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New Labour politicians used to say their core belief was that economic dynamism and social justice go forward hand in hand. It is simplistic but a good corrective to the Thatcherite view that all social spending was a drag on economic prosperity. But perhaps the future holds a more ambitious version of New Labour’s sound bite; a major driver of future economic dynamism will be meeting social need.

We already accept this idea in one area: sustainability. Today’s newspapers report the European Commission’s decision to pledge £162 million towards a proposed carbon capture and storage plant in South Yorkshire. In the FT Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Yorkshire Forward, the RDA, is quoted:

Securing the first project is a vital step in developing a region wide CCS cluster…Nowhere in Europe has such a large number of industrial carbon emitters so close to safe carbon storage in depleted gas fields…and the region has access to proven technology and engineering skills’.          

This reminded me of a conversation we are having in the North East about the region piloting a new, ICT-enabled, form of remote medicine. The idea is not only that this new technique could improve the productivity of the region’s NHS (which would be a big advance given both the reliance of the region on public spending and its poor existing heath outcomes), but could also help develop the North East as a global hub in the fast growing health-based economy.

At a more local level a different dimension of this approach is provided by a cluster of ideas around total place analysis (exploring the relationship between all local spending and social outcomes), smart data capture and sharing, and personal budgets. On the one hand, there is the continuing scope for clever commissioning to enhance public sector productivity and performance (for example, the use of citizen payment cards as we discussed in a 2020 Public Services Trust seminar here yesterday).

On the other hand, there is the opportunity to pay people to meet their own needs and in doing so to enable them to develop social enterprises with and for other service users. I have spoken to one entrepreneur who is exploring giving prisoners social enterprise skills so that they can access funds available for their rehabilitation, training and employment and then use this money to develop a service for other prisoners. 

In our recent event on technology in a cold climate we began to explore the notion of ‘purposive innovation’. The idea here is that instead of seeing innovation as a pure process of creativity which is then encumbered by environmental or social concerns it is the wider sense of social purpose that provides the rich context for innovation. This idea is particularly powerful with talented and in-demand young people who seem ever more insistent that their jobs should have some wider sense of purpose.


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