How inclusive can inclusive growth be?

Ruth Redfern, Director of Inclusive Growth in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, acknowledges the challenges of engaging and communicating the inclusive growth agenda.

By Ruth Redfern

In West Yorkshire, under the direction of the Leaders of the Local and Combined Authorities, a commissioned group of Directors met to ensure we better supported our lower paid workers. Together we created a charter titled ‘No Silver Bullet’. (PDF, 1MB). Much progress has been made and following a recent review we made some further recommendations, all of which were accepted.

I start with this because the biggest challenge, and remains so, was communication and engagement. A dispersed workforce, often part time, often unable to travel or access the councils IT system mitigates against the real engagement we so desperately need. How are we to share our values, behaviours and mission if we cannot engage? How are we to manage and lead a workforce we struggle to meet?

The same can be said when seeking to listen to those who are the potential beneficiaries of and contributors to inclusive growth. In Leeds City Region we want to draw on the lived experiences of our citizens. We want a shared vision and a binding mission that leads to co-production and a common belief. Cultivating those who are willing to become ‘plate-spinners’ in communities, driving change, challenging and leading initiatives and projects with their neighbours and families. We want to listen. But access, language and practicalities are downright difficult. No-one disputes that the authentic voices of our communities are worth listening to, or if they do they are wisely keeping it to themselves. But meaningful engagement in a population of just over 3 million, when the target group is the hardest to reach, is a big ask.

I am not for one moment suggesting we despair and give up. However, I am acknowledging the challenge, which is the first step to solving it. I think there are (probably) four opportunities here:

Firstly, in our Inclusive Growth Group we are working on community entrepreneurialism. Looking to build on success (many) and learn from failures (some) from past schemes and programmes e.g. City challenge, SRB, New Deal, we think we can sire the ‘sibling’ approach where organisations and community economic development projects support, mentor or co-produce similar successful, sustainable activity. We also believe that we can explore new models that lead to community entrepreneurialism, not least the sharing economy. We also promote a welfare benefits system that rewards community entrepreneurialism and supports shifting the informal economy into formal;

Secondly, we know we need to fashion a new relationship between citizen and state. Much of this thinking hails from the Commission on the future of Local Government (PDF, 300KB). In a nutshell, citizens who are passive recipients of services are not empowered to create, engage with others or challenge their Local Authority, their Combined Authority or their Mayor to do things differently. We’ve done much here to forge this new relationship and have just produced a report on what we’ve achieved (PDF, 1.5MB) but we openly acknowledge there is much more to be done;

Thirdly, we accept that Inclusive Growth is, at best, a scholastic term. A re-brand for general consumption is almost certainly necessary. And no I don’t what it is and it may vary according to audience but we know Inclusive Growth is not on the tips of tongues in our deprived wards;

Finally, when we do listen to our citizens, what are they telling us? That poverty is hard work, it’s all consuming and complicated. Working at 5 jobs, spending no time with your children and family and still being in poverty makes life thankless. That the threat of sanctions is frightening not inspiring. That we live in a time where divisiveness is threatening cohesion. Which leads us to the inevitable conclusion that to engage on inclusive growth we must first tackle the worst excesses of poverty in order for inclusive growth to be able to address poverty. Good, solid practical stuff that makes lives different and by its nature creates space and time for people to enter into the debate. Great benefits advice, 100% free school meal take up, credit ratings gained through housing rents are not rocket science. But they have the huge advantage of putting money in people’s pockets and thus potentially encouraging them to come to the table and talk to us a bit more.

If we want our citizens to engage with us on this agenda, the first port of call must be to make it possible for them to do so.

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