What does Covid-19 mean for the inclusive growth agenda?

May 18, 2021  

What’s the role of inclusive growth in recovering from crisis? It’s easy to see as a ‘nice-to-have’, but can be at the centre of helping us build back better. Luca Tiratelli and Charlotte Morgan explore how.

Fifteen months have passed since the publication of our report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice (February 2020). It’s fair to say that a lot has happened in the meantime. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, and sucked up most of the policy making bandwidth in local government and beyond.

Almost lost in the public health disaster is the fact that the economy that existed 2010-2020 has ceased to be. Indeed, the OECD has predicted that the UK economy will be six per cent smaller at the end of 2021 than it was pre-crisis.

This poses an obvious question for proponents of inclusive growth and inclusive economies – what can we offer at a time when the economy is shrinking, and the pandemic is still ongoing?

Recap: Our report

Supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust, our report presented a framework or levers that councils could pull to make inclusive growth happen in the here and now.

Each of these levers was then illustrated with a range of relevant case studies.

We had two principle aims in presenting this information:

  • Firstly, we wanted to make a practical toolkit for councils who wanted to improve inclusivity in their areas.
  • Secondly, however, we wanted to create a ‘practice-into-theory’ definition for what inclusivity means in an economic sense.

Ultimately, we argued that ‘inclusive growth’ was, above all, an ethos that can underpin economic policy-making in a wide variety of contexts.

This includes during crises such as the present moment.

Whether the economy is growing or not, councils can still look to leverage their procurement processes for inclusive ends, and adopt community wealth building approaches.

Similarly, they can still invest in reskilling, still look to incentives inclusive practice from employers and still engage in community asset transfers.

This the bedrock of inclusive growth’s continued relevance.

Inclusive growth and the recovery

In fact, not only can councils still use many of the levers we identified during this difficult time, in some instances, the case for doing so has actually grown.

Our analysis shows that many of the more successful local responses to the pandemic have had inclusivity at their heart.

As we highlight in one of New Local’s recent reports, Shifting the Balance, councils that worked in partnership with communities, listened to them and enabled their activities responded more effectively to the challenges of the pandemic than councils that shunned or sought to control the efforts of communities.

The Shifting the Balance research also highlighted how some public bodies are using the Covid-19 crisis as a catalyst for fundamental change.

Local authorities such as Kingston-upon-Thames, Sheffield and Monmouthshire are already embedding new practices that are more enabling of community-led approaches into their day-to-day operations for the long term.

This desire to emerge from the pandemic with improved ways of working, rather than simply revert to ‘business as usual’, has been termed ‘build back better’.

What we now need to see is the inclusive growth agenda being deliberately placed under the ‘build back better’ banner.

That means embedding inclusive growth principles, policy levers and initiatives into post-Covid economic recovery and growth strategies right now.

In the past, some public bodies and businesses have been guilty of seeing inclusive growth interventions as ‘nice-to-haves’, things that are bolted on to existing during times of good growth as a way to demonstrate corporate social responsibility.

Rather than wait for growth to happen first, we urge councils, LEPs and other local partners to incorporate inclusive approaches into their economic plans now.

Let what we know as ‘inclusive growth’ become simply the way to do ‘growth’ in future as a positive legacy of this terrible pandemic.

Read Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice

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