Economic Prospects for 2017: Andrew Simms – New Economics Foundation


As John Nightingale who sent the link says, this ‘reads well’: 

Each year the Financial Times conducts a survey of leading economists on the UK’s upcoming prospects. The New Weather Institute is part of that survey and predicts a bumpy ride. A lot of the FT material sits behind a paywall, so for interest here are the answers we gave to their questions (which are themselves interesting in terms of locating mainstream concerns) on issues ranging from economic growth, to Brexit, monetary and fiscal policy, inflation, immigration and, unavoidably, Donald Trump.

Highlights (full text on WM New Economics Group website):

It is time to stop measuring the health of the economy using orthodox economic growth measured by fluctuations in GDP as the primary indicator. By mistaking quantity for quality of economic activity, worse than telling us nothing it can be actively misleading. It tells us nothing about the quality of employment, the intelligence of infrastructure, the economy’s resilience, the environment’s health, or the life satisfaction of the population. As the United Nations Development Programme pointed out (as far back as 1996), you may have growth, but it might be variously jobless, voiceless (denying rights), ruthless (associated with high inequality), rootless (culturally dislocating in the way that fed Brexit, for example) or futureless (as now, based on unsustainable resource use) . . .

. . . tax breaks, subsidies and the way investment portfolios get managed means that money flows cheaply in fossil fuel infrastructure and operations. At the same time, necessary and successful emergent sectors like solar and other renewables can still struggle for affordable, patient capital. The privatisation and weakening of the mission of the Green Investment Bank is deeply concerning in this regard . . . prevalent economic uncertainties seem to be having the effect of putting everyone, the MPC included, on ‘watch’, and unlikely to do anything radically different in the ‘phony war’ period of approaching Brexit negotiations . . .

If anything, far from being downgraded by the Brexit debate, the economic importance of immigration to key UK sectors has been made more acutely obvious, ranging from higher education, to food, retail and a range of other service industries. Importantly, many of the drivers of population movement from inequality to conflict and environmental degradation show no sign of lessening and, if anything, growing worse.  The tone and promise of government policy seems mostly to affect the degree of xenophobia experienced by immigrants rather than significantly changing their numbers. With all these things in mind, I doubt trends in immigration will change much in 2017 and that this will buoy-up a UK economy facing a wide range of threats . . .

There is no reason in principle why QE cannot be used in a more intelligent and focused way. The UK is weighed-down with an aging, creaking, high-carbon infrastructure. The case for public investment as necessary to rebuild the foundations for a modern, clean and efficient economy to underpin our quality of life is overwhelming. The cost of money for conventional borrowing is cheap. And the decision by the Bank of England to expand its quantitative easing (QE) programme from £375 billion to £445 billion in the wake of Brexit, demonstrates that public money creation is also possible when the situation demands it. Up to date, QE has benefited the banks, and the holders of certain assets, with broader economic benefits being questionable. But, as Mark Carney has previously indicated, there is no reason in principle why it cannot be used in a more intelligent and focused way to aid the productive, low carbon economy. I and others have consistently argued that far more good could be done if the same basic mechanism was used, for example, to capitalise a much larger and more ambitious green investment bank via bond purchases. The work subsequently undertaken such as large scale energy efficiency retrofitting of the UK housing stock and the roll out of renewable energy would generate good quality local employment and better prepare Britain for the future. There is no sign yet that the government intend to seize this opportunity and rather too many signs that any borrowing that is undertaken will not be put to as good use . . .

Combined with the sentiments unleashed by Brexit, and the UK government’s active new embrace of industrial strategy, it is possible that the economic pendulum may swing back some degrees from globalisation toward localisation. Done in a purely autarchic way this might be negative. Done with respect to international cooperation and obligations, and to help build a more environmentally sustainable economy, it could snatch success from the jaws of chaotic self-destruction. Did you know… Adding your events to the NEON calendar will automatically promote them to our 1414 membersadd your events here.




A Future Beyond Growth: event, Sat 5th July 9.30am

You are invited to A Future Beyond Growth – a half-day event to explore the policy and practice changes needed for a better (sustainable and socially just) economy, and how we can make it happen.

Saturday 5th July, 09.30 until 1330

Innovation Centre Birmingham – Holt Street, Aston Science Park, Birmingham

Keynote speaker: Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party

UK economic policy needs to serve its different regions, deliver social justice, and operate within environmental limits. In the run up to the 2015 elections, how can we challenge London-centric political debate and set an agenda for achieving this in the West Midlands?

