by Anna Randle, Head of Practice: Public Services at Collaborate and former Head of Policy at Lambeth Council.
The impressive turnout to launch the RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission demonstrates serious interest in how we can create growth which benefits those in our communities who are furthest away from economic opportunity.
Cllr Claire Kober, leader of Haringey, described a familiar paradox of high levels of economic growth taking place against a backdrop of entrenched and growing inequality in her borough.
This is a scenario I recognise from my time in Lambeth, a ‘booming borough’ in which rapid gentrification of town centres like Brixton meant that some teenagers from neighbouring estates would not even go to ‘Brixton New York’.
The panel discussed the components of an inclusive growth strategy: Connectivity – transport that enable people to access jobs; skills and training; the right skills in the right place; housing; the ability to determine solutions at a local level, employment demand and land availability.
All of this is worthy of enquiry, but I couldn’t help feel something was missing. While contemplating the image of a shiny skyscraper on the event backdrop I realised what this was – people!
This Commission is not about growth, it is about inclusive growth. Experience should teach us that merely putting the right components in place isn’t enough. Young people from estates around Brixton can walk to Brixton town centre in 10 minutes; there are no ‘transport connectivity’ barriers.
If they go there they may find jobs or apprenticeships, low cost workspaces, people who could help them start their own enterprises, not to mention easy access to a growing global city – leading cultural, economic, retail and academic industries are just a few miles away.
So the question is: why do some young people think none of this is for them? And how can public services help make sure they do?
To achieve inclusive growth, public institutions and services need to understand and respond to the underlying social and cultural determinants that make people able and ready, or not, to access economic opportunity – the ‘psychology of inclusion’.
The Commission should provide some answers to these questions – but to do so it will need to look beyond a traditional economic viewpoint.
First, public agencies need to understand the drivers which lead people to feel able, or not, to access opportunity. A wide range influences are relevant: families, neighbours and social networks, schools and colleges, employers and local businesses.
The role of the local authority should be to recognise this system and develop its contribution towards the shared aim of access to economic opportunity with schools which help to prepare students for work, employers who take their responsibility to the local community seriously and so on.
We should be thinking about how we change our public service model,
moving away from public services which respond narrowly to presenting needs, create dependency and reinforce, however inadvertently, low expectations among communities and
towards public services that build resilience, community connections and networks and which grow independence.
Public services should help people feel confident, able to influence their environment and lives, secure and rooted in a community, valued and recognised. These are essential pre-conditions for the ability to access and benefit from jobs and growth.
We are wedded to an idea of services as a ‘thing’ that is ‘given’ – a sausage-factory model in which the theory tells us people have a problem, receive a service and pop out at the other end. We know this isn’t true, so why don’t we change it?
Some places are starting. The Ignite programme in Coventry, funded by the Early Action Neighbourhood Fund, is working alongside housing and children’s services to help support people to make community connections and build local participation, creating a web of resilience which may lead to sustainable change in people’s lives.
Some connecting infrastructure is required: organisations which can help navigate the space between local businesses, opportunities and people, helping not only to open doors, but walking alongside people who may not be able to do this alone. New Lambeth social enterprise Raw Talent is a good example of this.
The question must be how we shift from many small projects to wider system and culture change in public services and institutions. Big shifts in culture, behaviour and collaboration are required and I think the Commission should address this.