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“Britain ain’t broken, it’s just tired and grumpy”


Economics on the whole is about explaining the processes that influence people’s lives. It can broadly be divided into describing what influences such outcomes, and how we can create policies and apply them to improve the outcomes.

What we tend to do in reality is then apply some form of fixed ideology or practice that can only benefit a section of society, and when applied on a global scale, never mind nationally, the consequences for rich or poor nations is clearly evidenced.

Capitalism and socialism can have their place, but neither is a panacea to social wellbeing, or sustainable economic development. Policy and ideology applications of this nature are often fraught with consequences, both good and not so good, and trying to set a future economic trajectory over many decades is almost impossible and (unforeseen?) events always seem to happen during those timescales to knock them off course.

So different solutions have to be found, more often a mix of ideas and policy implementation. However, if economic growth and development is all about improving outcomes, then surely so should politics. A stellar combination of both must surely start to provide a more balanced and sustainable approach to our global and national interests, now and in the future.

If we take the UK as a prime example, whilst there has been great progress through investment in our cities, particularly London, there are places that have stagnated, even reversed their economic prowess over many decades, and no amount of levelling up is going to help them tackle the ingrained issues that affect those communities. Shiny new shopping centres look great, but not if you haven’t got the money to spend in them.

So what has happened to accelerate these inequalities? Have we all collectively failed to connect the pieces of a complex puzzle through the lens of a single ideology? Have we put the needs of individuals before the collective needs of society? Is there a vision, and therefore strategy and action plan that seeks to map out a clear future direction of travel that enables our nation to prosper for all? What has happened to sustainable economic development?

There are no doubt a myriad of discussion topics in each of these small select areas of questioning, but it is clear to me that we do not have a vision for the future in any shape or form and that a singular lack of success to define one, both economically, or through wellbeing, is the first step in the right direction.

This fundamental void is therefore left to be filled with a million voices on social media, all fighting for our attention. Our policy makers are fearful of upsetting their core voters, whose interests are not always that of the wider population, and our policy writers and implementers have been worn down through a lack of consistent and clear leadership.

We are all inspired to be more productive, to create equal opportunity, and to plan for a future that is difficult to predict. That has created an environment of opposites, extremes and a sense of malaise that seems difficult to fix. We have become tired and grumpy with our current situation, but it doesn’t need to be like that. 

Britain isn’t broken, it’s at another crux in time, of its history, like many before. It will need well-defined policies, it can have sustainable economic growth, it just requires the leadership it deserves, and a vision to make it happen, not soundbites.

The IED is rightly pushing for economic development, regeneration and all aspects of economic policy to be at the very heart of our public services. We already do this for health, so the two sides of the same coin must have the same influence and balance the scales.

Let’s hope someone is listening. 

Lawrence Conway is a Director of the Institute of Economic Development. He was Chief Executive of South Lakeland District Council from October 2010 until March 2022, and is now working as an independent consultant.