From city deals to national economic policy: ‘c’ in the UK meets the Australian context

Professor Paul Smyth is one of our Social Policy Whisperers and in this post he addresses the rise and falls of the social inclusion agenda.

This week the Municipal Association of Victoria is hosting The Royal Society for the Arts’ (RSA) Director of Public Services and Communities, Ed Cox, who is on a global tour seeking dialogue around RSA’s new report on ‘Inclusive Growth’ (   This is interesting.  The RSA – with its Commission for Inclusive Growth - headed a policy campaign which has made inclusive growth the central motif of a new wave of city planning.  That work together with the Institute for Public Policy’s Prosperity and Justice report have led a wider push to have inclusive growth inform national economic policy.   Globally this work represents the leading edge of policy work designed to hammer out an operational framework for a post neoliberal, inclusive economic model in developed countries. 

This avalanche of policy work also featuring key think tanks like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Centre for Progressive Policy, the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit at the University of Manchester, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford University indicate the way in which inclusive growth is becoming centre stage in new social policy developments in the UK.   This shows how in the UK at least the ‘social investment state’ agenda of the 2000s is being joined to the wider ‘inclusive growth’ framework from the developing economies in a reframing of global social policy (Deeming and Smyth 2018)

It is also noteworthy that the origins of this movement in the UK were at the local City\regional level.  Historically the upsurge of social policy in the post-war period associated with the War on Poverty in the US and the Australian Assistance Plan in Australia had a central focus on place-based poverty.  Again, the rise of the social inclusion agenda at the turn of this century had a key concern with places ‘left behind’; for example, the ‘Fairer Victoria’.  So, what is new about the inclusive growth approach?  Is it something you should be engaged with?

As a veteran of the ‘social inclusion’ era in Australia I suggest that the radical difference here is the way the relationship between social and economic policy is understood.  The earlier approach was nested very much within a neoliberal economic policy framework.  Social policy focussed on ‘joined up solutions for joined up problems’ but in ways which complemented and not intervened in the market led approach to development.  The Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy 2018-2023 typifies the new thinking when it declares that in the past economic and social policy operated ‘in different silos’ in the belief that the benefits of growth would ‘trickle down’.  The new model, they say, rejects this ‘grow now, redistribute later’ approach to focus on getting economic growth ‘of the right type’.

Several ‘first mover’ academic papers have captured this new development at the city level (Lee 2019; Sissons, Green and Broughton 2019) and are broadly sympathetic while homing in on what is that perennial bugbear of place based social policies: the most relevant economic policies are typically controlled by higher levels of government typically far removed from local control.  Clearly city \ regional policies must have a supportive national policy environment.  This is very much the focus of the RSA’s forthcoming report, Local Inclusive growth in Action; Snapshots of a new economy being promoted by Cox.

Elsewhere the IPPR’s new report on Prosperity with Justice has made a major contribution to thinking through a post-neoliberal economic model supportive of inclusive growth.  While too much to even summarise here it should be said that it shares the fundamental premise of inclusive growth that social justice needs to be ‘wired into’ production - welfare can only ever play ‘catch up’.  IPPR exposes the ethical vacuum at the heart of mainstream economics, promoting debate about the kind of society we want with a more active state working through new institutions to give them effect.  Focussed on economic policy and reflecting the ideas of economists like Mazzucato (2018) it emphasises not only the supply side ‘social investments’ of the ‘social inclusion ‘era but also overall state responsibility for the economy with particular attention to the reform of the financial sector to produce patient capital and to corporate governance, promoting stakeholders over shareholders.  Adopting a longer-term policy horizon, a devolved state with its social partners, should work together on agreed ‘missions’ or highest general priority areas relating to inclusive and sustainable growth.      

What will Ed Cox make of Australia?  I suspect he will be somewhat underwhelmed by policy making at the city\regional level.  The Productivity Commission’ (2017) Transitioning Regional Economies belongs very much to the pre-inclusive growth era – with its heavy-handed emphasis on market led economic transitions with social intervention focussed on making individuals more resilient.  On the other hand, our City Deals have a stronger emphasis on the role of government and the importance of devolution.  Their emphases on infrastructure include the social dimensions of transport and housing and indeed, there is a sentiment that such local ‘deals’ might eventually contribute to a national ‘Social Settlement’.  Perhaps the UK developments can add theoretical fuel to this policy fire.


Deeming C and Smyth P (2018) Reframing Global Social Policy Social investment for sustainable and inclusive growth, Policy Press, Bristol.

IPPR (2018) Prosperity and Justice A Plan for the New Economy, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Lee, N. (2019) ‘Inclusive Growth in Cities: a sympathetic critique’, Regional Studies, 53:3, pp.

Leeds City Council (2018) Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy 2018-2023.

Mazzucato M (2018) The Value of Everything, Allen Lane.

Productivity Commission (2017) Transitioning Regional Economies, Study Report, Canberra.

Sissons P. et al 92019) ‘Inclusive Growth in English Cities: mainstreamed or sidelined?’, Regional Studies, 53:3, pp.435-446.

SRA (forthcoming) Local Inclusive growth in Action; Snapshots of a new economy, SRA, London.

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