New CURDS Publication Explores the Nature of the ‘Civic’ University

Posted by Louise Kempton, 1st December, 2016

This article was written by John Goddard and Ellen Hazelkorn for the Edward Elgar website

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John Goddard and Ellen Hazelkorn examine the policy and leadership challenges of higher education’s engagement with the outside world.

Across the US and much of Europe there is a growing populist backlash against globalisation. Almost everywhere there is a decline in public trust, and less public tolerance of institutions, such as universities, which are perceived to be promotors and beneficiaries of this process. This is exemplified by international mobility of students and academics and their fostering of cultural diversity and cosmopolitanism over national identity. This backlash is reflected in support for Donald Trump, various populist parties in national and European parliamentary elections, and most notably in the English (as distinct from UK) vote in favour of Brexit.

As one analyst has noted: “The vote for Brexit was delivered by the “left behind” – social groups that are united by a general sense of insecurity, pessimism and marginalisation, who do not feel as though elites, in Brussels and Westminster, share their values, represent their interests and genuinely empathise with their intense angst about rapid change. Thus support for remain ranged from 18% of those with no formal education, to 57% among with those with a degree and 64% of those with a postgraduate qualification to 88% for academic staff.

Not surprisingly university towns were islands of remain in a sea of Brexit.

In US counties with a leading university, Hillary Clinton was 11 points on average higher than her state-wide percentage. For example in Orange County the home of the University of North Carolina she received 74% of the vote but lost the state with a 48% score. People with lower geographic mobility who had not moved around the US or had an international experience were also more likely to vote for Trump.

For the Brexiteers university lobbying before the vote was interpreted as narrow, self-interest in terms of access to research funding, “foreign” EU students and academics. During the US presidential election politicians frequently rubbished the knowledge and wisdom of academic “experts”, not least their stance in relation to global environmental challenges. As one of the leading Brexit campaigners, a former minister of education in the UK observed “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”. For them “the people” of a nation are deemed to know what is right and wrong intuitively.

This turbulent environment poses major challenges for universities and their leaders. Disregarding party political interpretations, the electoral maps in the UK and US highlights an enormous gap between universities and university towns, and their publics. It raises fundamental questions for universities about how best to engage with local civil society as well as competing in the global higher education market place. There is both a necessity and opportunity to develop new frameworks and processes, to re-assert the “public good” role of HE and to reconnect the university with its multiple publics.

Seeking to widening participation in higher education, addressing social exclusion through student-community action and promoting economic development through university-business research links is not enough. Rather the underlying institutional structures of the established university need to be transformed so that civic engagement is embedded across the whole institution.

In The Civic University: The Policy and Leadership Challenges we seek to address this challenge by developing a normative model of the university contributing to the public good and from this model draw out practical lessons for university management on how to embed engagement with civil society in the heartland of teaching and research rather than as an inferior “third mission”. We codify the extensive academic literature in this field and review higher education and other public policies that both drive and inhibit civic engagement both globally and locally and report on a developmental process guided by us in eight institutions in four northern European countries: University College London and Newcastle University in the UK, Amsterdam and Groningen Universities in the Netherlands, Aalto and Tampere Universities in Finland, and Trinity College Dublin and the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland.

Key questions addressed include: What is the Civic University, and how can we use this concept to understand higher education’s engagement with the outside world in varying institutional and geographical contexts? What are the appropriate internal structures and mechanisms required for a university to effectively encourage and support civic engagement activity for the greatest societal impact? How can embedding civic engagement in individual institutions and the steering of higher education systems be facilitated by changes in higher education and related policies at the sub-national, national and European level?

This last question is particularly important given the policy silos that exist between higher education, research and innovation and city and regional development in many countries and in international organisations like the European Commission. All of these stakeholders need to recognise the changing nature of innovation – underpinned by the widespread adoption of digital technologies – from a linear process to one requiring co-production of knowledge with users including business and citizens working together in particular places to address grand societal challenges like climate change, demographic ageing and migration flows. Leading universities all too often receive funding for upstream scientific research with no attention being paid to societal needs, impacts and benefits or the development of downstream absorptive capacity. Higher education policies and metrics like citation indices and other performance metrics simply reinforce practises within universities that reward the academic community in a very narrow way and do not incentivise engagement with civil society.

In this context, the concept of the “civic university” is especially timely. Historically, of course, it formed the bedrock of higher education – the great Victorian foundations in the north and midlands of England, the land-grant universities in the United States. But more recently they (or, more accurately, their values) have been shouted down by the drumbeat discourse of “world-class” universities driving a schism between local, regional, national and global responsibilities and priorities. Some people may argue that this is not higher education’s purpose. We disagree.

Higher education needs to make itself relevant to the global
challenges that threaten the future of humankind.

