in the form of micro-credit and could be used entirely or as part payment in transactions, including council rates, taxes and fees. This would increase the availability of finance for green and social business, would provide a source of liquidity for people disadvantaged in the dominant money economy and crucially would help prevent the seepage of wealth out of the region.

The GMCA could usefully mount a review of existing schemes (Bristol, Hull, Brixton etc. and international ones such as the Palma and WIR) and evaluate the feasibility of alternative options (e.g. fiat versus fixed supply, pegged to pound versus finding own value) and administrative infrastructure requirements.

  1. 7 National redistribution

Policy 7.1: Campaign, electorally, extra-electorally and via public political education for a fair settlement from Central Government, combatting propaganda on fiscal gap and government deficit.

The thinking behind it:

Redistribution is an integral part of the kind of alternative economic approach we are proposing. Mainstream discourse about Greater Manchester devolution makes much of the so called fiscal gap. That is the £6 to 7 Billion gap between government expenditure on the city region and the revenue raised from taxation in the region. This is seen to be a problem but it is far from being such.

Firstly, all national economies have a recycling mechanism whereby richer regions support poorer regions. London has always been a centre of accumulation for the surplus generated elsewhere. In the phase of British industrial capitalism, it was the labour of people in this region (and others) that enriched the capital. At present, as a consequence of the policies of the last thirty and more years, London has a hyper-developed economy largely based on the financial institutions of the City of London (but also aided by the property speculation bubble). In an era where everything is subject to unexpected change this wealth might not even last (at least at the present levels) and it is not something to be hoarded down there, but shared with the citizens of the country.

The idea of the fiscal gap, however, is based on a misunderstanding: the reasonable sounding idea that government expenditure is funded from taxation. The reality is different: government determines expenditure and then it taxes: it can indeed spend whatever it wishes, managing any untoward consequences through the powerful macro-economic lever of taxation4.

So the fiscal gap is a fiscal trap: it is a very big mistake indeed for political leaders and actors in Greater Manchester to fall for it. On the contrary, our locally elected leaders need to lead a broad-based campaign for national sharing of resources, building a movement against public sector cuts (rather than complaining and then implementing them) and for appropriate government capital and revenue expenditure.

…..to be continued, or if you want it now, download here:  https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/policies-for-the-city-region-the-longer-version-v3-final.pdf

You can also see our policies page HERE and our publications page HERE.

1See Coote, A. (2014). People, planet, power: towards a new social settlement. London: New Economics Foundation. http://b.3cdn.net/nefoundation/eafb0135c69d8a9152_yum6bt9zh.pdf

2This is not the place to explore these insights and their background theory, or the inevitable controversies. For some key sources, see SSM (2016). So what would we do? Towards an alternative strategy for the city region. http://wp.me/a2xtmC-npE p. 22, note 46.

3For an overview of the legal and regulatory issues see NEF/CCIA (n.d.). An Overview of the Legal and Regulatory Framework for Complementary Currencies in the United Kingdom. http://community-currency.info/en/?smd_process_download=1&download_id=30668

4Lawn, P. (2010). Facilitating the transition to a steady-state economy: Some macroeconomic fundamentals. Ecological Economics, 69(5), 931–936. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.12.013
Tcherneva, P. (2001). Money: a comparison of the Post Keynesian and orthodox approaches. Oeconomicus, IV, 109-114. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.194.6435&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Guinan, J. (2014). Modern money and the escape from austerity. Renewal, 22(3-4), 6–21. http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/renewal/pdfs/Ren22.34_Guinan.pdf
Murphy, R. (2015). The joy of tax: how a fair tax system can create a better society. London: Transworld Publishers
Pettifor, A. (2017). The production of money: how to break the power of bankers. London: Verso.

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Unpacking how community business could make Greater Manchester’s economy more viable

May’s Café Conversation was held on 17.5.17 at Methodist Hall, Manchester.

15 people took part in a highly engaged, enthusiastic, structured discussion as part of Steady State Manchester (SSM) working on its journey on how to practically envision a shift to a real viable economy in Greater Manchester.

The session collectively addressed such questions as what is a community business, what makes a community business successful, how do we define success. As well as, if we want to achieve a viable economy what are the barriers to scaling up community business, and how can we overcome them?

Amongst the participants there were people from across Greater Manchester (Wigan, Bolton, Salford and Manchester and beyond), currently working for and with a range of community businesses – those represented included: Broughton Trust, Great Rock Coop, Greenslate Farm, Ethical Consumer, Persona and Treestation.

Greenslate Farm #1

Image credit: Greenslate Farm, Wigan

To open the event, we introduced an open definition of community business, paraphrased from Power to Change:

‘There are many types of community business. They can be shops, farms, pubs or call centres, among many other types of business. What they all have in common is that they are accountable to their community and that the profits they generate deliver positive local impact. They are locally rooted, trade for the benefit of the local community, accountable to the local community and have broad community impact’. (www.powertochange.org.uk)

The following blog reports on highlights from the discussion and maybe of benefit to other individuals, businesses and organisations working in, or researching community business:

A range of community businesses (mainly in GM) were identified as being successful:

Greenslate Community Farm, Styal Community Shop, Persona, Unicorn Cooperative Grocery, Kindling Trust, Glebelands Growers, Stockport Hydro, Treestation, Sunshine House Community Hub, Hulme Garden Centre, Hillary Step, Ethical Consumer, Work for Change, Broughton Trust.

Additionally, a range of reasons why they were successful as community businesses were identified (in no particular order):

Why successful - croppedWe introduced Steady State Manchester’s (SSM’s) vision for achieving a more viable economy, entitled Viable Economy (VE).

The ‘Viable Economy’ seamlessly interlinks the economic, social, political, cultural and ecological spheres to create a framework for a more viable economy.

It addresses the perilous state we are in ecologically, socially and economically. Its proposes a path to a resilient, more localised, stable economy that delivers what we all need: a frugal abundance or true prosperity. The document is based on the values of stewardship, justice, conviviality, solidarity, co-operation, equality and respect.

VE recommends a focus on the ‘foundational economy’, described as food production, food processing, transport infrastructure, health, education, welfare, social care, energy, utilities such as sewerage etc (from CRESC).

A range of barriers to scaling up the number of community businesses were discussed in each group:

  • Lack of know-how
  • Raising capital for premises
  • Regulations/red tape
  • Lack of contacts
  • Lack of time and energy
  • Unaffordable
  • Confidence, self esteem
  • Lack of support
  • Competition
  • Over supply or demand outstrips supply

We addressed what practical measures we could take to overcome these barriers – coming with ideas such as:

  • A network of mutual community businesses, to support new companies
  • Building alliances
  • Specific advisory services
  • Financial incentives and loans
  • Crowd sourcing
  • Training, workshops or online
  • Use timebanking
  • Community share issues
  • More market research to find niche
  • Set examples, good local models
  • Lobbying
  • Sharing services, models
  • Create avenues for sharing beyond websites

And finally addressed who might take a lead on overcoming these barriers included:

  • Us (those in the room)
  • SSM
  • The Cooperative
  • Cooperatives UK
  • Triodos Bank
  • Government
  • Councils
  • Trade associations
  • Community associations
  • Schools and parents
  • Grant providers
  • The mayor
  • Commissioners

Several of us, wanted to keep in touch and possibly share more about community business in the future. If anyone is undertaking any further activities to support community business and its development in GM, please get in touch at steadystatemanchester@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Posted in Business, community, community business, economics, environment, Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester City Region, Viable Economy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment