LinkedIn x +44(0)1925 730 484 Search

Newsletter Sign Up

Latest News

A vision for the economy, a vision for the nation


Following both the Government’s and Shadow Chancellor’s budget and response (and further highlighted in Sir Keir Starmer’s speech at Labour’s Local Election Launch last month), the focus of late has been very much on matters of the economy, and how this will affect the future health of the nation, and our own personal health and wellbeing.

It’s fair to say that it has been a rocky ride these last few years, with very little to celebrate in terms of economic prosperity. The UK is not alone in seeing sluggish economic growth and therefore stilted development or regeneration across the board, and a whole range of matters affecting the workforce.

What we have witnessed is fragmented policies of ambition, finance and distribution, with a huge gap in terms of economic vision or strategy to effectively target our limited resources. This is all underpinned by a structure of local and national government that has struggled to grasp the fundamentals that would underpin any long-term success.

Where is the long-promised transformation and reform of our existing policy framework, civil service, local governance and finance? What plans may the next government introduce to mend these long overdue, but glaring obvious omissions? 

I fear it may be much of the same, soundbites and rhetoric, but little actual movement in terms of releasing the UK’s potential and innovation, underpinned by an oft-repeating narrative of why change is needed and what improvements it will lead to for our country and its inhabitants. 

Even the Shadow Chancellor recently remarked that reform would be slow, despite declaring a “new chapter in Britain’s economic history” should Labour win the next election.

Housing, social care and health, migration, economic prosperity in all its various guises, and the newly-promoted nation’s security are but a few of the issues that need to be tackled head on, in a national endeavour to achieve the potential for all of society, both human and built capital.

We must start with a vision for what the UK is and wants to be, where it sees itself in the world, what it wants for its people, now and in the future, that many can buy into. This does not have to enrage any extreme views or protest, as a better future and hope for those generations to come must surely be in the DNA of our nation and those that want to share in its culture and success.

It is perfectly acceptable to set out a long-term goal, that involves some societal change, to transform the way we do things for the better, without having to constantly change tack because of daily newspaper headlines, social media pressure, or outdated ideology. 

To do this will require civic leadership of the highest order, where the national good becomes the optimal outcome, where extremes can be heard, and consensus and common sense prevails. The notion of gaining political and economic power, thus sustaining this at all costs without sticking to a vision and narrative will only lead us to deliver more of the same stubbornly stagnant national performance, with substandard levels of aspiration and skills for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.

Our vision must be supported by an achievable strategy that will utilise all our resource, that will flesh out more of the details of how we will begin the journey we have set ourselves, how we will use all the resources we have at our disposal, including the finance and structures that will enable us to work to these goals. 

This will require fundamental reform of our existing structures that have continued to embed inequalities, that have set financial targets as the primary consideration, rather than community needs. No-one expects all this to be achieved overnight, and many will not immediately welcome the change, hence the need for robust and resilient leadership, not just in national government, but also in our civil service, who in turn can lead the way for our local government and industry leaders to see a clear pathway to a brighter future. 

I would reiterate the need for a vision and strategy to precede and lead finance. Does anyone believe that our beloved NHS and social care can continue down the same path without fundamental reform and transformation, just by throwing more cash at them? This applies to so many aspects of services our community rely on.

Having witnessed first-hand the re-shaping of local government through various re-organisations over many years, it is clear there exists no overall plan to enable this sector to operate at its most productive. It too requires a more robust and effective way of working to adapt to the changes that are happening, at a much greater speed. 

Transformation and reform must be key activities of any local authority, where technology is utilised to make organisations and services more effective and efficient, where structures and hierarchy only exist to provide better outcomes, where finance fits the vision, all underpinned with a culture that change is the key to future success. Arguments about sovereignty based on centuries-old lines on a map often do not replicate the true geo-political and business environment we need to operate under.

Bold choices need to be made for the greater good, and those public and private sector institutions that represent and lobby, must also follow and adapt to the grander picture set out. There are many good examples of where economic partnerships deliver great outcomes, but there are also significant gaping holes still left to resolve. 

This may sound like wishful thinking, though it happens all the time in industry and commerce, constantly adjusting to customer needs. Private and public sectors have a lot to learn and offer each other if we are going to make the most of what is put before us as a nation.

At the Institute of Economic Development, our Grow Local, Grow National manifesto outlines our contribution, by our membership, to fulfilling such plans, and we look forward to helping shape what must be a priority of any current and future government, that is to provide hope and aspiration for everyone.

It’s a challenge we are all up for.

Lawrence Conway is a Director of the Institute of Economic Development.