Monday, 29 February 2016

Knowle relocation project >>> a far more imposing development than assumed?

We have had some drawings from the prospective developer at Knowle:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project >>> Pegasus plans in full >>> updated >>> planning application due in March

However, there have been serious questions posed as to what the proposals really are:

Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Pegasus plans: 'true or false?'

In fact, the development looks much more imposing than assumed.

Here, the proposed development on the upper lawns is much more 'in your face' than the architect's drawings suggest:
And here, a before and after view of the 'Dell' development (ie, in the current car parks) from Station Road shows a five-story tower rising above the trees, creating the tallest building in Sidmouth:


Devon New Economy Gathering >>> Saturday 16th April

Transition Exeter are putting on an event in a few weeks' time 
- together with the New Economics Foundation:

Advance Notice

Devon New Economy Gathering
Saturday April 16th 10am - 5pm, Exeter Community Centre

What would a fairer and more sustainable economy look like?  How can we support moves to build it in Devon?  A day to share visions of alternatives, find out what's going on in Devon and connect with practical projects and campaigns involving food, energy, land management, tax justice, money and local finance and more.

Further details here and at www.transitionexeter.org.uk

Booking & enquiries - gillwestcott@gmail.com

With further details here:

Devon New Economy Gathering
Saturday April 16th
Exeter Community Centre 10 – 5 pm

What kind of economy will promote well-being, for all, in a fair and sustainable way?

The way our economy is organized affects everyday life; food, debt, taxes, energy prices, banks, public services – choices about these involve values, and shouldn’t be left to ‘experts’.  But how can we speak in a simple and relevant way about these?  And get involved locally in building better systems?

This day is to share visions about alternatives and hear about what’s going on in Devon; to link  organisers, practitioners, campaigners and people who would like to know more, to learn from each other, collaborate where possible and strengthen initiatives that reduce inequality, create good livelihoods and well being in a way that will last.

Keynote speaker: Stewart Wallis, New Economics Foundation
‘A Just and Sustainable Economy: Routes to Change’.
Local contributors: building a better economy in Devon

Small group topics
Information and national campaigns :
            If not austerity what?  What to do about the national debt. 
            What needs to grow and what doesn’t?  Well being & better indicators.
            Tax justice; banking reform; democratically controlled money; Green New Deal
   Social enterprises – what are they and why are they different? 
   Engines of inequality and how to interrupt them

Practical and local
            How to start a social enterprise and where to get help.
            Relocalizing money and finance (local currencies; local finance institutions; Devon
Community Bank/Credit Union)
            Investing in local green energy:  Co-operation in Devon
            Fossil Free Devon - Disinvestment from fossil fuels
            Food – affordable and locally grown? Or must we choose?
Open Space for discussion and working groups. 
Rapper George Hardwick

Friends from other counties are also welcome!
Register interest to receive joining details at

            gillwestcott@gmail.com         01647 24789

Transition Exeter

Economic freedom and political equality at the local level >>> or, the triumph of corporatism

Politically, there is the general belief that there is a trade-off between more 'freedom' and more 'equality' - and never the two shall meet:
Principled Perspectives: Freedom vs. Equality: It's Either/Or
What’s Wrong with Inequality? - The Future of Freedom Foundation
Deep freedom: Why the left should abandon equality | IPPR

Much of this debate is around the perceived contradiction between 'economic freedom' and 'political equality' - but in the 1970s and again today, this lazy assumption is being challenged - and questions are being asked about the power of 'corporatism':

Futures Forum: How Ralph Nader changed the world

These are not just issues of high politics, however, but of immediate relevance to things going on in East Devon: current questions include:

Futures Forum: "Local Enterprise Partnerships would appear to embody everything that is bereft of vision, imagination and indeed any of the kind of creativity and thinking that these times demand."

How far have these 'business interests' had influence over the political process - in the past:
Futures Forum: Public Examination of the New East Devon Local Plan ... EMPLOYMENT LAND
Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part four... "RESOLVED that the Chairman and Honorary Secretary be authorised to write to EDDC and express the Business Forum’s concern if it was found that the membership of the Task and Finish Forum contained members that they considered had preconceived ideas about the Business Forum and its operation."

- and in the present?
Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> "to mandate bodies of unelected businessmen to define and effect policy without any scrutiny or accountability to electors or their representatives."
Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> of Local Enterprise Partnerships and 'what happens when a lobby group of landowners and developers gains too much influence over the democratic planning process'

Whose interests would the devolution bid serve?

Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> "confidentiality" vs open debate and public consultation

Why is development so heavy-handed?

On the other hand, to what extent is the importance to the local economy of SMEs fully realised?

Why is the District Council so coy over Freedom of Information requests?

And to what extent do these issues merge?

How relevant is the prognosis from three years ago of goings on in the District by investigative journalist Anna Minton?

And to what extent are we living in a 'managed democracy'?

A new piece from the British Stumbling and Mumbling blogger looks at how economic freedom and political equality actually correlate:


February 23, 2016

In making a libertarian case for Bernie Sanders, Will Wilkinson draws attention to an awkward point for right-libertarians – that inequality is the enemy of freedom.

He points out that Denmark –the sort of country Sanders wants the US to be more like – has greater economic freedom than the US. This, he says, “illustrates just how unworried libertarians ought to be about the possibility of a Denmark-admiring, single-payer-wanting, democratic socialist president.” 

