Reviving a genuinely local entrepreneurial culture

david boyle2Innovative thinkers often have to wait ten to twenty years before their concepts become mainstream. Two years ago David Boyle (New Economics Foundation) listed ten linked propositions, many borrowed from the most successful cities in Europe and North and South America, which could effectively allow cities to take back control of their economic destiny.

Agreeing with the City Growth Commission that a new economic agenda is emerging in these successful cities (and setting aside the issue of the desirability of growth) these propositions offer a more interesting and convincing contribution to the Core Cities debate, than Jim O’Neill’s four points:

Boyle’s ten linked propositions offer an outline agenda – a composite drawn from these urban centres:

  1. Rebuild local economies by plugging the leaks that are draining local money away. How money circulates in an area is just as important as the amount of money flowing into it. Traditional economics suggests that cities must specialise. That may be true for the largest businesses, but it is irrelevant for local business. For them, the best way forward is not just by specialising, but also by building diversity and looking for ways of replacing imports.
  1. Develop local diversity and distinctiveness. Too many of our cities have devoted their imagination and resources to making themselves look the same as each other. But because economic diversity keeps money circulating locally, it is critical that any new developments design well-being, distinctiveness and sustainability indicators into Master Planning processes and that any new retail effort must make high streets more, not less, diverse.
  1. Bust local monopolies to let enterprise flourish. One major reason why so many of our local economies have been hollowed out is that so many cities have been using net wealth destroyers as anchor stores.
  1. Organise enterprise coaching, support and advice in every neighbourhood. Coaches, backed up by a panel of local business people, bank managers and other local volunteers, can help to break down the barriers preventing enterprise from starting, replicating the kind of social networks that successful places have.
  1. Use local resources to build an effective new local lending infrastructure. Our businesses are now in a far weaker position than American or German competitors, and potential competitors, because we have no equivalent lending infrastructure. The real problem is not lack of capital to lend, it’s a serious lack of institutions capable of lending it.
  1. Invest in local energy. At present only 0.01 per cent of electricity in England is generated by local authority-owned renewables, despite the scope that exists to install projects on their land and buildings. In Germany the equivalent figure is 100 times higher.
  1. Use waste products as raw material for new enterprises. Traditional economics confines its interest to the point where money becomes involved and to the point when a product is thrown away. Cities are often blind to the potential value of what is wasted and thrown away – because all these have potential for enterprise.
  1. Use public sector spending to maximise local money flows. Making sure that public sector contracts build the local economy, and provide permanent economic assets for depressed areas.
  1. Launch a range of new kinds of money. Successful models are now running all over the world, keeping local resources circulating locally and providing independence for impoverished communities. They can provide low-cost or free credit, and – in some countries – they underpin whole sectors of the economy.
  1. Experimenting with new kinds of credit creation for local public benefit. There will be occasions when regional economies require the creation of new public money, free of interest, where necessary to cope with unprecedented financial emergencies, and as the basis for loans to rebuild the infrastructure of productive local economies.

Boyle notes that not all of these ideas could be organised without central government support, but that the rest could be done by imaginative and forward-looking city leaders, grasping the new powers of general competence made available in the Localism Bill.


Read the full article here.


Energy security, using devices manufactured in this country

prof john a mathews 2Professor John A. Mathews’ areas of expertise include semiconductors, flat panel displays and new energy industries, solar photovoltaics and LEDs.

He wrote in the Financial Times:

“A quite different version of “energy security” involves reliance on the power generated by renewable devices – wind turbines, solar cells – that are manufactured in the country itself.

“What you make is yours, forever.

“Provided a country has abundant resources of renewable energy – wind, water, sunshine –  making itself independent in power needs by manufacturing its energy systems is the best guarantee of long-term (as well as medium-term) security.

“By contrast, continuing dependence on fossil fuels (even alternatives such as shale oil or gas) locks a country in to eventual diminishing returns.

“Adopting the alternative “security through manufacturing” approach has the convenient aspect that it would help to revive manufacturing centres . . .

“And it has the added convenient feature that it reduces the country’s carbon emissions”.

Professor Mathews currently holds the Eni Chair of Competitive Dynamics and Global Strategy at LUISS Guido Carli University, in Rome, and Chair of Strategy, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University, in Sydney.


Should we learn from countries whose companies own our energy providers?

Celia Richardson, director of the Social Economy Alliance, is the lead signatory of a letter in the Financial Times.

 social economy alliance logo

The Alliance was launched by Social Enterprise UK, a coalition of leading social economy organisations, in order to influence the way political parties formulate social and economic policies before the next General Election and increase the impact of the social economy.

ResPublica 9.13 report coverWelcoming Ed Miliband’s focus on energy, she referred to the growing community energy industry in this country where neighbours are collaborating, creating jobs and ‘growing their social capital’.

The latest publication from ResPublica suggests that community energy could grow to eighty-nine times its current size if existing barriers were lowered. The letter continues:

‘Other countries, whose companies own our energy providers, are developing their own community energy and renewables at a fast pace, while the UK suffers – we could learn from their domestic policy.


‘Energy is where Britain can tackle serious economic problems at the same time as tackling social problems, as well as our large and growing democratic deficit’.


Social enterprises are businesses that trade in order to address social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment.  They sell goods and services in the open market, but reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community.

And so when they profit, society profits.


Should QE now be used for the common good – extending and adapting the work of Birmingham Energy Savers?


Quantitative Easing currently benefits the non-bank financial sector, commercial banks and the Treasury

HansardUnder QE, Hansard evidence informs us, the Bank of England’s Asset Purchase Facility purchase of just under £375bn of government bonds from the non-bank financial sector has led to a lowering of long term interest rates. The non-bank financial sector and commercial banks now hold more liquid assets in the form of interest-bearing reserves.

The consequent reduction of borrowing costs for the government means that debt issued or re-financed since 2009 has been substantially cheaper, saving some £50bn in immediate funding costs.

But QE could be used directly for the common good: MP Caroline Lucas:

Caroline Lucas 3“There is huge, and as yet untapped, potential in renewable energy, energy and resource-use efficiency and the transformation of our transport system that would create high-quality jobs across the country and reduce the UK’s overall ecological impact.

“If we are serious about staying below 2C warming, as we have legal obligations to do, then to invest in a destructive Dash for Gas when there is a Green New Deal on the table borders on criminal negligence by my parliamentary colleagues.”



GND logo


This is the National Plan advocated by the Green New Deal Group: Larry Elliott of the Guardian, Tony Juniper, formerly FOE’s director, Jeremy Leggett of Solarcentury, Richard Murphy Tax Justice Network, Ann Pettifor of NEF and Debtonation, Charles Secrett, currently working with ELF, Triodos Bank and London’s Development Agency and Wildlife Trust, MP Caroline Lucas, Andrew Simms director of NEF, and the convenor Colin Hines, LWM co-founder and Co-Director of Finance for the Future.

Birmingham Energy Savers

birmingham energy saversEarly beneficiaries of Birmingham Energy Savers’ (BES) activities gave testimony of the positive impact the innovative scheme is having on their lives at its official launch event at The Council House in February.

It was attended by local people helped out of long-term unemployment, residents that are now enjoying warmer homes plus lower energy bills joined representatives of Birmingham City Council, who originated the scheme, and its delivery partner Carillion Services.

If such schemes could be more widely implemented and adapted for use all over the country, welcome social, economic and environmental benefits would be offered to most people – but minimal ‘rich pickings’ for the few.


In similar vein, Fran, Ben, Andrew, Mira and rest of the team at Positive Money urge:

“Get the Bank of England to create new money instead. This new money would be granted to the government, who would spend it into the real economy where it can create jobs and support businesses”.


Doctor prescribes localisation


Dr Mansfield, after surveying Macmillan Support’s analysis, continues:

peter mansfieldMacmillan’s spokesperson acknowledges that cancer survivors are usually weakened in some way by the treatment.

This is likely to make them more vulnerable to the other kinds of disease which will eventually carry them off. But not before yet more medical services and long-term support. And most of the half of us who don’t acquire cancer, nevertheless require medical services of some sort fairly regularly.

If we were cattle, our breeders would probably send us all to the abattoir and start again with new stock!

We cannot afford to be so fatalistic about trends like this. Something much more radical is called for. We know what, and have done for most of the past century.

We need to clean up our world, and therefore our food. It’s that simple. Yes, simple. It can be done, given lashings of wartime spirit.

His prescription 

Drastic reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels. Urgent development of hydrogen fuel cells, environmental electricity generation. Banning motor vehicles in built-up centres. Children and their parents walking or cycling to and from school. Zero carbon homes, zero carbon transport.

Urgent development of organic agriculture and horticulture. Many more people working the land by small-scale technologies – in return for benefits if need be. Mainly local distribution of crops in season. Outright bans on junk food manufacture and – probably – tobacco products. Run down large scale and chemical-based agriculture and all associated subsidies.

And what would result?

  • Youngsters would grow up strong, capable, disease-free and motivated. Some already do – it would be nice to know just how many. Then we could plot the rate of rise of that statistic in the next decade.
  • Air and water would be cleaner and electronegative, and food would be hugely more sustaining.
  • Activity would be human-scale, physical and down-to-earth. Even the chattering classes would save their breath to harvest their next meal.
  • The NHS and social services would scale down over the next 20 years, to a fraction of its present size.
  • They would be replaced by genuine communities based on residence, workplace and land, providing extended families to include everyone.
  • Free benefits would be history – and so would profitable illness.

We would have a health service – with huge vitality to match! And we would still have industry, leisure and full employment.


And a future.



Community energy groups developing local initiatives in Britain and Germany


DECC Call for Evidence on community energy

A reader pointed out this passage in Hansard (Written answers):

community energy warwickshire logoPaul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what recent discussions he has had with community energy co-operatives and other community energy groups on developing such local initiatives; what assessment he has made of the success of such groups in Germany; and if he has given consideration to the ways in which British communities could twin with German towns and cities where community energy schemes have demonstrated success. [158042]

Michael Fallon: In April, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), met the Community Energy Coalition and the Community Energy Contact Group. DECC officials continue to meet regularly with the Community Energy Contact Group and other key stakeholders.

The Community Energy Strategy, which will be published later in the year, will look at how community projects or initiatives, including co-operatives, focused on energy generation, energy saving and management, collective purchasing and collective switching can realise their potential. In order to inform that strategy, we have launched a Call for Evidence on community energy.

The Call for Evidence is seeking information from both the UK and overseas, including Germany. On the basis of the evidence received, we will consider ways in which our communities may be able to learn from good practice in other countries.


(Community Energy Warwickshire invests in installing renewable energy and helps people to reduce their energy usage)


Community currencies

There are local or community currencies in several British towns, including Bath, Stroud, Totnes, Calderdale, Bristol and Brixton – and in many countries around the world. The most recent reports have come from India and South Africa.

Jeremy Williams writes that with the financial system in disarray and the economic downturn, local currencies come into their own: “They are counter-cyclical: when the mainstream economy falters, the alternative economy soars . . . In times of recession, it is hard to generate new cash for investment, especially for local businesses or small initiatives. Alternative currencies can create new opportunities in the same way that banks do, but much more organically”.

bhopal coinShopkeepers in Bhopal, India, have floated their own currency. Faced with the shortage of Rs. 5 coins and undamaged notes, shopkeepers have introduced a plastic coin as a parallel currency – which they are willing to trade with.

A liquor shop proprietor in the market initiated the scheme which is supported by other shopkeepers selling snacks, stationery, eggs and other ‘edibles’. They accept the coin ‘issued’ by the liqour shop and after having collected five or 10 such coins, return them to the liquor shop and take Rs. 100 or Rs. 50 in lieu of these.

As the boy at the liquor shop counter hands over the coin to a customer, he would say “you can use it anywhere in five no market stop” before you could ask him any question. A person at the counter sits with a bag full of these plastic coins.

ora currency notesOn Radio 4 recently there was a report about Orania, a town in the northern Cape populated by white Afrikaners. They are working towards building a self-sufficient community.

Since 2004 they have used notes designed by a local artist, known as the ora, which can only be spent within the town. As in many other schemes the Afrikaners want to keep money in the local economy.

funny money david boyleDavid Boyle – in his book Funny Money – mentions a deli that wanted to move to a new premises. When the bank refused to lend the money they needed to do this, the deli owner invented his own currency – the ‘deli dollar’. A deli dollar was simply a voucher that could be redeemed later in the year. The owners sold $5000 worth of deli dollars to regulars, and created a loan for themselves from their customer base. As customers brought the vouchers in over the next year, the loan was re-paid in food.

His conclusion: though these currencies cannot do everything mainstream currencies do, they can be effective in many areas where dollars and pounds are simply not effective:

“They do not build communities, they do not respond to needs, they do not build families, they do not tackle poverty. Local money does, and for that reason, I believe it will work.”


Is the priority to expand world trade or to build on the resilience of communities?

DF Times obit

Fleming, second left, discussing the working of an experimental rocket stove – to capture heat with clean combustion – at Transition Town Louth, Lincolnshire (The Times)

In Lean Logic, David Fleming asks:

“Is the priority to expand world trade, to push ahead with the global market, or to build on the resilience of communities, to protect them from the turbulence of the global market and to improve their food security?

“The former head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mike Moore, writes persuasively about the benefits of free trade in A World Without Walls; (2003). He shows that the lowering of trade barriers has stimulated growth, that the countries that have been the most open to trade have enjoyed the most economic progress and the greatest rise in the incomes of the poor. And, as former prime minister of New Zealand, he has the experience of making that country a pioneer of free-market agriculture, with benign effects across the economy. How, then, can there be doubts when he argues that the anti-globalisation movement, if successful, would bring catastrophic consequences, not just for the poor in developing economies, but for all of us?

“Can Mr Moore and the anti-globalisation protestors really be talking about the same thing?”

He continues with the opposing argument which states that globalisation, in the form of free trade, opening up small-scale production in the non-industrialised countries to competition from multinationals:

  • leads to unemployment and dispossession;
  • makes agriculture dependent on imported energy;
  • devastates soils, ecosystems and communities;
  • raises incomes in part by destroying local subsistence and forcing people into the cash economy;
  • and is supported by the governments of the affected countries
  • not least because of the debts into which they have been lured.

And concludes:

“Food security, with higher overall yields and greater diversity, less damage to the soil and higher real local incomes, would be more fruitfully sought by helping farmers to make the best use of their own skills applied to local conditions”.

Lean logic DF titleBoth sides beg the question: they are each correct if their premises are accepted: if the priority is to expand world trade, to push ahead with the global market, Mr Moore’s conclusions naturally follow; if it is to build on the resilience of communities, to protect them from the turbulence of the global market, and to improve their food security, his critics are correct.

The begged question is the one thing they should be talking about.

Does supporting local business build resilient local economies – and a more peaceful world?

judy wicks2Judy Wicks, a board member of the NEI – featured recently on this site – thinks that it does.

Looking around for more information, evidence of a very adventurous and constructive life – including living with the Eskimos and working with the Zapatistas  – was easily found online.

Her unusual slant on localisation was extracted from the 24th Schumacher Lecture which she gave in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

She argues that supporting local business is more than a strategy for building resilient local economies:

“Perhaps the greatest benefit of the local-living-economy movement is that by creating self-reliance we are creating the foundations for world peace. If all communities had food security, water security, and energy security, if they appreciated diversity of culture rather than a monoculture, that would be the foundation for world peace. Schumacher said, ‘People who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.’

Judy started buying from local farmers in 1986 for her restaurant White Dog Café, which she started on the first floor of her house in 1983. Realizing that helping other restaurants connect with local farmers would strengthen the regional food system, she founded the Fair Food Project in 2000.

The following year she co-founded the nationwide Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), now a network of over 20,000 local independent businesses in the U.S. and Canada, and founded the local affiliate Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, currently with 500 members.



Plunkett Foundation forms partnership with Land Settlement Association

Horticulture smallholdings: a crucial contribution towards higher employment, a reliable, home-grown food supply and a diverse, more ecologically healthy countryside

The Plunkett Foundation newsletter reports a new partnership with the Land Settlement Association Charitable Trust. Plunkett hopes to identify ‘pioneering approaches to co-operative horticulture across the UK’ to ‘share and develop further’.  Shaun Chamberlin has written about one such initiative, the Ecological Land Co-operative in the January 2013 issue of Country Smallholding magazine. General reflections are summarised here.

ecological land co-operative
Shaun opens by pointing out that nearly half of the UK’s land is owned by just 40,000 people (0.06% of the population).

Such land ownership ‘by the few’ tends to favour uniform, large-scale, mechanised agriculture, yet with the UK population having increased by 4 million over the past decade, it becomes ever more pertinent that such farms have long been known to produce far less food per acre than smaller holdings.

However, although smaller holdings can produce substantially more food per acre, the big farms can produce more of a given monoculture crop per acre, which suits the large-scale centralised buyers.

The greater challenge facing smallholders, however, is that their higher productivity per acre relies on careful human attention, which can be a major expense. Large-scale mechanised farms, on the other hand, have replaced human care with cheap fossil energy, standardisation and monoculture.

Chamberlin concludes:

Industrialised agriculture is a major contributor to climate destabilisation, soil depletion and numerous other problems, while smallholdings provide an ideal context for diverse, low-carbon, localised lifestyles that could provide a desperately needed model for true sustainability.

Extortionate land prices and the intricate absurdities of the planning permission system combine to make the simple aim of living on and working a piece of land seem an unattainable dream for most of us; however, with finite fossil fuel supplies depleting and oil prices having tripled over the past decade, the balance is shifting and smallholdings and horticulture offer a crucial contribution towards higher employment, a reliable, home-grown food supply for the UK and a diverse and thus more ecologically healthy countryside.

To read about Ecological Land Co-operative and the history of a government-funded Land Settlement Association in the 1930s, go to the article:

Twitter: @EcoLandCoop
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