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29/07/2020

Vive le post-Covid economic resilience revolution

Busy town centre

Recovery from the social and economic effects of Covid-19 offers the chance to do things better, argues Charlotte Morgan. But how do we start to create the resilience that communities will need to withstand future shocks?

As UK Covid-19 cases have fallen to near-manageable levels, the attention of local authorities is shifting towards economic recovery planning. Or, in many cases, economic revolution planning. Determined to generate some positives from this awful crisis, local authorities are actively seeking not to return to normal, but to create a new and improved normal. Don’t just rebuild – build back better.

For local authorities, the new normal is about developing economic resilience. That might not sound like a revolution, but it represents a radically different approach to the UK’s response to the 2008 financial crash. Back then, UK government policy sought to accelerate economic recovery through rapid high-value productivity growth. Places with a smaller share of high-value industries lost out.

This time, with gaping inequalities between local economies within the UK, the government mantra is ‘build, build, build’. ‘Build back faster’ is not an option.

Resilience means that the economy is able to withstand shocks, weather storms, roll with the punches. Resilient local economies are precisely what we need during a pandemic, with a huge global recession hurtling down the tracks and a climate emergency looming on the horizon.

How do we develop more resilient local economies? Expect to see these themes in the post-lockdown strategies of many local authorities:

Local leadership: Local authorities and partners developing economic plans tailored to their area’s unique strengths and characteristics will build resilience more effectively than a one-size-fits-all national programme made in Whitehall. Local authorities will seek more freedom from government to make more decisions at the local level.

Inclusive economies: This is about equity of opportunity for people to contribute to and benefit from local economic development. In a resilient local economy, people have access to good jobs with decent pay, affordable and good-quality housing and opportunities to improve their skills. They are able to save for rainy days and spend leftover income in local shops. See NLGN’s ‘Cultivating Inclusive Growth’ report for examples of how local authorities are already developing inclusive economies.

Community power: Local pandemic responses saw communities come together to support their neighbours and protect the most vulnerable. Resilient economies effectively harness community spirit and activism, recognising that all residents have a stake in their local economy and should be involved in the design and implementation of economic plans. Many local authorities will do just that, particularly with plans to revive high streets.

Resilient economic approaches will lay strong foundations under local government’s goal to ‘build back better’. They lead to greater liberty for local areas, greater equality of life chances and greater fraternity between communities, businesses and public services. Vive la resilience révolution!

Charlotte Morgan is a senior policy researcher for the New Local Government Network

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