Will is not taking freak cases here. My chart plots a measure of income inequality (taken from the World Bank) against the Heritage Foundation’s index of business freedom – their measure of how government regulates firms – for 26 developedish nations. There is a slight negative correlation between them, of 0.16. If anything, I’m biasing the chart against the point I want to make: if I were to exclude Malaysia, which is free and unequal, or include Chile (which is unfree and unequal) the negative correlation would be much greater.

Inequality doesn’t just reduce freedom for workers. It reduces freedom for business owners too.

Will says this is because countries that want to tax and redistribute must have a healthy economy, which requires business freedom. I suspect that there are two other mechanisms at work.

One is that many of the rich have no interest in economic freedom. They want to protect extractive institutions and the monopoly power of incumbents from competition. They thus favour red tape, which tends to bear heavier upon small firms than big ones. This, I suspect, explains why inequality and unfreedom go together in Latin America, for example.

Secondly, people have a strong urge for fairness. If they cannot achieve this through market forces, they’ll demand it via the ballot box in the form of state regulation. As Philippe Aghion and colleagues point out, there is a negative correlation between union density and minimum wages: minimum wage laws are more likely to be found where unions are weak. Regulations, in this sense, are a substitute for strong unions – and, I suspect, a bad substitute because they are more inflexible.

Through these mechanisms, inequality is the enemy of freedom even in the narrowest right-libertarian sense of the word.

That said, it doesn’t follow that people who want greater income equality will necessarily promote economic freedom: Megan McArdle might be right to say that Sanders can’t or won’t much enhance it. We should, though, ask: what sort of egalitarian institutions and policies might increase freedom?

For me, the answer is clear: those which increase workers’ bargaining power. This means fuller employment and a jobs guarantee; stronger trades unions; andcitizensbasic income. The point here is that if workers have the power to bargain for better wages and conditions, and the real freedom to reject exploitative demands from bosses, then we’ll not need so much business regulation. In this sense, greater equality and cutting red tape go together.

What don’t go together – in the real world – are inequality and freedom. So-called right-libertarians therefore have a choice: you can be shills for the rich, or genuine supporters of freedom – but you can’t be both.

Stumbling and Mumbling: Inequality against freedom

With further (American) comment here from the weekend:

Freedom and Equality are not Tradeoffs
Kevin Carson | @KevinCarson1 | Support this author on Patreon | February 27th, 2016

In most American political discourse, freedom and equality are treated as inversely related: that is, economic freedom can only be increased at the expense of raising inequality, and economic equality can only be increased at the expense of reducing economic freedom. But at Stumbling and Mumbling blog, Chris Dillow (“Inequality against freedom,” Feb. 23) shows that it’s just the opposite. Economic freedom (as measured by the Heritage Foundation’s index of business freedom) tends to correlate with economic equality: the less regulated the economy, the smaller the share of total income that’s likely to go to the top 10%.

According to the standard American framing, this is counter-intuitive. Not only do high levels of inequality and concentration of wealth spontaneously emerge from a free economy, unless the state interferes with the process; but extreme inequality actually contributes to economic growth. A good example is a recent column by Jacob Hornberger (“What’s Wrong With Inequality?” Future of Freedom, Feb. 11). On the one hand he treats the Gilded Age — “[w]hen America had no income tax or welfare-warfare state,” and before “the federal government was charged with the task of equalizing wealth by taking from the rich to give to the poor” — as a basically laissez-faire period in which high levels of inequality appeared as a matter of course. On the other, this extreme level of inequality benefited everybody by letting the wealthy accumulate unlimited amounts of capital that increased economic productivity. And — a point Hornberger seems to be fond of bringing up — the super-rich used their wealth to benefit the poor in ways “such as building churches that didn’t charge an admission fee to anyone.”

But in reality it’s Hornberger’s right-libertarian framing that violates common sense — and it makes perfect sense that economic freedom correlates with economic equality. Large concentrations of wealth that result from robbery or government intervention (the increasingly popular “crony capitalism” or “corporatism” theme) are not some kind of outlier, as Hornberger suggests, irrelevant to the majority of giant fortunes that resulted from serving the free market in his mythically “laissez-faire” Gilded Age. Gilded Age capitalism itself, far from being the product of “laissez-faire,” was an edifice built on centuries of land enclosure and other massive robberies, colonial conquest and enslavement.

Government intervention in the market is the main source of large fortunes. Inequality is driven by large concentrations of wealth that derive almost entirely from rents created by the government: monopolies, entry barriers, regulatory cartels, and socialization of operating costs. The differences in wealth that resulted from genuine entrepreneurship, or variation in individual ability, would probably be several orders of magnitude smaller than at present if all those state-enforced monopolies and their resulting rents were abolished. And far from it being a matter of the 20th century state “equalizing wealth,” as Hornberger puts it, the main function of the capitalist state — including the U.S. government in the Gilded Age — has always been to promote inequality.

Rather than economic growth and technological progress being driven by giant accumulations of capital, it’s more often the case that those accumulations of capital — in league with the state — sidetrack technological development onto a path skewed towards artificially high levels of capital intensiveness and enterprise scale. In the late 19th century, when the invention of the electric motor arguably made decentralized local production on the industrial district model the optimal organization of manufacturing, the American state in alliance with industrial interests instead diverted economic development towards mass production and oligopoly industry.

Since the primary purpose of government intervention in the economy is to guarantee profits to big business and increase the rents accruing to the already wealthy — after all, government is basically the enforcement arm of the plutocracy — it stands to reason that the main effect of government intervention is to shift income upwards from workers and consumers to the propertied classes, and increase the inequality of wealth. Therefore we should expect, as a matter of course, a reduction in government intervention to reduce the upward redistribution of income — robbery — responsible for high levels of inequality.