This participatory event organised by Compass WM and Localise WM will bring people together from across party-political lines to explore some coherent policy and practice proposals for meaningful economic change, and to plan how we can help turn them into action.

–         How can more people be included more equally in the economy?

–         How can we shape finance, skills, planning and other levers to support sustainable prosperity?

–         How can we make environmental limits real in economic decisions?

All are welcome – policymakers, community activists, political activists, NGOs, economic development officers anyone who wants to help make a better economy happen in the region. Booking is essential.

How to bookcompasslwmlogo

The event cost is £5.00 to cover the cost of refreshments and can be paid via Paypal or on the day. Please email with the following:


Organisation (if any):

Any access requirements:

I have paid by Paypal: Yes / no

I will pay on the day: Yes / no
We look forward to seeing you there!


Karen Leach (Localise WM) and Andy Howell (Compass WM)


About the organisers:

Compass is a home for those who want to build and be a part of a Good Society; one where equality, sustainability and democracy are not mere aspirations, but a living reality. This event will partly act as a relaunch of Compass West Midlands and set an agenda for further action.

Localise West Midlands works towards more localised approaches to supply chains, ownership and decision-making for a more just and sustainable economy. We do this by bringing people and organisations together to explore ideas and take action, and by research, consultancy and campaigning. See, our new resource for better local economies.

We are grateful to Innovation Birmingham for use of the venue.

Continuing the good work on mainstreaming stronger & more inclusive local economies

I’m pleased to report that Localise WM has secured funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust for 2013-14 to progress our work on Mainstreaming Community Economic Development.

BCtrust logoYou may be aware of our previous Mainstreaming CED project, which amassed a remarkable body of evidence around the social and economic benefits of localised economies (see our literature review or its summary) and then outlined how a local and community orientated approach can be integrated into conventional economic development to maximise these benefits.

This has given us a really useful body of material we can use to support progressive economic development, so we’re pleased to be able to develop it further, working with others to generate practical outcomes and building on our 2012-13 research findings:

  • Engaging and discussing the opportunities of Mainstreaming Community Economic Development with project managers, policy makers and politicians
  • Developing an informal learning network of  practitioner to provide the opportunity for shared learning and wider implementation
  • Working with partners to mainstream community economic development by testing its feasibility and ease of implementation in the West Midlands
  • Monitoring and evaluating the impact of the mainstreaming community economic development approach and the implications for future learning and implementation

Conrad Parke portraitIn particular we are planning to work with a hospital regeneration and supply chain project, a group of SMEs and other organisations aiming to establish a SME co-operative to facilitate joint winning of contracts;  and one or two local authority strategies on specific issues. LWM colleagues for this project are excellent new additions Conrad Parke and Sarah Longlands, and longer-standing LWM members Jon Morris and myself.Sarah Longlands pic

Local authority cuts of course make this an incredibly challenging time for public services including economic development – and likewise for communities. But it also necessitates a rethink about how we deliver ‘more with less’ and less unequally. Some public bodies are exploring these ideas, and we hope our MCED work will help that trend to become more widespread.

We are also happy to talk to anyone about potential opportunities to progress this strand of work elsewhere.

The MCED project webpage is here, with links to the previous research page, reports, briefings and related work, and we’ll be posting update blogs here as the year progresses.

Karen Leach

Birmingham’s budget dilemmas: defences against the vandalism of austerity

I’m just looking at the Birmingham City Council service reviews and budget consultation to make Localise West Midlands’ response – emphasising ways in which the Council can maximise local multiplier to reduce its whole system costs.
As a citizeSaveMRBn it’s incredibly frustrating to see the city forced into making such ridiculous choices. In my own area the likely closure of the much loved Edwarding swimming baths is painful to think about, but I know this is mirrored by similar swimming losses and threats to other vital local facilities across the city.  Then, talking to officers,  it’s clear that many of the procurement staff who were dedicated to maximising local returns from procurement are no longer in post: the cost saving of each salary needs to be set against the value of the contracts they would have brought in to the local area. I don’t think Birmingham City Council are yet calculating net costs and gains in this way, but hope I’m wrong.
Then of course there are the few who are still convinced by the false economy logic of the austerity agenda. In the collated responses to the inclusive economy part of the service review, I found the following perplexing little extract – albeit thankfully a lone voice:
“I object in the strongest terms to the whole idea of an inclusive economy. Do not spend my money on “addressing inequalities ” because you should treat all your residents equally. Every time you redistribute wealth you are incentivising dependency and failure. Your review has missed the point. Let people alone and they can work their way out of poverty. If you ‘ensure’ people have ‘skills and opportunities’ you are just going to treat them unequally and that is wrong. I think the review is deeply biased to outdated socialist notions and you need to modernise your approach.”
Someone obviously doesn’t quite understand that the inequality status quo didn’t arrive by laissez faire but by public intervention of the wrong sort.
Worth posting to demonstrate why it’s important to have some more progressive engagement with this agenda!
By contrast, Enfield Council are tackling the same set of problems by mobilising pension funds and persuading companies with large local markets to employ local people, and Preston Council are promoting employee buyouts to safeguard jobs and increase local control over the economy. Further afield, the advantages of municipal utilities are being rediscovered.ShitCreekPaddleStore Plenty of scope for Birmingham to learn from these and take them to a new level.
So – despite the vandalism of austerity, there are things we can do….
Karen Leach

