The UK economy, one of the most centralised in Europe, is increasingly recognised as remote from people and society, unequal, exclusive and beyond control. In a more diverse, localised economy, more people have more of a stake, which redistributes economic power, reducing disconnection, inequality and vulnerability to ‘too big to fail’ institutions.
Research addressing such economic solutions tends to deal with development of micro-projects, treating community economic development as marginal to the mainstream.
Instead we will explore, using our regional experience, how community economic development and stronger local economies can be integrated into the macro and mainstream economy: what are the conditions needed for local economies to be built around small and medium enterprises (SMEs), social enterprises and community groups with support from public sector and larger private companies; and what is needed to ensure that this can become the ‘usual’ approach of economic policy at local, sub national and national levels so that the greater redistribution and diversity impacts of localisation approaches can be maximised.
We are aware of a number of initiatives from the public and private sector (including some large companies) that have adopted approaches based on growing the local economy through developing local supply chains, businesses and skills. Some have specifically sought to maximise the benefits to the local economy. All have had some success in achieving far greater benefits than individual projects. All have faced considerable barriers to their approach and have had various degrees of success in overcoming them. These will form the case studies at the centre of the project.
The research will result in policy and other proposals for different actors in all sectors for overcoming these barriers, and for mainstreaming community economic development into economic policy and practice within and beyond the West Midlands.
This focus has the potential to make a timely and significant difference to how our economy serves social and economic wellbeing.
In brief, the project will run from April 2012 to January 2013 and involve the following stages:
- 1. Literature review (how localisation approaches can deliver inclusion, diversity and redistribution) and desk-based case study preparation
- 2. Case study research using interviews and desk research, and analysis: focussing on organisations, individuals and community members whose contributions to local economy have been successful, or are frustrated; in order to identify barriers and solutions at local and other spatial scales, particularly nationally, and develop ideas for mainstreaming. Proposed case studies include wholesale markets, green deal supply chains, public and consumer food procurement and some of the West Midlands’ best regeneration practice.
- 3. Workshop and analysis: testing ideas from stage 2 with a workshop for policy-makers and budget-holders; refine ideas on basis of workshop outcomes.
- 4. Reporting and dissemination