As for those churches “that (gasp!) didn’t charge an admission fee to anyone,” I can’t help thinking of an anecdote from E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class. A group of workers passing a Methodist chapel built for them by Mr. Sutcliffe, the mill owner, “looked towards the chapel and wished it might sink into hell, and Mr. Sutcliffe go with it.” Hornberger’s churches are a prime example of what Bastiat called “the unseen.” We can see the big churches, which the robber barons built as monuments to themselves. What we can’t see is what the working classes might have built for themselves with their own money, had it not been extracted from them in the form of rents.

Rather than an economy in which the super-rich use the state to extract wealth from the rest of us, I would gladly give up those big churches for a more equal society in which workers kept the wealth they created by their own effort and used it for ends of their own choosing.

Center for a Stateless Society » Freedom and Equality are not Tradeoffs

Meanwhile, back in Scandinavia:
The Myth of Scandinavian Socialism | Foundation for Economic Education

Friends of the Byes volunteer mornings: Saturdays 10 to 12

The FOTB AGM is next week:
Futures Forum: Friends of the Byes AGM: Wednesday 9th March >>> Creating and managing wildflower meadows

Meanwhile, the volunteering goes on very cheerfully. Here is the latest message from the Friends:

Friends of the Byes volunteers have been busy carrying out gentle improvements to the Byes during our volunteer mornings held every Saturday 10am-Midday. Hedges have been trimmed and tidied up, tree copses have been tidied up and old tree guards removed, fruit trees pruned and lots lots more.

The Bulbs planted over the last few years are flowering well at the moment and adding a nice splash of early colour.

We are looking forward to another good year enhancing and adding to the natural beauty of The Byes.

New volunteers of all ages always welcome, just come along to the Community Orchard any Saturday morning at 10am, or contact Kati for more information 01395 578344 Tools, training and refreshments offered.

We are holding our AGM at Sidford Rugby Pavilion and are happy that Julian Goren will be presenting a talk on ‘Creating and Managing wildflower meadows’ www.goren.co.uk 

This will obviously benefit any of us that enjoy wildlife and how the protection and planting of wildflowers can help encourage more variety of wildlife, especially so, in and around The Byes, Sidmouth

You are very welcome to come along to our AGM which is a FREE event and please also feel free to invite any friends or family that you feel may be interested.

Friends of The Byes / Sidmouth BEE Project

"Devolution could improve the lives of local people, yet the current debate pays little attention to how this could be achieved."

The New Economics Foundation is concerned about government proposals for devolution:
Futures Forum: Devolution: "Powerhouse or power failure?"

The East Devon Watch blog highlights what the NEF was saying back in December:


28 February 2016

” … Should growth be the main goal?

Our research found that arguments for economic growth are weak at explaining how these outcomes would be achieved; they tend to focus on the benefits devolution would bring the national purse rather than the local economy. Devolution could improve the lives of local people, yet the current debate pays little attention to how this could be achieved.

How devolution would affect income-to-cost-of-living ratios, which affect everyone’s day to day economic reality, is seldom mentioned. The number of jobs that would be created is discussed far more often than the quality of jobs that would be created. Reducing poverty through economic growth is mentioned only four times in a total of 1,129 arguments.

Devolving fiscal and policy making powers to the local level over skills, housing, business rates and enterprise, could improve how the local economy works for its residents and local stakeholders. It could, for example, enable local government to better shape local business stock and promote resilience to external shocks through reasonable diversity in sectors, business size and ownership models. While economic growth may be one measure of success, it should not be pursued at the expense of other key economic and social goals that devolution could benefit.

Building a more democratic country

Creating a more democratic country seems an obvious aim for devolution but it is neglected by advocates of devolution, particularly in local government as Figure 2 shows. Discussions currently neglect the greater role citizens could play in political decision-making if decisions are made closer to home, but also the ways in which devolution could increase the accountability of elected leaders to the public. Simply creating elected mayors is not enough to revive an ailing democracy. This is why local governments should also be considering the mechanisms and structures for citizen participation which could make devolution worthwhile.

How can we change the debate?

We need to bring the debate into the open for public discussion, locally and nationally, so that everyday economic concerns like the quality of jobs created, and reducing inequality, feature strongly in discussions around what goals devolution should deliver.

So far, the debate has been conducted in the backrooms of Westminster rather than in public forums. Several parties in government have proposed a Constitutional Convention – a citizen forum where the governance of the country is discussed – but are yet to act on the proposal.

In the meantime, a group of academics and civil society groups have piloted this model in Sheffield and Southampton, showing how it would work. Drawing on examples from countries including Iceland, Canada, the Netherlands and Scotland, they show that the direct participation of local people in decision-making improves not only the democratic quality of decisions, but their effectiveness. It’s a match made in heaven for the devolution revolution.”

‘The briefing Democracy: the missing link in the devolution debate’ is available for download here:
Democracy: the missing link in the devolution debate | New Economics Foundation

Key findings:

Of the arguments made for devolution, 41.6% focus on achieving economic growth as the main justification for devolving power.

Only 12.9% of arguments make the case for devolution in order to shift power, strengthen democracy, and increase citizen involvement in decision-making.

Just 7.4% of arguments address inequalities in wealth and power between regions.

Environmental sustainability is part of just 0.8% of arguments.

Only 2.9% of arguments address the potential downsides and risks of devolution.

Local governments in particular seldom consider the impact of devolution on democracy, discussing democratic outcomes less than central government or think-tanks.
What’s missing from the devolution debate? | New Economics Foundation

At last some straight talking on devolution | East Devon Watch

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Beach huts "should not be a cash cow for the benefit of the privileged few"

People are not very happy about the District Council's proposals for beach huts:
Futures Forum: East Devon beach huts >>> and the District Council's 'Transformation Strategy'

One way out might be giving Town Councils the responsibility for beach huts:
Futures Forum: Transferring assets from the District Council >>> It would be easier for the village to give more to tourists and keep them in the area if the council had control of assets

This is being considered, according to the latest in the Herald:

‘Locals priced out’ by beach huts hike

06:30 28 February 2016

Sidmouth's beach huts. Ref shs 0839-03-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife

Residents fear Sidmouth’s beach huts are being turned into a ‘cash cow’ for ‘the privileged few’ as the district council looks to almost double the cost of renting one.
Users in the town paid £521.67, excluding VAT, to rent a property in 2015/16, but that is set to rise to £762 this year and to £1,002 in 2017/18.
The price hike, set to be confirmed early next week, comes after East Devon District Council (EDDC) bowed to public pressure and scrapped proposals to sell five-year leases for the properties on the open market last year.
The authority says its current fees are ‘very low’ when compared to other areas and the increase is a ‘fair reflection of the market’.
Some users of the huts in Sidmouth have expressed their disappointment.
Anna Thompson, who has rented huts at Jacob’s Ladder, branded the increases as ‘just greedy’ and ‘probably trying to justify the previous option of opening bidding up outside the area’. “These huts should not be a cash cow for the benefit of the privileged few,” she said.
Sandra Chapman waited eight years for her beach hut, only for it to be broken into within a week last summer. She was ‘totally disappointed’ in its condition and said: “A lack of security, damp and rotting sheds can make even a beautiful spot unattractive. I think we will let someone else have the stress this year and let them pay highly for the privilege.”
In Beer, the cost of 44 of its sites will rise from £315.83 to £606 in 2017/18, while the price of the remaining 12 plots will increase by £411.53 to £858 over the same period, all plus VAT.
Karen Stevens, whose family has had a beach hut in the village for ‘50-odd years’, said: “It would appear that EDDC have got their own way in the end by pricing many locals out by such increases.” She questioned, with worse summers than in the past, if it was worth the increased cost. In 2007, her records show she only paid £115.50, plus VAT.
An EDDC spokeswoman said: “Beach huts are an incredibly important asset to our seaside communities and so the council worked very carefully to make sure that people were consulted on any proposed changes. The council’s hire fees are currently very low and increased charges have been benchmarked with other local authorities. A great deal of work has been carried out to ensure these increases are a fair reflection of the market. The final fees will be not be confirmed until early next week as they are still going through the approval process.”
EDDC will also be meeting with seaside town and parish councils to understand what they think are the best local solutions - and how they might want to take responsibility for some of the huts. Sidmouth Town Council chairman Jeff Turner said: “We would certainly take a look at it [taking on the beach huts] with a view to seeing whether we could make a viable business of it.”
He added that there may be a market for short-term leases to benefit holidaymakers, but there would be costs involved in managing the system.

‘Locals priced out’ by beach huts hike - News - Sidmouth Herald

See also:
Anger at East Devon beach hut rent rise | Exeter Express and Echo

Concern at beach huts price hike - News - Exmouth Journal
SIDMOUTH: ‘Staggering’ rise in beach hut charges, says councillor | Pulman's View from Sidmouth

Devolution: "Powerhouse or power failure?"

There have been several misgivings around the proposals for devolution:
Futures Forum: Devolution as "the TTIP for the Shires" >>> public meeting >>> Totnes: Thursday 25th February
Futures Forum: "Stop the devolution process" petition >>> "The so called Devolution process taking place in Devon and Somerset right now, is an totally undemocratic and possibly unlawful transfer of power from local authorities to a quango of unelected and unaccountable business people called the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership."
Futures Forum: "Local Enterprise Partnerships would appear to embody everything that is bereft of vision, imagination and indeed any of the kind of creativity and thinking that these times demand."

The New Economics Foundation have edited a special issue of Red Pepper on the issue:

Powerhouse or power failure?

Although they are being promoted as a route towards more even regional development, the government’s devolution plans risk dividing the UK even further. 

Rachel Laurence and Adrian Bua of the New Economics Foundation introduce this special issue of Red Pepper
February 2016


‘Attract a business, and you attract more money. Regenerate a high street, and you’ll reap the benefits. Grow your area, and you’ll grow your revenue too.‘ With these words in Manchester last October, George Osborne triumphantly unveiled his plans for the acceleration of a ‘devolution revolution’ aiming to rebalance the UK’s economy by fostering greater growth outside London.

A couple of weeks previously, in a rather chilly church hall three miles north of the Manchester Central Convention Complex at which Osborne had spoken, a handful of Salford locals examined their own local economic development plan, emerging on post-it notes on the table in front of them in a workshop with the New Economics Foundation. Regenerating their high street was top of the agenda – boarded up shop fronts and a handful of takeaways don’t make for much economic opportunity for the local residents. But it is tricky to attract businesses to regenerate this particular patch of high street. No one in the area has much disposable income, most of the shops are unused and the new development of luxury and student flats being completed up the road is going to be connected directly with the city centre via a new shopping mall.

Despite a degree of cynicism from those involved in past regeneration efforts – whether within the council, or from the local housing association and local community development organisations – there was a clear, dogged hope that, somewhere in this talk of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, a better future could be carved out for the people of this particular estate in Salford. But the odds were looking decidedly unfavourable, as the group talked through the current development plans in the city. New jobs emerging in the city centre were felt to be out of reach of local people’s skills, experience and public transport connections. Footfall to the area itself by non-residents is restricted largely to those dropping their cars off at the car wash, which sits on the main road that slices through the estate and provides one of the main arteries out to the north of the city.

Similar conversations will be taking place throughout the UK since the 2015 spending review confirmed the direction of travel of recent plans for regional devolution. The Northern Powerhouse agenda is pioneered by the Manchester devolution deal (‘Devo Manc’) and looks to be rolled out elsewhere through further regional deals as well as the Cities and Devolution Bill.

It is by no means the first time that a UK government has committed to a ‘rebalancing’ of the economy. This was a strong theme in preceding New Labour and Conservative-Lib Dem governments. However, the current devolution deals have more radical ambitions than their predecessors. Although the extent of devolution differs by deal, a more strategic economic role is on offer to local areas than in previous decentralisation initiatives – with greater influence over spending on skills and learning, housing, transport and health and social care. There is also a commitment to devolve revenue-raising capacity through the local retention of business rates and freedom to vary council tax rates.

Thus, these developments are presented by the government as the progenitor of a more localist Britain, which also promises to deliver significantly reduced regional inequalities in economic performance and a shift away from the current model of economic development that is so reliant on growth in the south east.

The New Economics Foundation has long supported the principle of ‘subsidiarity’. Rather than ‘local by default’, this invites a critical consideration of the appropriate scale at which functions should be carried out, as well as the relationship between tiers of governance. And underlying any question about how the economy should be structured at a local and regional level, of course, is the broader question about what it is that we want that economy to deliver.

Exacerbating inequality

The idea of decentralising power, and moving towards more regionalised powers for economic planning and strategy, appears to open up exciting and positive new possibilities to democratise and rebalance our economy, and to build more resilience, equality and subsidiarity into it. However, devolution – both in and of itself as a concept, and more specifically in the current form emerging with the city devolution deals – presents significant risks. One obvious example is the substantial disadvantage faced by deprived areas in making the most of new powers to raise council tax and retain business rates. Cheap homes and considerable difficulties in attracting new businesses mean they have little to gain from these measures, as our Salford group identified swiftly. Compounded by the fact that local government has been the biggest loser in public spending cuts, the Northern Powerhouse seems more of a recipe to exacerbate, rather than overcome, regional and local inequalities. For this reason, some critics of the policy have referred to the initiative as the ‘Northern Poorhouse’.

Another risk is the way devolution deals demand that regional government justifies its greater access to powers and investment through embedding and reinforcing the prevailing, central government-led, approach to regional economic development. The outcomes against which regions’ devolution proposals are judged are set entirely by central, not regional or local, government, let alone citizens. Thus the process of awarding devolved powers to areas reinforces the success of those regional economic development strategies that most conform to the current central government approach to regional growth.

It is crucial, amidst the current devolution debate, to make the case for an approach to political and economic decentralisation that empowers local regions to devise development strategies that tackle inequalities in wealth and power, respect environmental limits, contribute to carbon reduction and generate opportunities for the development of diverse, balanced and resilient local economies. Of the current approach to devolution we should ask whether it contributes to this agenda or risks doing the opposite. And what should devolution look like for it to be a force for good?

As things stand, the main stated aim of the devolution agenda is to rebalance the UK economy by boosting growth outside London. It is argued that greater local control will lead to more inward investment. Coupled with increased investment in transport infrastructure – to be co-ordinated by the recently-established partnership Transport for the North – this will deliver stronger regional growth, and close the regional output gap, making an increased contribution to the national purse. In the government’s own terms, the deals are also supposed to secure ‘better use of local authority assets to unlock resources to be invested in growth’, ‘commitments to pro-growth reforms’ and ‘greater influence over key levers affecting local growth and freedoms and flexibilities’.

The underlying logic is that UK regions outside the south west have been economic laggards that should, and can, ‘pull their own weight’. ‘Peripheral’ economic areas that depend on national forms of wealth distribution can be eliminated by developing localised competitive advantages, building on economic specialisms, and generating agglomeration effects. Growth is by far the main outcome sought. Underlying this logic is, of course, the assumption that regional growth, once secured in this way, will lead to greater local prosperity.

In their efforts to win powers through the devolution process, local authorities are driven to put forward economic priorities that align with central government’s approach to growth. If they resist this pressure, they risk being awarded fewer powers and less substantial resources. Thus, in the government’s devolution drive the focus on GVA (gross value added) growth has so far been definitive, and this ambition is reflected both in the stated aims of devolution as well as the processes through which devolution deals are being negotiated.

Reasons for doubt

There are a series of reasons to doubt the claim that devolution, as currently pursued, can achieve the aim of boosting regional growth and closing the output gap. Research in other devolved areas has suggested that, in a low-growth environment, and in a context where cuts to benefits can be expected to reduce consumer demand in peripheral areas that are more reliant on welfare, closing regional output disparities is highly unrealistic, if not outright unachievable. This would at the very least require an industrial policy, which is nigh-on non-existent, and a shift away from an economic model that continues to focus on London‑centric finance and service industries.

In fact, London is often touted as an exemplar of what devolution and agglomeration effects can achieve – the argument being that similar results can be expected in other regions across the country. However, the London example is problematic because the capital’s economic success relative to other areas is arguably a result of national economic policy such as de-industrialisation and the deregulation of finance, rather than devolution per se. Moreover, in becoming the ‘powerhouse’ of the UK economy, London has benefited disproportionately from infrastructure investments over the past decade. Despite all the rhetoric, this gap is set to widen, with plans to spend £2,600 per head on transport in London compared to £380 in the north.

