The meeting welcomed colleagues from PwC to present their latest findings on the challenges of inclusive growth; how we ensure innovation in the public and private sector does not widen the gap between the ‘haves’ and
‘have-nots’; and how we deal with the tension between the public and private sector when it comes to discussing the fairness narrative.
D Smith the reminded the meeting of the SCR’s ambitions in respect of fairness and tackling inequalities for its residents and businesses.
PwC colleagues requested Members note the content of the report and provided a summary of its scope and intentions, referencing further reports either published or in production that deal with specifics aspects of ‘fairness’.
Against the backdrop of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda, examples were provided for where other regions and nations were starting to take an alternate approach to the UK’s Green Book methodology regarding scheme and policy assessment, recognising contributions to wellbeing rather than GDP, and using this as a means to develop new tests and also address perceived disconnects between decision makers and those affected by those decisions.
A further explanation was sought regarding how questions regarding geography and privilege had been factored into the findings, noting these are complex matters and informed by various potentially misleading perceptions, and that the findings may be inadvertently ‘averaged out’ to a point where the recommendations become less meaningful.
Consideration was given to what a concept of fairness could mean to the SCR and how this new approach to recognising fairness might inform each of the SCR’s thematic agendas.
For the skills agenda, it was suggested the report presents some challenging thoughts on what the region’s businesses need to do to engender fairness whilst recognising the need to train and re-skill staff in respect of likely changes to the workplace, such as through greater automation.
Prof Petley noted the 2 calls for action cited (for the government and for businesses) and questioned by similar calls hadn’t been pitched towards the public sector or providers of training and education e.g. the universities. It was agreed we need to look at how these various sectors overlap and impact on each other, whilst informing such debates with the input of a wide scope of stakeholders.
It was suggested many of the findings of the PwC report in respect of national inequalities are already acknowledged and that a lack of fairness is something that’s already championed by the media. It was therefore suggested the question needs to be ‘what can we as a LEP Board do about this’?
The meeting considered suggestions including ‘devolution is failing the people and ‘LEPs and SEPS are disconnected from the people they represent’. However, these were countered with the suggestion that the SCR SEP will be appropriately connected to local communities and that Devolution, in its infancy as a concept, still needs to be given a chance to prove its worth.
The meeting considered what are widely regarded as fundamental flaws in the government’s green book assessment methodology, noting this doesn’t take adequate account of the mitigating impacts of costs on societal welfare and health care, with overly narrow success criteria which has arguably led to an inequitable distribution of funding nationally. It was suggested this is an area that should be tackled first and requested PwC give significant focus to this matter as they develop their findings.
The Chair confirmed he wants to see the development of a sound SEP that makes a compounding argument for further devolution and facilitates improvements to as many peoples’ lives as possible, with fairness at its heart and delivering opportunities for people of all ages to better themselves.
The meeting questioned how this work aids disadvantaged communities and requested that care be taken to not equate low paid with low skilled, noting many skilled professions only attract minimum wage but are essential to society. It was agreed this needs to be appropriately recognised in any definition of fairness as the workplace continues to evolve.
It was suggested examples should be sought for where decision makers and communities have better engaged each other.
The meeting was asked to recognise that perceptions can be misleading and there is a risk that actions based on perception can therefore be misinformed.
The Chair suggested that fairness is something that is implicit in SEP but perhaps not yet fully articulated.
The Chair proposed this was the time to also challenge the notion of trickle-down economics (at the national or local geography) suggesting this does not deliver the benefits it is alleged to do and does not engender fairness.
The Board members welcomed future discussions on how PwC might help the SCR unlock these challenges.