One of the central questions of inclusive growth is the phenomenon of the outlying estates, often well-connected to surrounding cities and to potential work, where people feel disconnected – despite the trams – from the economy.
The conventional attitude is that this is a ‘poverty of aspiration’. That can’t be true, given that more than half of all households in poverty now are also in work. But it does imply what one person at our Inclusive Growth Commission round table, in Nottingham last month, called an ‘attitudinal pessimism’.
There is an echo here of the old fears about inner cities and local authority boundaries. “The boundaries here were drawn by a Martian,” said another. “People tend to move outside the city council area and they take their money with them”.
The boundaries issue is a symptom of a broader problem. It isn’t a poverty of aspiration; it is a lack of connectivity. As another of our voluntary sector attendees said: “It isn’t necessarily the lack of opportunity; it’s the lack of opportunity they are aware of.”
So how do we restore some kind of connection across our cities? And how do we use this connection to treat people living in the heart of the city as the economic assets they could be, rather than drains on the collective purse?
There was some agreement in Nottingham that the ways we used to do these things are not adequate – especially the old careers guidance systems. More than one attendee told stories about how they had been discouraged from aspiration, rather than encouraged, by the careers service.
Partly it has to be the voluntary sector who can reach out to those disadvantaged sectors, because they have the access – if they have the funding, which more recently they don’t.
Partly it has to be small business, because they have a personal touch and are free of some of the alienating processes of the big companies, or so the commissioners were told.
Partly it is about shifting the huge procurement budgets of the universities and hospitals to have a double effect on the local population – and Nottingham now spends three quarters of their procurement budget locally (up from 19 percent).
Partly it will have to be about challenging young people before they are ten, to see inside a factory or workplace and get a whiff of the possibilities of work, not once but many times. These projects exist already – for example through Nottingham’s Stem City Partnership – but they need to be scaled up.
“We need to get in earlier with our young people because they are competing with children who are more supported than they are,” said one city councillor.
Partly, said another, it has to be shaping the workforce of the future in primary schools or before. “We ought to be targeting pregnant women,” said another speaker.
But then, as we were told, early intervention is “a really, really broad term”. It doesn’t imply any intervention in particular.
“It is fairly simple,” said one. “Children under five, resilient parenting, early education – and give their parents a job. That’s what would improve outcomes for children.”
Another prescription focused on the third sector, “to stimulate small entrepreneurship in local areas and neighbourhoods, which can then translate into a city-wide level. Businesses need to contribute to this and invest in it – and in the form of hard funds, not just softer CSR we see in the city. We need the equivalent of social growth deals through the Local Enterprise Partnership.”
Part of the problem remains that physical infrastructure gets treated so differently, and so separately, from social infrastructure. Nor is it clear in Whitehall how one makes it possible for the other to work, though there is clearly a mutually supportive role they both play.
Once these enablers are sorted, it seems clear that we will need parallel social infrastructure investment in early intervention, and probably also in housing, health inequalities and reducing barriers to sustainable, high quality employment – and especially barriers in mental health.
The Early Action Taskforce has recommended a Next Generation Fund that would support long term investment at a local level in helping young people ‘from cradle to career’, targeting the long tail of educational underachievement in England and Wales. Something similar may at least be part of an answer for innovative cities like Nottingham.
Nottingham was the third of the Commission’s evidence hearings and roundtables. You can read the full Nottingham write up or explore our Emerging Findings document, published in September.