The London example is also more fundamentally problematic in that it suggests that a city economy such as London’s is, without mitigation, successful and desirable in the first place. London had a GVA growth increase of 15.4%, compared with 6.9% in the other 11 UK regions between 2007 and 2012, and its share of UK output now stands at 22.2%. But it also has the highest child poverty rates in the country, an unemployment rate among women of 30.7%, almost double that of men’s at 15.6% – a wider gender gap in that rate than in any other UK region – and a housing market that offers tantalising investment opportunities for national and international financial elites but is unaffordable to most of its own population. Is this really the type of regional or city economy we think is going to deliver greater equality, reduced poverty, better jobs or business sector resilience in other places?

The problems faced by the London economy speak directly to the failure of ‘trickle down’ economics. In economic development a rising tide does not necessarily lift all boats – some can, and do, sink. Increased inequalities within regions can be expected from an approach that seeks aggregate growth at all costs, and does precious little to protect those at the bottom.

Reinforcing uneven development

Moreover, devolution as currently pursued is also likely to lead to an accentuation of inequalities between regions. Mirroring the logic that prioritises the development of local competitive advantages, devolution deals are rolled out on a case-by-case basis – with the terms of each deal reflecting different patterns of need, ambition and competency. There is nothing wrong with this in itself; localisation needs to be sensitive to context. However, varying abilities to capitalise upon the opportunities opened up by devolution are compounded by the phasing out of national processes for wealth distribution, leading to a recipe for the entrenchment, rather than attenuation, of these regional differences. We can expect uneven development to be reinforced by the current approach to devolution.

This issue is particularly stark when one considers that increased powers to raise revenue locally are miles away from compensating for the cuts being made in central financing, and plans to devolve power over raising revenue are not matched by freedom over spending. For example, a new power to raise council tax by up to 2% is accompanied by a requirement that the increased revenue must be spent on adult social care, and spending on business rates is subject to veto and approval from business elites. It seems that devolution will deliver a policy straitjacket that turns public authorities into agents for the implementation of spending cuts, rather than institutions that are empowered to develop and implement economic strategies of sufficient scale to close the gap between centre and periphery.

At NEF we have long argued that economic growth should not be the primary goal sought by economic development, but rather understood as one of a number of potential means to an end in pursuit of a broader range of social and environmental outcomes. The Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi commission on economic performance and social progress recommended that measures of wellbeing and quality of life should take centre stage, and recent work by NEF has called for five headline success measures covering employment quality, wellbeing, environment, fairness and health.

Strategies to decentralise power ought to facilitate a shift in the drivers for regional and local economic development. But this can only happen if devolved economic strategies are designed explicitly around the outcomes specifically needed by an area, as determined by those who live, work or run businesses within that area’s economy. Devolved units should be given the power, and support, to be able to craft context-sensitive economic and social development strategies that can meet the needs of its citizens, and improve their lives. Crucially, this may or may not involve growth. It is certainly likely to involve different types and speeds of growth in different regions, and in different sectors within those different regions, and may involve very different accompanying priorities for investment in infrastructure, skills, training or businesses support in different regions.

Gentrification and dormitory towns

A focus on attracting economically active and highly skilled new residents into a declining area is all too often at the core of the regional and local economic plans. There is little or no sense of how to avoid the creation either of a parallel economy that excludes and displaces existing residents (the ‘gentrification’ effect) or of ‘dormitory’ towns or suburbs in which those earning higher wages do not in fact participate in any local economy at all.

The community economic development project in Salford is struggling with the fall-out from precisely this, in the sense that their area sits between a part of town being rebuilt as a ‘dormitory’ suburb, from which residents are expected to connect into the city centre for jobs and shopping, entirely bypassing the estate in between. The group is puzzling out how to attract some of those wealthier new residents into their patch to shop, and stimulate a revival of their high street. They are contending not only with the lack of existing footfall to or through the area, but with the plans for a large scale shopping mall close by, as well as the vibrant inner-city offer of Manchester.

But city and regional economic plans do not have to go this way – at best ignoring or displacing economically disadvantaged people and areas as they focus simply on attracting new kinds of people and businesses, and at worst locking them even more definitively out of the available economic development opportunities. Instead, we could be using the devolution process to embed measures and processes to proactively balance our local and regional economies to connect new high-growth economic sectors and wealthier demographic groups much more effectively with low-growth sectors and low-wage, low-skilled demographic groups within and around some of the core cities currently rolling out devolution deals.

Growth alternatives

Setting up devolution deals based primarily on a requirement for growth, and very little else, neither incentivises innovations nor facilitates existing approaches that do this effectively. These might, for example, include channelling public and private sector procurement more effectively through small and medium scale local enterprise, as many local areas are already trying to do (Preston and Sandwell are just two examples). It might be done through basing economic development priorities firmly on existing local and regional assets, rather than focusing on attracting new high-growth sectors to an area. Again, a strong argument is being made in many areas to do this, one example being Sheffield.

And inasmuch as it is useful to attract new sectors in to an area, this might be done within a wider objective to maximise local assets and opportunities to decarbonise – for example, as areas around Hull are doing currently with the emerging offshore wind sector. There are, in fact, a great number of tried and tested approaches to a much more sustainable, better-distributed approach to local growth, even within the relatively mainstream world of regeneration and regional development.

