Quid pro quo is the social democratic way to go
Part six – Local priorities for economic regeneration: an Enfield view
Alan Sitkin, Senior Lecturer, Regents University London
For anyone with an interest in the welfare of the communities where they live, there are few better positions than Cabinet Member for Economic Regeneration. I heartily encourage readers of this blog to consider standing for their local Council – it gives you an opportunity to effect real change.
This initial blog series has highlighted the challenges that local regeneration faces because I wanted to accurately represent our situation at London Borough of Enfield. It is not enough to have policies that, if enacted, will make for a better world. Just as much work has to be done overcoming the inevitable obstacles to their implementation.
I still wouldn’t want readers to conclude from this narrative that the game isn’t worth the candle. Quite the contrary: the joy of achieving results is always magnified when done in the face of adversity. As they say – no pain, no gain. Besides, it is by identifying constraints that any one of us (and more importantly, future generations) can learn how to transcend them.
Examples include the discussions we’ve had about the possibility for coordination-minded governments, applying local economic leadership, to bring to the table stakeholders who can be convinced to invest in a common cause – irrespective of other interests they may have.
Blog 5, for instance, detailed a concrete outcome, one where we agreed a mechanism for funding construction professions training programmes that could give thousands of local residents better life chances in the decades to come – while giving companies some hope of replacing the 28% of London construction workers who currently come from the EU can be replaced post-Brexit.
Blog 2 described our success in attracting enlightened employers willing to pay London Living Wage up to 30% above national minimum wage in exchange for the Council doing away with onerous red tape.
The first conclusion to be drawn from these two examples is that quid pro quo works in public policy economics as it does elsewhere. Reciprocity remains a fundamental principle of human interaction.
I was happy to push this approach because it validated my European social democrat vision that as long as you find some way of helping companies to do business, you don’t need to join the race to the bottom that has devastated local authorities’ business rate tax base and made it harder for them to provide the services that we all want to see.
Under my watch, Enfield did not offer enterprise zone arrangements. The fiscal effects are suicidal and the job creation performance mediocre at best. But as our case studies demonstrate, we were able to find other business interactions that did work. It was a win-win mindset that served our people well – while providing, at a more conceptual level, further empirical evidence for the fallacies of both the hard right’s obsequious subservience to all business demands and the crazy left’s blind disdain for normal business interests.
Conclusion number two from this initial blog series is that social democratic economics work: businesses give more people better paid jobs. I can’t see why anyone would argue with that.
On top of this, even if progress can seem relatively slow in certain areas of regeneration, there will be other domains where interventions achieve quicker results. Another lesson from my experience with economic decision-making is that at any given moment in time, certain actions are more in tune with the zeitgeist and therefore more apt to succeed. In turn, this opens up a whole other debate about what resources a policymaker should devote to problems caused certain existing structures becoming economically anachronistic.
A prime example of this was the question of what to do about our declining high streets, a global phenomenon explained by revolutionary changes in consumer purchasing habits. The factors involved here go well past anything that a local authority can control, at which point the debate became whether to expend limited funds to try and stave off the inevitable, or concentrate resources where they have the greatest chance of success.
I always felt that King Canute was a precautionary tale and although my refusal to save sinking ships earned me enmity in certain quarters, it freed up Enfield Council’s regeneration team to focus on areas where we had a greater chance of success. One was the workforce employability and pay conditions that this initial blog series has covered. Another was the hard business of physical and industrial redevelopment – the topic at the heart of a new NPI blog series that will begin in the new year.