Enfield, North London, has been recovering from de-industrialisation during the 1980s and unemployment, low skills and deprivation remain stubbornly high. These challenges have been compounded by the drive for public sector austerity which has removed many low skilled jobs from the economy. The area also finds it difficult to attract inward investment given the competition from other neighbouring authorities.

Enfield’s response was to consider how they might take a different approach to economic development in the future. Working with the Centre for Research on Sociocultural Change (CRESC) they decided to focus their attention on the strengths within their existing economy rather than relying upon investment from outside: those companies that won’t get up and leave anytime soon! This they named their ‘foundational economy’.

A key component of this foundational economy was utility companies including water, power and gas. These companies are rooted within the area by customer base and Enfield set about contacting these companies to find out how they could improve economic impact of these organisations on the area, for example through local employment and investment. This was about expanding the corporate social responsibility of these companies beyond a few tokenistic schemes and creating real impact for the local economy. British Gas signed up for a £10m contract for retrofit of insulation in Enfield including hiring 100 school leavers. In addition, Thames Water worked with the council to upskill local contractors to support their supply chain in the area.

Key features of this approach

  • Building on what already exists – recognising the opportunities that do exist within the area that are unlikely to change and maximising the potential impact of these organisations in the area including utilities, banks and universities.
  • Supporting local job creation –the focus of this scheme is on local job creation and business support, particularly for those who are most vulnerable in the economy including low skilled workers and young people.
  • Maximising the potential of local expenditure.If large utility companies are already working in an area, this scheme demonstrates how a local authority can attempt to ensure that this existing investment can be used in a smarter way, by broadening and deepening the corporate social responsibility to which many companies are already committed in principle

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Image Credit: Christine Matthews / Enfield Town centre, Enfield