Beyond these, there are a vast number of more radical emerging innovative alternative economic approaches flourishing across the UK – such as, for example, the community land trust movement, the community energy sector, or the long-established local development trust approach. A devolution process that was geared up to stimulate, facilitate and build on this kind of innovation in new, social and environmentally driven and, crucially, community-led economic development, could perhaps really facilitate the kind of dynamic, decentralised, democratised economy necessary for sustainable and equitable social, environmental and wellbeing outcomes.

So our interest in engaging with the current devolution process is twofold: how can we build on the exciting opportunity it seems to offer to test, trial and consolidate much more progressive and equitable regional approaches to economic development? And how can we best avoid this process doing the opposite – exacerbating regional inequalities, or embedding the kinds of priorities within regional economic strategies that make it even more difficult to pursue social, environmental and wellbeing outcomes?

The articles in this special issue explore these questions in more depth. The ‘devolution debate’ is arguably one of the principal political lenses in the UK through which we are examining questions of how the economy functions for the people and planet. For those interested in systemic alternatives to our current economic paradigm, it will be crucial to find some answers to these questions as the devolution agenda unfolds.

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The promises of information technology >>> >>> >>> >>> or, spinning fables of info-liberation

The creative destruction of innovative technologies will be hitting Exeter over the next decade:
Futures Forum: Exeter emerges as the UK city expected to lose the most jobs to automation and the rise of new technologies

There are several proposed ways out of the dilemmas which will be thrown up...

One is the 'sharing economy' - although it depends what you mean by 'sharing':
Futures Forum: The sharing economy >>> “This on-demand, or so-called gig, economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.

Another is the 'commons' - and a thing called 'zero marginal cost' which reduces profits to... nothing:
Futures Forum: Jeremy Rifkin and the Collaborative Commons

And another is 'postcapitalism' based on the new 'information economy':
Futures Forum: Transitioning to an economy based on sharing information

Although the promises of information technology as a force for 'progress' are not accepted everywhere:
Futures Forum: The 'sharing economy', 'resilience' and 'nudging': Evgeny Morozov on "The rise of data and the death of politics"
Futures Forum: The promises of technological innovation >>> "So, if networked communication and cybernetic technologies are so potentially liberating, why are they so authoritarian in the forms they currently take?"
Futures Forum: The promises of technological innovation >>> "The rise of the techno-libertarians: the five most socially-destructive aspects of Silicon Valley"

The current ideas of Jeremy Rifkin and particularly Paul Mason are given short shrift in a piece from the Baffler which questions this 'info-liberation':