Universities need to rethink what it means to be a public institution in the 21st century, in part because the publics which support higher education through taxation need to believe that they are getting value. But also, higher education needs to make itself relevant to the global challenges that threaten the future of humankind. This reformulation of an old idea, the civic university, challenges us to ensure that through teaching, research and engagement, universities place themselves at the centre of the local-regional-global nexus, working multi-laterally and multi-dimensionally, to make a difference. The civic university is a value statement as much as a new way of organising higher education; it is about encouraging universities to have souls, to nurture a normative commitment to improve the lives of communities, regions and nations and the world at large.

John Goddard is Emeritus Professor and former Deputy Vice Chancellor at Newcastle University, UK.

Ellen Hazelkorn is Policy Advisor to the Higher Education Authority (Ireland) and Emeritus Professor and Director, Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU), Dublin Institute of Technology.

 

Elected mayors and combined authorities must focus on inclusive growth

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Posted by Andy Pike, 15th April 2016

Andy Pike is Henry Daysh Professor of Regional Development Studies and Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) at Newcastle University

The idea that cities are engines of economic growth has become a central focus for policymakers across the UK and is core to the current devolution agenda. Yet in the wake of the global financial crisis, economic downturn and faltering economy, anxieties have grown about the kind of growth being pursued and its social and geographical character and reach. It is vital that devolution deals are focused on inclusive growth that is open and spreads prosperity to all.

 International organisations such as the IMF, OECD and World Bank have raised concerns that policymakers are pursuing growth that is economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable and becoming more unequal between people and places.

While ad hoc, piecemeal and rapid, devolution in England is an opportunity to deliver new forms of growth that are more equitable, just and inclusive. This means creating economic opportunity in the form of decent, sustainable and productive employment that is accessible to people across society, regardless of economic status, ethnicity or location. The new governance institutions and spaces being opened up through devolution provide opportunities to think differently about growth, albeit in the context of austerity and a still highly centralised political economy.

International experience from the US, Europe and beyond suggests that there are three key steps that need to be taken to ensure devolution delivers the inclusive growth required.

Firstly, those running to be elected mayors and to lead combined authorities must set the agenda and set out a vision and commitment to inclusive growth. This requires recognising that inequality is a drag on further growth in our cities and generates huge economic and social costs both nationally and locally. Innovative solutions are required that are tailored to the local areas and address local challenges.

Secondly, combined authorities and elected mayors must work to remodel city development strategies and policies around inclusive growth. They should prioritise sectors such as construction and manufacturing in which more productive and better quality jobs with opportunities for development and progression can be pursued. Support can be provided by institutional reform of the local training and skills system.

Finally, authorities must open up their structures and processes to include a wider range of voices in formulating and designing locally appropriate inclusive growth strategies and policies. Community engagement is central to ensure that a broader range of interests is involved in developing initiatives to create more and better jobs and ensure prosperity is spread more evenly across cities and regions. Such endeavours will also help increase the accountability and transparency required for devolution to have legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate.

Devolution offers a unique opportunity to improve the social character and geographical reach of economic growth. Elected mayors and combined authorities must grasp the potential of inclusive growth and remove the brake on the ambition of achieving more and better jobs for all.

 

 

 

Life after oil: Norwegian offshore wind capabilities – posted by Asbjorn Karlsen, NTTU

Stuart Dawley and Danny Mackinnon are part of a research team who have received funding from the Research Council of Norway for a 4 year project looking at the Internationalization of Norwegian Offshore Wind Capabilities (InNOWiC). Funded through the EnergiX programme, InNOWiC is being led by Professors Asbjørn Karlsen of NTNU, Arild Aspelund, Alf Steinar Sætre and Øystein Moen along with Markus Steen (SINTEF).

Professor Asbjørn Karlsen, Professor of Geography at NTNU provides further detail on the importance of this study:

A new research project at the Department of Geography, NTNU, will address the issue of developing competitive capabilities for the rapidly developing international market for offshore wind power.

The project draws on our previous research on the diversification oil and gas related industries into offshore wind.

As we have recognized that extensive development of offshore wind projects is not relevant domestically and there is lack of political will even to support pilot projects, we have turned the focus primarily on the export of technology and the further internationalization of the Norwegian supplier industry in the context of offshore wind.

International offshore wind markets

The project will contribute with new knowledge on factors and framework conditions that promote or hinder Norwegian technology (products/services) to enter three different international offshore wind markets.

How can Norwegian industry firms develop competitive capabilities, including cost reduction, in order to succeed in offshore wind markets internationally?

We will investigate how innovation and restructuring in Norwegian industries (notably petro-maritime), will help to couple Norwegian firms to the offshore wind global production networks.

Furthermore, we will explore whether the outcomes in terms of value creation is to the benefit of Norwegian regions.

  • First we will map the offshore global production networks.
  • Second we will compare offshore market context in three major offshore wind markets, namely the British, the German and the French.
  • Third we will investigate the development of Norwegian firm capabilities.

We will also investigate the role of public actors in supporting the industry in developing capabilities to fit the needs of lead firms in global production networks. The research project will contribute with new and relevant knowledge for the realization of this.

Experience from oil and gas

The recent climate summit in Paris has set ambitious targets for reducing global heating and put pressure on states to decrease their greenhouse gases emissions. Some European states are ahead in developing renewable energy technology to substitute energy based on fossil fuels.

In Norway, the climate summit has revitalized the “life after oil” discourse and the issue of how to restructure the domestic economy away from its currents state of oil dependency.

For oil and gas related industry, the steadily price drop on crude oil since the summer of 2014 is even more demanding, and there is a quest to diversify the products and markets of the industry.

Domestic unemployment figures are increasing due to a downturn in domestic industry and some local economies particularly dependent on the oil and gas sector, are hit even harder.

Maritime industries generally and oil and gas suppliers particularly are challenged by the downturn in the traditional market, but some of them find the fast growing offshore wind projects in the North Sea as obvious markets to enter.

Infrastructure, competence and experiences from oil and gas and maritime operations are resources relevant also for the development of the offshore wind sector.

Firms diversifying into offshore wind from other sectors (such as oil and gas) may strategically switch between their core sector and the new market, but also in new ways combine capabilities and networks related to the two markets.

Findings gained through the project will be communicated to industry leaders and policy makers and we will provide them with novel and vital knowledge for decision making on the advancement an environmental friendly energy technology.

Our findings will also be relevant for other renewable energy technologies in similar contexts.

About the Project:

Devolution and Universities: December 2015

Posted by Kevin Richardson, Visiting Fellow CURDS, Newcastle University, 10th December 2015

The current focus of strategic leaders within many universities is on traditional fields of interest e.g. the future of Research Excellence Framework, the proposal for a new Teaching Excellence Framework, a new body to be called Research UK, and a new Office for Students. This is understandable in the context of the Green Paper  as moves to both ‘marketise’ and regulate the sector gather pace, and also in terms of what is, at least initially and in headline terms, widely perceived to be a ‘better than expected’ outturn to the Spending Review in November 2015.

Meanwhile, the ‘devolution revolution’ is also gathering pace with the strong support of the Chancellor. The Cities and Devolution Bill has sailed through its committee stages. Royal Assent is expected early in 2016. This may well lead to lead to a slew of new devolution deals spreading South from their current homeland in the North.  Some universities may consider that devolution will only have marginal impact on their strategic direction, activities and funding regimes. That may well be the case for some institutions. But, for many devolution will inevitably have important direct and indirect implications.

Some funding streams, currently managed nationally and targeted directly at the higher education sector may well be effectively substituted with newly devolved programmes within which universities are only one type of potential contributor and beneficiary. In particular, the new Combined Authority Investment Funds with loan repayments of £30-£50 million pa guaranteed by government for 30 years, when aligned with other funds that can be levered against that security, provide both a major re-alignment of provision and a significant new possible source of investment finance. Moreover, current national programmes nominally targeted at ‘excellence’ wherever it is exists, are increasingly challenged by the growing call from devolutionists for place based implications to be much better understood.  The content of the Expression of Interest for the new Science and Innovation audits provides evidence of this growing tension.

The recent update by HEFCE  on the financial state of the sector confirms that universities are continuing to invest heavily in their infrastructure. Many of these proposals have transport requirements. The need for a new roundabout, traffic management system, green travel plans, bus and cycle lanes etc are often very evident. Devolution solidifies the localisation of this type of transport funding.  Strategic planning – including the choice of strategic investment sites, including where to base Enterprise Zones – is again more heavily localised within devolution deals. In terms of the skills agenda, reductions in capacity and need for infrastructure are set to scale down substantially. Many colleges provide an important input cohort for local universities and, of course, increasingly, more HE is now delivered by FE.  Many local universities will need to better understand and inform the (devolved) Area Based Reviews, especially as they consider the potential implications of the new emphasis on Higher/Degree Level Apprenticeships funded, at least in part, by the new Apprenticeship Levy.

At the same time, and closely linked, the greater emergence of a new range of innovative forms of financing, particularly of ‘risk-based’ and ‘value-capture’ programmes, seeking to invest in large scale infrastructures are likely to radically change in the medium term the scope and structure of external finance for universities. The work emerging from the EPSRC funded iBuild project provides insightful and authoritative depth of analysis.

The growth of university bonds, and the emergence of municipal bonds at difference scales, especially those focused on the green economy and climate change, are buoyed increasingly by investment fund managers seeking stronger rates of return than available on the long term basic money markets. The European Investment Bank is seeking new opportunities, supported by political impetus provided via the new EFSI  programme, which itself is designed to lower further the cost of capital.  Nationally, BIS is moving rapidly from grants to loans in terms of its innovation and business support programmes.  Universities will want to help signpost and help to make available support from these funds to the firms with whom they work on contracted and collaborative research programmes. The move to a ‘pan-LEP’ ‘super’ EU backed venture capital fund across much of the Northern Powerhouse area can only be seen as the first of several such integrated programmes of scale. In terms of the possible scale of funding involved, the (probably difficult) move to localise 100% of business rates may yet emerge as the most significant of all these new sources. As a minimum, such devolution of business rates will immediately give rise to greater transparency of the valuation process. Will the ongoing need for redistribution across localities mean that policies for discounts will also need to be devolved? Regardless, localisation of business rates will certainly, as intended by the primary purpose of policy, shape what will be seen as more advantageous proposals for new developments. New office blocks will surely be more attractive to cash-poor local authorities than more new blocks of student housing.  Conversely, and more positively, the localisation of these taxes may well provide opportunities for more partnership based, integrated programmes of development, where the value of large scale investments planned by universities can be realised and mixed with the aspirations and activities of other actors in the local state.

The marketisation of the sector and devolution, taken together, requires universities to manage both vertical and horizontal relationships simultaneously, dealing strategically with different cultures and motivations in an increasingly borderless form of multilevel governance – a form of decision making which some within the sector work hard to understand and manage.  New skills, managerial and organisational responses are needed, especially the need for actors and agencies who can span boundaries between the different sectors, policy domains and forms of investment finance.

i   https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/474266/BIS-15-623-fulfilling-our-potential-teaching-excellence-social-mobility-and-student-choice-accessible.pdf
ii   http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/year/2015/201529/
iii  https://research.ncl.ac.uk/ibuild/researchprogramme/background/
iv   http://www.eib.org/about/invest-eu/index.htm?lang=en

 

Deal or no deal?

Posted by Andy Pike, 04 November 2015

A devolution ‘deal’ has finally been agreed for the North East. Delayed by disagreements and negotiations between HM Treasury, Whitehall departments and the local authorities involved about exactly what would be released from the centre, where the LEP would sit and to whom it would be accountable, and how a commission on health and social care would work. Such haggling is characteristic of the deal-making integral to Government’s ad hoc and piecemeal approach to decentralisation in England. Deals have been positive in providing a channel for local-central dialogue, innovation and strategy-making, and governance reform. More problematic are the uneven information and power between the negotiating parties, the lack of transparency, the limited capacity locally and in Whitehall departments coping with expenditure cuts, and the limited evaluation of progress to date.

Doing decentralisation this way has been complicated by Government’s lack of clarity in specifying exactly what decentralisation is for: local economic growth? Rebalancing? Savings and public service reform? Addressing societal challenges like ageing and climate change? All of the above? International analysis on the impacts of decentralisation is mixed. There is however evidence that giving local actors more say over certain elements of territorial development – such as business support, EU funding, housing, investment, skills and training, and transport – are helpful. For the North East, then, such things are a welcome step in the right direction. Less clear are the resources involved and whether they are new and additional money from the centre or the local delegation of the risks of new borrowing and taxes. Requiring elected mayors as part of the deals – an oddity in the context of ‘localism’ and their recent democratic rejection in 2011 – sits on shakier ground. International evidence on mayoral success is highly selective and fails to nail whether they are catalytic or merely contributory factors in territorial development. Even if the more positive story of mayoral influence is accepted, it is not entirely clear how they will do their job in a city-regional context with potential local authority veto within the combined authority.

Assessing whether or not such deals are good, bad or indifferent is difficult. In such an opaque process, who knows exactly what was on or off the table? Is what the North East has agreed the best package it could have got? The deal is smaller and narrower in scale and scope than those agreed with Greater Manchester and Sheffield city-region. Perhaps this is what central government desires. Orchestrating a race amongst local actors to put together propositions for deals in a short timescale has certainly put them on the back foot and kept the centre firmly in control. Again, a curious approach to localism. Giving some ground on decentralisation in a still highly centralised governance system enables claims of reform and modernisation. The current deals have the look of delegated responsibility with a bit of greater leeway on powers and flexibilities but they are some way short of substantive devolution with appropriate levels of resource.

Osborne pulls ‘two rabbits out of the hat’?

Posted by Peter O’Brien, 7th October 2015

There were two key announcements in Chancellor George Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party conference, in Manchester, on Monday (5th October), which captured the attention of the national press and media. The first, heavily trailed in advance, was the establishment of an independent infrastructure commission, to be chaired by Lord Andrew Adonis, which will advise the government on how to plan, invest in and deliver ‘strategic’ infrastructure projects.

The creation of a new infrastructure commission could, in theory, enable governments to adopt and implement a long-term, strategic perspective on infrastructure. The commission will be beneficial if it offers innovative advice and guidance on how public and private sectors can individually and together invest in viable schemes. In addition, the commission will receive plaudits if it offers solutions on how individual infrastructure assets and systems can be better integrated across sectors, and how infrastructure can be valued more holistically, and for its economic, social and environmental contributions, moving beyond narrow financial calculations.

Adonis brings three elements to his new role. First, he has a well-known interest in a range of infrastructure issues. Second, Adonis led on Labour’s recent review of cities and devolution policy, and was the chief architect of the North East Independent Economic Review. Third, he has been a vocal commentator, and sometimes critic, on the distinct demands and pressures facing London and its existing infrastructure. As head of the new commission, he will be in a position to impart his own expertise and analysis, which should include a recognition of the important, and yet currently under-utilised, role of local authorities in planning, funding, financing and managing infrastructure provision within the National Infrastructure Plan. This would chime with a key recommendation of the iBUILD 2015 Manifesto, which called for greater devolution of infrastructure responsibility to cities and city regions.

The creation of the new infrastructure commission is also a tacit acknowledgement that the current lack of strategic planning across functional economic geographies in England is making infrastructure planning, investment and delivery of projects, in areas such as housing and transport, difficult – especially in the London ‘mega city-region’ and adjacent home counties. At face value, the creation of the commission represents the latest effort to ‘de-politicise’ infrastructure. However, it also represents a political move by Osborne who will be acutely aware that, in the run-up to David Cameron leaving No.10 in 2020, the commission could provide valuable cover for an incoming Conservative Party Leader and potential Prime Minister.

The second announcement was Osborne’s decision to allow councils in England to retain all the revenue from business rates – an estimated £26 billion. In addition, local authorities will be able to reduce business rates, whilst cities and city regions with elected mayors will have extra powers to add a premium (at a maximum of 2p in the pound) to local business rates to fund new infrastructure projects.

While the fine details are still to be fleshed out, the proposal does represent a fundamental change in local government funding, but the move towards wholesale localisation of business rates raises five important issues for consideration at this stage. First, local government will only have the power to reduce business rates, thus this will favour those authorities that are net contributors, of which many are located in London and the south east of England. This has the potential to exacerbate existing spatial inequalities if there ensues a race to bottom as councils engage in aggressive tax cutting.

Second, the premium on business rates to pay for infrastructure is an initiative that the London Mayor and London Boroughs managed to convince London business to back as part of the overall Crossrail funding package. London First, the business lobbying organisation, was a key broker in swinging business behind the plans for Crossrail. In future, representative business bodies in other regions and cities will need to play a similar role. At the same time, HM Treasury’s insistence that LEP business board members will be able to veto an elected city region mayor’s proposals to introduce a business rate supplement poses fundamental questions about the government’s stated rationale for elected mayors, which could undermine the mandate of the mayor, and the democratic will of local electorates.

Third, greater fiscal autonomy in the form of business rates may have many town hall finance officers breaking out in a cold sweat. The business rate system is creaking, and many local authorities have found it difficult to predict, with accuracy, future revenues. Furthermore, the multitude of appeals within the business rate system has provided additional complications. It is understandable why Osborne has chosen business rates as the tax to decentralise, but the proposed changes come with baggage.

Fourth, Osborne has made a bold political manoeuvre, but it is being taken forward with limited evidence to date of ‘what works’ in the different business rate retention schemes within England. For example, do we have a real, in-depth understanding of how the Greater Manchester 100% business rate retention pilot has functioned thus far? Or that of London’s partial retention scheme? And can we say, with genuine confidence, that there are effective monitoring and evaluation processes in place from such ‘experiments’ that can inform new policy in this area?

Finally, the ability to raise and retain local revenues is only one feature of fiscal autonomy. Devolved territories and cities will remain hamstrung from planning and making long-term infrastructure investments as long as they lack the powers to undertake direct borrowing of substantial amounts of capital. Until such flexibilities are forthcoming, the Chancellor’s fiscal decentralisation proposals risk being seen as more illusion than reality.

‘The 38 Deals?’

Posted by Peter O’Brien, 21st September 2015

By midnight on Friday 4 September, 38 groupings of local authorities, cities, city regions and local enterprise partnerships in England had heeded George Osborne’s call to submit proposals to HM Treasury for new ‘Devolution Deals’, which local areas hope will result in new powers, resources and flexibilities granted in return for governance reform and commitments by local actors to drive local economic growth, primarily through infrastructure investment and renewal.

So we can add the prospect of 38 ‘Devolution Deals’ alongside 28 City Deals in England and Scotland, 4 further Deals for Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Cornwall and 39 Local Growth Deals, which local enterprise partnerships are responsible for delivering; together making a grand total of 110 deals of some form or another. This gives added weight to the argument that we are now in a deal-making world in local and regional development. The sheer volume of deals, in a climate of austerity and significantly reduced institutional and individual resources and capacity, also begs questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of deal-making as a model of implementing decentralisation from the centre to local government.

The 2015 iBUILD Manifesto and Mid-term Review called for infrastructure planning, investment and delivery to be better aligned to city and city region strategies and economies. With City Deals and the potential new Devolution Deals containing strong infrastructure elements, it seems, at least on the face of it, that we are moving in the right direction. However, we should continue to ask whether earlier and more recent developments – through the 110 deals – signal a fundamental shift towards embedding a stronger and longer-term role for local authorities and cities to take greater control over their economies by planning, investing and managing local infrastructure assets and systems? Or are the different variants of Deals simply project and programme-led initiatives, which will last purely for the timescale that particular interventions remain functional?

There are three issues worth considering in the aftermath of the latest dash for devolution. First, with gaps still remaining around the levels of local fiscal autonomy that some cities and city regions want and what HM Treasury is prepared to give, local institutions are increasing searching for new and innovative sources of investment for infrastructure and other capital-intensive activity. These efforts, however, continue to run up against the UK’s highly-centralised political economy, system of governance and Central Government’s deficit reduction strategy.

Second, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, both insist that ‘substantial’ devolution from the latest Deals will only be considered if city regions and others agree to introduce ‘metro-wide’ mayors. This means that localities are faced with the often difficult process of navigating through local sensitivities and concerns that fundamental reforms to local governance are being introduced without public consent or without a cast-iron guarantee of what Central Government will actually give in return for city regions agreeing to elected mayors.

Finally, with 38 new bids on the table, the capacity of Central Government and local institutions to negotiate and agree a large number of new deals will be severely stretched. Expect to see a handful of new Deals agreed in different stages, with the usual suspects ahead of the curve alongside one or two surprises, but equally there will be a large number of disappointed places in the short to medium-term. How Whitehall manages the prospect of initial large-scale ‘gaps on the map’ will be a real test of the Government’s devolution strategy.

 

Economic Geography and Policy

Posted by Nick Henry, Visiting Fellow, CURDS, Co-Director, Centre for Business in Society, Coventry University, 15 September 2015

 

After 10 years out of the academic economic geography ferment – as a public policy and evaluation consultant of EU, UK and quangocracy economic and social development programmes – I plunged back in at the 4th Global Economic Geography conference at the University of Oxford in August.

The session on ‘Economic Geography and policy: what do we have to say and to whom?’ was particularly interesting (but so were many) in asking a question that had been asked by Ron Martin, Doreen Massey and others as I left academe in the early 2000s. At that time, Ron Martin was exercised especially by both the ‘cultural turn’ and the powerful and rising policy influence of spatial economics and, for him, the seeming invisibility of geographers in public policy circles.

The good news over a decade later was that the Panellists (Susan Christopherson, Ron Martin, Jamie Peck and Andrés Rodrígues-Pose) were agreed in believing and illustrating the substantial progress that has been made by economic geographers in engaging with and influencing policy (although with greater ambivalence from Jamie Peck given his Canadian residency and period of employment in north America).

However, the Panellists exhorted also for more to be done by the sub-discipline and subsequent discussions and questions from the floor often bemoaned the difficulties, randomness and quirkiness of engagement with policymakers.

Yet for me, given my recent return to academe from the policy making arena, the debate still showed some of what still needs to be done – principally because there was only limited evidence of the room’s understanding of the policymakers ‘mindset’. A sense of less of ‘in their shoes’ than if we promote our material more strongly the ramparts of policy will fall.

I would illustrate this lack of understanding based on the seemingly simple but important statement that policymakers are ‘the machinery of government’. It implies, for example, that even as policy makers purport to be independent they will reflect the language, if not the ideology, of the government they are serving. Indeed their job is to implement ‘efficiently and effectively’ the will of the democratically elected and accountable government.

Bluntly, what it means is that some of our suggestions as economic geographers will simply not be able to be considered. Policy reflects political choices (government) and if your suggestions aren’t the right political flavour then I wouldn’t beat yourself up about ‘not being listened to’ (it’s going to be a longer-run game).

‘Machinery’ also means the processes of government; not once in a debate on policy was ‘the policy cycle’ mentioned. Yet this is the simplest of managerial tools which frames the work programme of policymakers. What is required and being sought through what (level of open) process matters a great deal dependent on the stage in the policy cycle.

Is a policy maker defining the problem or issue (and seeking evidence for it) or designing the intervention (what we know/best practice), monitoring progress (hopefully formatively) or evaluating and learning lessons as the basis for kicking off the cycle once again. The session had rare examples of positive joy that policymakers had been ‘open to new ideas’ – but they won’t be listening in such a manner if they are further through the policy cycle, and nor should they be.

For sure, policymakers do want ‘solutions’ – as was flagged by the Panel – but I might suggest also rather more insistently the point that was made that universities are now merely one knowledge provider/intermediary in the system (alongside think tanks, lobbyists, international organisations, consultancies, gurus, etc.). Many of these also are much more focused and adept at crafting their message for the policymaker, especially in the new media environment.

