Permacrisis…what permacrisis?


A huge pleasure to get the perspectives of Jim Savege, Chief Executive of Aberdeenshire Council, on the impacts of the multiple current global crises on local places and communities. Amidst a breadth of practical examples and insights, this episode highlights a number of preconditions for better local turnaround and recovery management.

Building social capital and enabling community resilience – Perhaps Jim’s major theme is the need to place resilience and social capital at the centre of local responses to crises and major disruptive events. This might at some stage be captured in formal Community Resilience Plans facilitated by Emergency Planning or Disaster Preparedness teams. However, it is more about enduring approaches to building capacities and capabilities for self-help – from schools, to care and community health teams, to leisure and sports groups, to community and voluntary sector grant giving. And yes, there are significant LED dimensions in mobilising business involvement – local expert advice, nurturing business-education links, apprenticeship programmes among others – and in winning resources for and delivery-managing place and community-based regeneration. Major interventions with strong ‘Strength in Places’ themes should (re)balance their focus on anchor institutions at geographical scale with more granular community empowerment motifs.

Progressing long term ambitions with tactical dexterity – Global and national crises and even local disasters can upend long-term assumptions about the future, but need not necessarily derail long-term vision and values. Tactical rolling plans that can accommodate disruption and seize emergent opportunities from it are essential to the armoury for LED, and placemaking professionals. And this is something with which national government will always struggle, leading to…

Real devolution trailblazers are as much about character as content – Jim was very clear that Government needs to be trusting of local partners and willing to let many different local solutions flourish. Enabling and learning from local experimentation should be at the centre of future devolution agreements. The single settlement offered to Greater Manchester and West Midlands will only be a gamechanger if it is more than a contracted agreement for mayoral city regions to deliver national priorities locally, and if national bodies can vary their product and services’ offers locally.

There is so much more in this episode. Our discussions range, literally, from the 2007-10 Global Financial Crisis and 2020 COVID19 pandemic, to the technological and political ‘grey rhinos’ of the medium-term future, to farmer snow clearing and business-community links in rural Aberdeenshire. So a proper listen is encouraged and merited, and feedback is always welcome.

For Jim, and perhaps for all of us, consequences management is critical – whether in relatively stable, peaceful or in highly uncertain, turbulent world and national contexts. We need as full an understanding as possible of what is actually going on in our local geographies, and of the potential consequences of forces beyond our borders and beyond our control. Perma and poly-crises make this more challenging than ever. They place intense demands on us professionally and even personally. What have been your major changes but also areas of continuity in this period of permacrisis? And how can LED and placemaking deliver even better impacts and outcomes if this is our ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future?

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