Power to the Pixels

CHRIS LEHMANN   February 18, 2016

It sure was a short “end of history.” Back in 1992, with the Berlin Wall leveled and Russia abruptly abdicating its self-appointed role as bureaucratic overseer of the historical dialectic, Francis Fukuyama and his neoconservative confreres surveyed the reconfigured world order and saw that it was good. Free markets would rule, and liberal democracy would cover the globe, lifting humanity into an agreeable state of material well-being.
Now, with a quarter century’s worth of hindsight, we know that history wasn’t about to sit still for its embalming. The 2008 economic meltdown delivered but one among many rude countervailing verdicts; we’re also living with resurgent economic, ethnic, and religious nationalisms, looming climate catastrophe, and unpredictable new populist and anti-austerity movements, here and abroad.
Yet here we are, and for left-leaning thinkers with a weakness for grand theory, the present moment is ripe with its own dialectical promise. In Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, Paul Mason, the economics editor for Britain’s Channel 4 News, seeks to stand Fukuyama on his head. In pronouncing the triumph of liberal market capitalism, Fukuyama was following a bastardized version of Hegel’s philosophy of history; Mason, for his part, has countered with a bastardized account of the Marxist historical dialectic. A heterodox British socialist, Mason believes that an egalitarian political economy is the natural outcome of the all-conquering information age. All prior modes of production, distribution, and political conflict will be eclipsed. It’s the socialist version of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity—and alas, it is no more convincing than the fond reverie that the anointed leaders of the Silicon Valley elite will eventually conquer the rude indignities of aging, mental slowdown, and death. 
Following the lead of fellow wigged-out social prophet Jeremy Rifkin, Mason dubs this the “zero marginal cost effect”—a process in which freely copied and circulated information basically crowds out all other economic inputs, and leaves the digitally empowered new human being unshackled from all prior forms of economic convention and exploitation. Like Fukuyama’s “last man” at the end of history, Mason’s new historical agent has the world open up invitingly before her. But while the last man of the nineties had to suffer the painful dislocations of ideological, social, and political collapse, this new millennial avatar of the zeitgeist only has to spend a lot of time online. Point, click, and sit back for the revolution.
Sure, capitalism’s legacy masters might still create new price cartels, monopoly protocols, and the like to try to reverse the remorseless downward pressure that information exerts on prices—but such desperate measures really just underscore their perverse failure to grasp the radical implications of the revolution that they themselves have unleashed. “Information is not some random technology that just came along and can be left behind like the steam engine,” writes Mason. “It invests all future innovation with the zero-price dynamic: biotech, space travel, brain reconfiguration or nanotechnology, and things we cannot even imagine.”
Like Francis Fukuyama’s “last man” at the end of history, Paul Mason’s new historical agent has the world open up invitingly before her.
Caught in the relentless downward drive of the price mechanism toward zero, capitalism has only a few paths forward, none of them plausible. It could continue to spin off new markets and pricier technologies to service them—but here again, the logic of the zero marginal cost effect would just kick in with redoubled force. It could seek to extract greater margins from property rights, following the strategies of the record industry in the face of the mp3 revolution—but we all know how that turned out. Or, faced with plummeting labor demand (and the teetering regime of what Bafflerite David Graeber has memorably dubbed “bullshit jobs”), it could transform more routine nonmarket interactions into fee-based commercial concerns—but that wouldn’t begin to make up for the revenues and jobs lost to the frictionless flow of information. “You could pay wages for housework, turn all sexual relationships into paid work, mums with toddlers in the park could charge each other a penny each time they took turns to push the swings,” Mason writes. “But it would be an economy in revolt against technological progress.”
And that progress adds up, in the big picture, to one simple axiom: “An economy based on information, with its tendency to zero-cost products and weak property rights, cannot be a capitalist economy.” (The italics are Mason’s.) It’s a nifty formulation for a faux-economic law, particularly since it permits Mason to sidestep the all-too palpable tendency of the information economy to promote big-data monopolies that systematically drive prices up and wages down, whether via the notorious “surge pricing” of Uber and other rentier-style service cartels, or through the push to replace assembly-line workers with robots––which is particularly aggressive, as it happens, at the Foxconn factories in China that do contract work for Silicon Valley leviathans. In reality, the information economy is poised to drive the wage component of production toward zero, even as it enlists the price mechanism into the service of the techno-oligarchy’s plutocratic whim of the moment.
We don’t like to linger on the thought that there’s precious little daylight between the enforcers of authoritarian factory discipline in the unfree East and the liberty-defending wizards of American private equity.
Of course, information isn’t an undifferentiated liberationist good. It doesn’t create any economic systems or behaviors—let alone social justice—organically or spontaneously. Like any other sphere of our common life, it’s prey to ideological distortions, hackery, and operational blindspots. To take just one strikingly relevant example, recall the covertly recorded speech that Mitt Romney delivered to GOP donors in Boca Raton, Florida, during the 2012 presidential campaign. Now, here was something that had all the earmarks of a digital media intervention right out of the Paul Mason playbook: A temp catering employee heard Romney holding forth on matters of wealth inequality, and took to his camera to capture the proceedings on video, later posting the damning clip on YouTube and a number of liberal blogs. The GOP nominee spouted his nonsensical line about 47 percent of Americans being on the government dole, mere automatons programmed to support the redistributionist agenda of President Obama and the Democrats. As the story burst into the cable news cycle, an abashed Romney tried to cough out a series of unconvincing apologies for his remarks, and there the narrative stood—as one of the major turning points in what had been, until then, a hard-fought battle between the major party candidates.
But here’s the thing: Scott Prouty, the catering worker who filmed Romney’s talk, wasn’t focused at all on the infamous 47 percent quote. Instead, what caught Prouty’s outraged attention was an anecdote Romney related about a visit to China during his private equity days. Romney took a tour of a Chinese mega-factory, where workers were quartered in cramped dormitories. One of his guides pointed out that the workers’ campus was encircled with guard towers and barbed wire—and the candidate recalled that he professed some shock that conditions there were so bad that workers had to be penned up. No, that wasn’t it at all, his guide insisted: the towers and wire fences were there to keep out people desperate to come in and work there.
It’s the sort of anecdote designed to garner appreciative chuckles among right-wing donors—you see, everyone misunderstands just how awesome it is to work for us!
It also falls instantly apart under critical scrutiny. If aspiring workers were mobbing a workers’ encampment to somehow sneak their way onto a production line, they’d be detected by the plant’s management, and duly evicted. Even if they eluded early detection, then come nightfall, they’d be rather conspicuously bedless. (Once more in the real world, hierarchies trump resourceful networking. 
In short, Scott Prouty’s outrage was abundantly justified. Romney “just walked through this horrendous place and thought, ‘Hey, this is pretty good,’” Prouty explained to MSNBC host Ed Schultz. Indeed, the reason Prouty leaked his video to Mother Jones editor David Corn had nothing to do with the 47 percent remark; he did it because Corn had earlier published an expose of how Romney had steered Bain Capital cash into several shady manufacturing concerns in China.
But that could never be a viable media meme in our information age. There was something too dismally old-school-plutocratic about the Republican nominee’s camaraderie with China’s strongman factory managers. American voters and media producers simply aren’t attuned to the notion that, at this late date, an aspiring leader of the U.S. economy is beguiled by a sweated workers’ compound as a vision of our great globalized free-trade future—any more than Paul Mason is detained by the boring and upsetting news that these same Chinese manufacturing moguls exploit their networked workforces by spreading disinformation across the gloriously liberating agoras of the social media landscape. We don’t like to linger on the thought that there’s precious little daylight, in the grand neoliberal scheme of things, between the enforcers of authoritarian factory discipline in the unfree East and the liberty-defending wizards of American private equity. Nor do we want, evidently, to disturb the placid, do-nothing lefty-libertarian saga of how the chirping devices coming off those selfsame assembly lines are covertly engineering capitalism’s predestined downfall.
No, we much prefer the story of how Chinese workers are the vanguard of info-liberation, because they use gadgets and microblogging platforms just like we do. And it doesn’t really matter whether the person spinning that fable is a maverick-visionary on corporate retainer like Kevin Kelly, a maestro of jukebox agitprop like Jeremy Rifkin, or a reformed socialist like Paul Mason. Maybe this is how history ends after all.
Chris Lehmann is senior editor of The Baffler, coeditor of Bookforum, and author of Rich People ThingsHis latest book, The Money Cult, is forthcoming in May from Melville House.

Power to the Pixels | The Jaundiced Eyeball