As academics we need to understand that we have a certain ‘market position’ in the policy machinery – defined (still) by greater independence, rigour (most of the time) and less constrained assumptions amongst other things. Notwithstanding an increasingly schizophrenic machinery of government, these attributes still have to be delivered in the right manner, and at the right juncture, if further progress with policymaking is to be reported in another decade!

Rebuilding America’s infrastructure

Posted by Peter O’Brien, 12th May 2015

“What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further…” (President ‘Elect’ Barack Obama, January 2009).

Last month, Chicago was the setting for the Association of American Geographies (AAG) Annual Meeting. CURDS organised a number of sessions at the Annual meeting, where 18 international academic experts presented a range of papers that examined the funding, financing and governance of national and urban infrastructure. The presentations provided an important contribution towards studies that CURDS has been leading within the EPSRC and ESRC-funded iBUILD infrastructure research project <https://research.ncl.ac.uk/ibuild/>.

This week (11-15 May 2015) is ‘Infrastructure Week’ in the United States, where thousands of stakeholders will state the case for investing in and modernising America’s critical infrastructure assets and systems, and reemphasise the essential role that infrastructure plays in supporting economic recovery and growth. The event is expected to see politicians, business, unions, academics and other advocates deliver a firm message to Congress that America needs to find immediate solutions to future infrastructure investment. It is estimated that the U.S. must spend at least $150 billion more per annum on its infrastructure up to 2020  <http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/americas/us_game_changers/>.

When visiting the U.S. it is impossible not to be struck immediately by the infrastructure crisis facing the country, whether this relates to airports, ports, heavy or light rail/metro transportation, road surfaces and bridges. Major cities, such as Chicago, are teaming with high-rise skyscrapers and condominiums but bound together precariously by visibly ageing and deteriorating physical infrastructure.

chicago
Chicago’s iconic ‘L’ transit system has been operating since 1892

There is a growing disconnect between the historic low cost of long-term finance and new investment in infrastructure, which currently stands at its lowest level in the U.S. since 1950. The problem of legislative ‘grid-lock’ in Washington D.C., with a Democratic president and Republican-majority senate and congress increasingly at odds with each other has fuelled a situation where politicians at all levels of government are extremely reluctant to raise new revenues by increasing taxes and user fees to fund infrastructure improvements.

How and where choices are made about American infrastructure are complex and decisions are determined by funding sources, regulatory frameworks, geographies and politics. The federal gas tax, for example, which funds the US federal highway trust fund, and the inter-state road network, was last raised in 1993. Consequently, the index link was broken and the cost of maintenance and renewal of major roads in the U.S. now outstrips available revenues. The fund faces insolvency in the next few weeks unless Congress agrees new resources. Amidst the political impasse, President Obama has tasked a high-level group with presenting new proposals on how the private sector could increase its financial contribution to US national and local infrastructure. Whilst this is a laudable proposal, the brutal fact remains that politicians are skirting around the fundamental question of how infrastructure should ultimately be paid for; the answer to which lies in either taxation or user fees. The upfront financing of infrastructure is more straightforward in that private capital can be moulded and deployed in different ways through a variety of investment models. There are, however, grounds for optimism. In Ohio, the state held a ballot (i.e. referendum) in 2014, which resulted in voters approving tax increases to fund new infrastructure improvements in roads and bridges, which will be financed initially through a $1.85 billion 10-year bond issuance. Other states and local governments are now adopting similar measures.

Before assuming office, President Obama said that decision-makers in the United States should be honest with the electorate about the difficult choices facing the country. The U.S. needs to identify and agree ways of increasing investment and improving the efficiency of infrastructure, whilst accepting that there is no ‘free lunch’. It is a difficult, yet simple, message facing governments in America and across the globe, whether they choose to admit it publicly or not.

 

Spatial disparities, ‘rebalancing’ and territorial development policy

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Posted by Andy Pike, 17th February 2015

Spatial disparities in economic and social conditions have been an entrenched and persistent feature of the UK landscape since the middle of the 19th century. The scale of spatial disparities has grown since the late 1970s, accelerating during the 1980s, and continuing to increase during the 1990s and 2000s (Figure 1). Spatial disparities in the UK have far outstripped those in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and (at state level) the US. In the post-war period, the UK pioneered regional policy to address spatial disparities based on economic, social and political arguments for more balanced development that promoted wider economic opportunity and better mobilised the assets, resources and skills of people and places across the nation.

Figure 1: Regional Cumulative Percentage Point Differential Growth Gaps of GVA (2005 prices), 1971-2011

Cambridge figure

Source: Cambridge Econometrics

In the wake of the global financial crisis and ‘Great Recession’, spatial disparities and the geographical concentration of economic activities in London and the Greater South East formed part of the diagnosis of the UK’s ‘unbalanced’ growth model that was over-reliant upon (financial) services, the public sector and high levels of corporate and consumer debt and imports. The UK Coalition government has made a commitment to ‘rebalancing’. In the context of austerity, this ‘rebalancing’ has been characterised by deficit reduction, fiscal stress, public expenditure and employment reductions, growth and recovery-oriented development policy, a private sector focus, particular forms of decentralisation and state shrinkage and hollowing-out.

