Third Life Economics (3LE) was registered in August 2008 as a vehicle for me to do stimulating work with interesting people on the challenges of local growth and development. The tenth anniversary of this symbolic launch of my ‘third (professional) life’ – I have previously been a musician and then a public service development economist – is a reasonable moment to reflect on how it has gone, and what might provide the foundations for 3LEs second decade.
At one level I am immensely proud of what 3LE has delivered. This is not about the +/-300 invoices and cash flow – welcome as these have been. My pride is that 3LE has engaged deeply and intimately in many major developments of local growth policy and practice in England over the last ten years.
From the inception of unitary Cornwall in 2009 to the Mayoral Combined Authorities of 2017; the establishment of LEPs in 2010-12 to a range of Arms-Length Organisations; to the more recent work on the roles of Universities, business and third sector ‘anchors’ in local growth; institutional strengthening has been an enduring theme of 3LE advice and support.
City and place-based strategies have graduated from the embers of Total Place and regional strategic planning in 2009; through city and local growth deals, SEPs and ESIF programmes of the mid-decade; to more bespoke and futures-oriented visioning and action planning post-2015.
Local growth strategies have spanned physical housing, commercial and infrastructure plans; sector, industry and technology-based strategies; to skills and community regeneration. Nothing beats, however, genuinely integrated development epitomised by the current search for ways to reconcile industrial, sustainable and inclusive growth.
It has always been a pleasure to ‘get up close and personal’ with specific investments, projects and programmes that will transform our cities, towns and communities – whether business and science parks, garden towns and villages, transport and digital infrastructure and services, or skills and employment interventions; and whether in identification and design, business case development, appraisal, authorisation, or evaluation roles.
I always try to deploy an approach that is acutely evidence-based and analytically-robust, but which can underpin bold ambitions and build novel solutions to deep-seated and enduring challenges. By and large, 3LE commissions try to be innovative and daring. Not for me, the off-the-shelf solutions or the project factory treadmill.
Along the way I have also managed to work globally – from a couple of exercises in South America, to strategic planning of hurricane recovery in the Caribbean, to numerous EU-related engagements.
None of this would have happened without the support, and often friendship, of clients, partners, colleagues and associates – and to all of you, many, many thanks…I owe you many!
Of course, those of you who are friends will know how deeply I consider the context for local growth has gone backwards during the decade. From the gratuitous destruction of regional structures (now re-emerging), to the austerity-driven grudging decentralisation of the Coalition, to the dishonest (and now known to be illegal) victories of intolerance and authoritarianism represented by Brexit and Trump; enlightened, empowering leadership of place is harder than ever before.
But I passionately believe it is still possible – and that is why 3LE will start a second decade.
I believe regions, cities and communities can get leadership and governance right – across a range of domains (powers, resources, legitimacy, accountability etc) – and in inclusive, participative ways. We can recognise the USPs and qualities of different places – cities, rural, coastal, town centres etc – both across and within often contrived administrative geographies. We can understand and join up the differing dimensions of specific areas of economic activity – functional/topic, sector, ‘smart’, green etc. The evidence base(s) can be analysed, developed and deployed intelligently to shape policy and practice. Change can be delivered effectively, by fit-for-purpose institutions which integrate and synergise different resourcing and investment programmes. And, I suppose, we can try to do this with a good-natured spirit and make it ‘fun’.
The meta-narrative that comprises 3LE’s first decade remains relevant, perhaps even more needed, for its second. If that resonates with your agendas, please get in touch. I’d love us to journey at least part of the next few years together….