Missing the ownership element of sustainable development – thoughts from the BCSD workshop

I attended the Business Council for Sustainable Development UK reception and sustainable development workshop today.

The Council’s worldwide President, Peter Bakker, talked (excellently) about the need to entirely reform capitalism in order to achieve better social goals and to live within environmental limits. Then there were workshop sessions on how businesses need to engage with and account for ecosystems services, and on localising manufacturing – is it desirable, and how do we help it to happen.  There was lots of discussion in the second workshop about the whether businesses would be prepared to move close to their markets, what this means, and the implications for moving raw materials around and for within-boundary CO2 accounting. But it did strike me – unsurprisingly, given LWM’s current immersion in our Mainstreaming Community Economic Development project, which is essentially about localism and localisation – that in the whole days’ discussion, decentralisation of capital and ownership was not mentioned despite all the open goals for addressing it. (I should, of course, have had my hand up more quickly in the Q&A. In my defence I was listening to interesting people!)

In terms of reforming capitalism, I’d refer not for the first time to my favourite piece capitalism thinking (capitalism and the concentration of ownership) that decentralising wealth, ownership and economic power into more hands is an essential bit of the reform we’re seeking. More practically, our talk of localising manufacturing needs to be putting forward a relationship economy, local ‘buy-in’ and local knowledge. A Portuguese private sector delegate to the conference said “we are not interested in moving because we know where we are, we know the people”. James McKay suggested that sustainability isn’t getting heard because of the challenge of making it locally understood and locally relevant.  If we’re trying to achieve sustainable development, to get businesses that understand it, to build social capital and to reduce the energy implications of trade, I’d be far more interested in getting local businesses to grow and thrive, get to know local resource flows and human beings, feel they belong, care what happens to the area, redistribute their turnover within it, and build their sustainable success on that.

Excuse the rapid reflections – writing the MCED report doesn’t allow me time to refine this, but it seemed worth throwing in a reference to this missing half of the sustainable development agenda.

Karen Leach

Progressing a better economy – event report 18th October 2012

Whilst our speaker evening last Thursday was partly about celebrating the achievements of Localise West Midlands over our ten years’ existence, there’s too much to do on sustainable economics to be purely introspective. So our guest speaker was Tim Jenkins, director of the new economics foundation‘s Great Transition campaign, with its emphasis on movement-building for major economic change.

picture of eventThrough extensive promotion we had an excellent mixed audience of both LWM’s known ‘friends’ and new people interested to hear from nef and ourselves and to contribute to the debate. Businesses, co-operators, permaculturalists, political party activists, equality and development campaigners – all the types of people we need to be reflected in progressing economic change.

In keeping with the occasion – our tenth anniversary – a little introspection was appropriate so we began with three of us giving quick reflections on LWM’s past and future. Colin Hines told us how after publishing his Localisation manifesto he was keen to see an organisation set up, importantly outside London, to promote localisation. He suggested Birmingham because it was “solid, normal and big” (seems a fair analysis!) From initial discussions with local people (Pat Conaty, Chris Crean, Andrew Lydon and others), it became obvious that a localisation initiative would best be centred on the regional scale – and Localise West Midlands was the result.

Both Colin and then Jon Morris, who spoke next, identified Birmingham Energy Savers as our biggest achievement (not ours alone of course – all credit to Encraft‘s Matthew Rhodes, Be Birmingham’s Keith Budden, Phil Beardmore). It would be hard to think of one with more impact. Jon also spoke about how his interest in LWM came from decades of regeneration experience making him more and more aware that local control and local enterprise were much overlooked solutions in favour of centralised economic and regeneration approaches – particularly in disadvantaged areas.

