Attention Conservation Notice: detailed account of “Transformational Economics” fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference. Random observations, blow-by-blow account and some observations for how it it could have gone better.
In the ornate (1) “Directors’ Lounge” at the Palace Hotel, Friends of the Earth hosted an event at which three speakers basically agreed that the current government is a Very Bad Thing, and that – in various ways – Things Need to Change.
Jane Thomas of FoE chaired, and opened with a few mentions of “environmental and social justice” and “capitalism is based on inequalities”. Nothing though, on the accelerating arrival of evidence that we are more than somewhat fubarred, but confining herself to questions (largely unanswered by the speakers) of “tensions between economic growth and environmental limits” and “how to limit consumption.”
[Update 5th October. Photo above added, with thanks to Pete Abel of Friends of the Earth. For their gallery of the event, see here.]
First up was Cllr Sue Murphy, one of the two deputy leaders of Manchester City Council.
Cllr Murphy pointed to decreased recent public investment and increased deprivation. She made the point – that always bears remaking – that although the city centre has shiny new buildings , along the fringes and boundaries of Manchester City Council’s area there are people and communities who “don’t benefit as much as they should.”
She pointed to the Greater Manchester Strategy, with its aim to decrease dependence on public services (“The Tory version is to take away public services. Labour wants to give skills to people to become less dependent).
Of particular interest to MCFly readers, she then turned to climate change and the “low carbon economy”. There are “huge opportunities” in retrofit, sustainable transport and growing digital infrastructures. And challenges such as the cut to the Feed-In-Tariff, the dilution of the Green Investment Bank and the Green Deal.
Cllr Murphy then very briefly touched on what many will regard as the crux of the issue – “tensions between economic growth and low carbon… we need ours to be sustainable growth, with minimal eco-inputs”. She then turned to the equal opportunities agenda, and productivity (developing the skills of the workforce). Citing the Manchester Independent Economic Review, she spoke of the importance of intervening positively in the 0 to 5 age group.
Switching back to climate change, she said that the Climate Change Action Plan had been “received quite well” (2)
Key projects include;
Manchester Minimum Wage
The Environmental Business Pledge
Making procurement more localised (and therefore reducing the carbon footprint of goods used).
She mentioned the Manchester Carbon Literacy Programme, that all councillors are due to undergo, and then highlighted two local projects.
a) A “Sustainability Visitors Construction Centre” in Benchill, with photovoltaic cells on its roof and geothermal energy, as part of a bigger campus with many students taking A-levels, courses in construction etc
b) Real Food Wythenshawe. On the latter, she said the project organisers are actively seeking “infill” land, since there is already a waiting list for allotments in the area.
Her “Big Idea” was that Manchester get “powers not structures” – i.e. the power to raise money and/or decide how to spend it without having to have a mayor foisted upon them.
Next up was Simon Danczuk, Rochdale MP. He, as befits a Labour MP, described the government’s response to the economic crisis as “woefully inadequate”, and speculated that the “creation of divisions” was not entirely accidental. He said that while small and medium enterprises (“SMEs”) were struggling to get finance, different schemes were announced and cancelled, despite evidence of some of them being effect.
He described the “New Homes Bonus” as – stuffing the pockets of wealthy local authorities, and his big idea was looking to northern Europe for ideas instead of the United States.
Finally, Neil McInroy of the Manchester-based “Centre for Local Economic Strategies” (see here for account of a previous meeting) predicted that the recession won’t end anytime soon, made reference to the problem of an aging population and the “graph of doom” (where all spending ends up going on social care). He pointed out that pre-2008 was not a golden age of perfection, and that we are facing peak oil, soil, water and energy. A new narrative, he said, was necessary, as he declared himself sick of the “narrow conversation about growth” (if you’re not for it, you’re a luddite).
Three concepts he put forward – the need for resilient, the need to grow human, social, environmental and public capital, and the importance of the local public spend (keeping money circulating locally).
The Q and A session over-ran dramatically, and suffered a bit from “comment tennis”
Of note –
- Cllr Murphy said that Manchester City Council’s experience of being a Community Budget pilot was that it’s very bureaucratic and hard to fathom. (The goal is to spend the same amount of money for increased local impact)
- Cllr Murphy noted that the Secretary of State of Local Government (Eric Pickles) talks about devolution but had given himself 147 new powers “He’s devolved the pain, kept the real powers for himself”
- A speaker enthused over local/regional banks (His example was Bologna)
- Cllr Murphy said that real regeneration relies on local jobs, is complex, and can take a long time.
At this point I had to leave, so maybe some of the MCFly readers who were in the room can add to the picture?
MCFly says: It was interesting to see a senior Council member laying out some of what the Council is up to. Executive members are of course very busy, but blogging, doing interviews and public events are all important ways of getting the Council’s message across.
What could have gone better: An organisation that wants people to “see things differently” could usefully, well, DO things differently. The age-old fringe event format – of Worthy Speakers followed by Worthy Questions from Usual Suspects is not in any way conducive to the formation of new links, new networks. If we are serious – and I don’t doubt the speakers’ sincerity – about the importance of human capital, social capital and so on, could we PLEASE move away from comment tennis and pure unadulterated sage-on-the-stage to a model that is likely to achieve more connection between attendees?
(2) true it was received well, but after three years, progress has somewhat stalled – only 200 groups and organisations have endorsed it, and only two – the Council and its housing offshoot – have produced their own implementation plans.