The Vectors of Prosperity
Three UK reports — each the sum of much collaborative effort — landed this week en route to decorating ministerial bookshelves.
The Industrial Strategy publication was much anticipated and trailed in the previous week’s budget.
The Social Mobility Commission’s report was not — but their legacy remains even though the four remaining Commissioners promptly resigned citing the government’s apparent lack of interest.
To complete the trilogy — Smart Specialisation — underscored the first two by auditing a key vector of prosperity — the highly variable innovation capacity of local economies, or, as the authors prefer, the need to ‘understand the distinctiveness of a place’.
There are many vectors of prosperity.
These are the threads that are woven into local fabrics — the economic and societal pulses that energise communities. When assessing local wellbeing and prosperity we track these vital signs of life as ‘indicators’ that mark that distinctiveness. The indicators cut across all conventional sector and demographic metrics.
The smart and specialist champions of innovation policy observe ‘We’re seeing a tension between balancing the needs of places and the understandable desire to support innovation excellence’ and, at the heart of the Social Mobility Commission’s report, the challenge of reconciling the National with the Local is similarly exposed.
The authors of the Social Mobility Index observe that ‘London and its hinterland are increasingly looking like a different country from the rest of Britain’. The activity mappers of the Smart Specialisation audit explain in footnote 1 that ‘Since London proved to be an outlier, it was excluded from the data set represented here in order to achieve a balanced overview.’
The many actionable vectors of prosperity include far more than these difficult debates over the balance between central and local leadership.
The linkages between schools, colleges, universities, enterprise and local communities, or the research interplay between Defence, Health and Enterprise, or the challenges between short-term returns and long-term fitness — all these, seen from the perspective of innovation champions, are questions of scale, efficiency and avoidance of duplication. That innovation perspective plays crucially into the search for potential exports and inward investment.
From a local leadership perspective Cultural Connectivity is another very actionable vector.
Whilst sector tribes and their innovation champions speak some variant of lingua-factorium, Local Leaders build opportunities on their (variable) base of multi-ethnic linkages with distant markets. They appoint directors to boost international trade, forge partnership deals between cities and send out trade missions led by local networks of ethnic communities. None of this is new (The Hanseatic League reaches back over 500 years) but this cultural/ethnic connectivity gives communities an edge in navigating a shifting landscape — even if this newly recognised ‘let-us-not-be-left-behind’ role runs counter to prevailing populist perversions.
The Industrial Strategy sanctified place-based policy. The Social Mobility Commission indexed the poverty-preserving inequalities. The Smart Specialisation Hub scrambled to be smarter about places and audit the variable innovation capacities of Local Enterprise Partnerships.
Three times. In just one week. The vectors of prosperity, whilst far from aligned, are at least exposed.
Public Value, as Mariana would say, is not some externality that is safe to ignore. Slightly less-than-optimal duplication and less-centralised string pulling might be a very small price to pay for greater creative energy.