As coordinator I picked two less concrete things I value enormously about LWM. Firstly how we have always managed to talk radical economic change and yet still earn our living as a consultancy through clients who don’t necessarily share our world view. The latter role has lent experience and credibility to the former, rather than curtailing it – an achievement that reflects well on associates’ principles and commitment. Secondly we have learnt to tell positive stories about economics in a way that many organisations don’t. Environmental NGOs often struggle with this, signing up to sustainable development as an idea but not describing it with a clear narrrative; but I think we do this well.

As to achievements we also acknowledged the emerging influence of our current Mainstreaming Community Economic Development (CED) project, which is generating some excitement around the potential for localisation and CED approaches to address social inclusion and better-functioning local economies in the Birmingham conurbation.

But on to the much more important issues of what we haven’t yet achieved and needs more collaborative activity. The new economics foundation must be one of the UK organisations most crucial to supporting a better economic future and from Tim Jenkins’ introduction their Great Transition campaign sounds like a critical part of that. In planning it nef wanted to get beyond the traditional ‘NGO coalition’ approach and studied how major change happens, from examples such as the US civil rights movement. Great Transition takes the major environmental and socio-economic challenges we face (climate change, peak oil, ecosystem limits, inequality and other economic failure) and plans to orchestrate collective understanding and voice around how these must be addressed. Masterclasses in new economics, efforts to involve young leadership and specific campaigning around issues such as banking reform are part of the ongoing strategy. Tim ended by saying initiatives like LWM fit well with the Great Transition because of their scale and ability to demonstrate new economics in practice and policy.

Discussion picked up on the potential for learning from the “Evergreen” Co-ops and from US and Canadian CED, and how academic/third sector partnerships can be developed, and other upcoming events at which the conversation can continue such as the Co-op Futures conference and the Crash event on 24th November.

At the end we asked who felt it was important to carry on creating a greater voice for major economic change and whether organisations present might be prepared to sign up to some sort of collaborative effort in the region with this objective. Most hands went up. This is something Localise, nef and all of us had really better continue to take forward. Conversations will doubtless continue at Crash and Co-op Futures – and perhaps one of nef’s masterclasses can be held in the West Midlands.

Excellent sustainable food from award-winning Changekitchen and some Co-operative fairtrade wines rounded off a good evening nicely. Many thanks to our hosts the Midlands Co-operative Society; and to everyone who contributed in all ways.

Karen Leach

Localism and localisation – a potentially symbiotic relationship?

The June Co-operative Congress, organised by the Co-operative College and Co-operatives UK, backed the concept of co-operative localism. Wooldale Co-op secretary Mark Lewis said “the 21st century global economy had tended to strip away local economic activity in favour of distant, centralised solutions but added that there is a huge opportunity to help provide vital services to local communities and underpin local economies”. Tony Gudgeon, the Chelmsford Star Society’s chief executive, said, “The time is right to take a strategic approach in support of co-operative localism”. [both quoted in the Co-operative News 6-20 July] 

Localism describes a range of political philosophies which prioritise the local. The suffix ‘ism’ refers to a principle, theory, belief or movement. 

Localisation is a practical process. MP Caroline Lucas writes: “[E]conomic localisation is the antithesis of economic globalisation.It involves a better-your-neighbour supportive internationalism where the flow of ideas, technologies, information, culture, money and goods has, as its end goal, the rebuilding of truly sustainable national and local economies worldwide. Its emphasis is not on competition for the cheapest, but on co-operation for the best.” 

As LWM’s co-ordinator puts it: 

“Localism is about localising decision-making, for example by devolving decisions to ‘lower’ levels such as from national to local government or from local government to communities (Big Society etc). 

“Localisation is about localising the economy, ie supply chains, money flow and the size/power relationships between large and small businesses/communities and businesses.” 

Dorset farmer Edward Gallia writes: 

“[B]uy LOCAL (direct if possible) for those foodstuffs that can be grown locally.  Then use the “Fair Trade” (or other) label for foodstuffs that can’t be grown locally and for which you need an external guarantee that what you are purchasing has been done so fairly . . .

“Such purchasing shortens the food-chain, makes a connection between eater, the land and the grower; and, probably most importantly at the moment, supports the local economy.”   

Douglas Chalmers of the Country Land and Business Association expanded on this economic interaction in 2004:

[Dairy farmers] kept the feed mills, vets, contractors, hauliers, merchants and tradesmen busy. Their non-milking neighbours had a choice of competitive suppliers. The ancillary businesses being busy meant they kept and paid staff, who in turn put money into local businesses and kept local services viable . . .  

Localised decision-making could and should favour decisions which strengthen the local/regional economy, bringing purpose and prosperity to those who have lost both under a globalised economic system.