Ten steps to save the cities

The new economics agenda for thriving local economies

There is an urgent need in the cities in the UK, especially in the north, for a new set of economic policies to kickstart local recovery.

The Treasury has no such plan. The cities themselves often believe they must wait patiently until the government, or the economic cycle, bails them out.

But a new economic agenda is emerging, borrowed often from the most successful cities in Europe and North and South America, which can effectively allow cities to take back control of their economic destiny. This is the outline of this agenda. It will vary between the places that put it into effect – that is the point – but the basic ideas are recognisable, and can be summed up in ten linked propositions:

  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Not all of these ideas can be organised tomorrow, at least not without central government support. Providing new kinds of quantitative easing and making it available to the regions is not something that local government can organise by itself. Getting the banks to fund a new community banking infrastructure – capable of supporting the small-medium enterprises market, as they do in the USA – depends at least on co-operation between the banks.

But the rest can all be done by imaginative and forward-looking city leaders, and can be done immediately, grasping the new powers of general competence that are being made available in the Localism Bill. All of these ideas have been put into practice somewhere. What has not happened so far is for enlightened local government to knit all these approaches together and claw their way out of recession by doing so. That is the challenge for them, and the challenge for us in the world of new economics, is how best to support them.



If you value great public services, protecting the planet and reducing inequality, please support NEF today.

Make a one-off donation

£5 £10 £25 £50 £100

Make a monthly donation

£3 £5 £10 £25 £100