In England, territorial development, institutions and policy for ‘rebalancing’ have focused upon two not always integrated agendas that have aimed to shift power to local communities and business, enable places to tailor approaches to local circumstances, provide incentives for growth, and support investment in places and people to tackle barriers to growth. First, following the dismantling of the regional tier of Government Offices, RDAs and Regional Chambers, the Local Growth agenda aimed at ‘realising every place’s potential’ assisted by decentralisation and localism. A new institutional framework of 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships was established led by the private sector, working on functional economic areas and each with wide variations in economic performance, potential and resources. At reduced funding levels, new policy instruments were set up including the Regional Growth Fund, Growing Places Fund and Single Local Growth Fund alongside EU funds where eligible.

Second, the Cities agenda has focused upon cities and city-regions as the engines of economic growth, prosperity and ‘rebalancing’ as economic counterweights outside London. Several waves of City Deals with 29 (and counting…) city-regional groupings in England and Scotland have been rolled-out involving bespoke agreements between central and local government aimed at supporting growth and job creation using public and private investment, identifying national government measures to support delivery of the plans, securing greater local control over public spending, the pooling of resources across functioning economic areas, and the planning and delivery of strategic local infrastructure investment.

In the context of a further decentralising UK, what does the experience of rebalancing, territorial development, institutions and policy in England since 2010 mean for Wales? There are a few things to highlight. First, the conundrum of the governance of territorial development in England has become more acute in an asymmetrical and decentralising UK. This issue has been given further momentum following the Scottish independence referendum result and is being focused upon potential fiscal devolution to Combined Authorities and Metro Mayors at the city-regional scale. Where such developments leave further decentralisation to Wales will warrant thinking through and reflection especially given the city-regional focus to developments in England.

Second, the period of churn, instability and uncertainty since 2010 is but the latest episode in what Geoff Mulgan has called the “perpetual restructuring” of the British state. This compulsive reorganisation has generated endemic institutional churn, disruption and fragmentation for (non-statutory) economic development. The period since 2010 is another swing of the pendulum in the post-war history between the regional (early 1960s), local (c. 1979-1994), regional (1997-2010) and local (2010-) levels. England’s experience is a long way from the continuity, stability and long term strategic planning for territorial development evident internationally and provides a cautionary lesson for Wales in reflecting upon its aims for new strategies and institutional reform.

Third, structural problems remain unresolved in the new territorial development and policy landscape in England between centralism and localism, competition and collaboration, agility and “bureaucratisation”, and limited and uneven capacity and resources. ‘Deal-making’ has become the preferred method of centre-local relations with highly uneven outcomes in terms of powers and resources amongst the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. While no easy answers exist to address such issues, thinking them through up front and in advance of strategy making and reform is worthwhile. ‘Deal-making’ as a framework for public policymaking especially needs further scrutiny.

Last, the new context has meant reduced resources, fragmentation, weakened strategic leadership over larger geographies, increased centralisation and highly constrained decentralisation leading to drift, lost momentum, diluted expertise, reduced confidence and debateable impacts on local growth and prosperity. Such problems in England provide food for thought in formulating territorial development policies in Wales in the current context.

The frustration with the patchy and slow progress of reforms in addressing ‘rebalancing’ has stimulated ideas – being developed as part of a policy intervention with the Regional Studies Association  – to inject some fresh life into the case for a more balanced approach to spatial economic growth and development policy in the UK. Some of these may resonate with potential measures in Wales and include: i) aligning and matching the economic and spatial strategies in the devolved territories with one for England; ii) integrating industrial and spatial strategy and policy; iii) establishing Territorial Investment Banks beyond the City of London; iv) providing better territorial co-ordination of public investment flows; v) bolstering the role of anchor institutions such as large employers in the private and public sectors especially universities; vi) using public procurement and the dispersal of public sector activities and assets to stimulate industrial and territorial development; vii) formulating a ‘road map’ for further decentralisation of governance across the UK; and, viii) for England, strengthening and consolidating the LEPs.

Andy Pike contributed an invited presentation and chapter on ‘spatial disparities, ‘rebalancing’ and territorial development policy to the Wales TUC debate and publication on industrial policy in Wales in Cardiff on Tues 20 January 2015. The contribution is part of an edited collection published by the Wales TUC.

[1] Gardiner, B., Martin, R., Pike, A. and Tyler,
P. (2014) The Case for a More Spatially Balanced Approach to Spatial
Economic Growth and Development Policy in the United Kingdom
, Policy
Intervention with the Regional Studies Association, http://www.ncl.ac.uk/curds/news/item/curds-contributes-to-the-case-for-a-more-balanced-approach-to-spatial-economic-growth-and-development-policy-in-the-uk