Small Towns and Big Issues

The Welsh government has now published Small Towns, Big Issues. Our independent report broadens the frame to look beyond declining town centres and analyses three small towns in their hinterland. It highlights how mass automobility and permissive planning have since 1980 allowed edge of town development and out of town commuting. Hence the difficulty of realising the current planning ideal of compact centred towns with active travel and overlap of live/ work/spend. The report draws on official statistics and on big data from mobile phone usage and property transactions. These highlight the business model problems which limit in town redevelopment and the easy profits which incentivise edge of town development; they also establish the continued advantage of town centres as places of sociability which have much longer visitor dwell times than edge of town retail. The report concludes with an argument about how imagination, organisation and new business models could address the embedded problems of Welsh towns. Policies on edge of town use and development are here as important as putting together the business model conditions which will allow urban alliances to deliver a stream of social renewal projects.

Social Democracy without capturing the central state?

Across western Europe it has traditionally been assumed that delivery of foundational infrastructure depends on a social democratic party which can capture the central state or at least acts as a credible alternative party of government. When social democracy is increasingly splintered and marginal, Working Paper 10 does not join the many offering various left, right and centre recipes for success. Instead it asks and answers the question What if Social Democracy Cannot capture the Central State? If social democratic parties are to govern seriously , they must address foundational provision and the household economy. But promises to fix the foundational are not a recipe for national success if the electorate does not trust politicians to deliver. Hence the importance of co -ordinated local and regional initiatives which can provide the performative and deliberative basis which is the solid preliminary to central success. The electorate will believe social democratic parties if they show they can do foundational things differently and better at local and regional level. While this working paper draws on British evidence and experience, its arguments are relevant in many other countries.

UK key workers in Covid

How has the Covid 19 pandemic impacted the everyday working and living experience of UK workers in the Foundational Economy.  In this new working paper Working in the Foundational Economy during Covid 19 , Paul Sissons and colleagues from Coventry University report on the results from a telephone survey of nearly 2000 UK workers in June and July 2020 towards the end of the first lock down.  These employees do now feel more valued as key workers and they are much less likely to be furloughed than those in overlooked economy sectors like retail and hospitality.  but workers in the material and providential sectors what also likely to be more stressed even then though many of them continued working in at the same location in the same way as before. In the providential sectors of health education and care 1/3 will working more hours and 1/3 separately reported it was more difficult to manage home and work responsibilities; in these same sectors around half reported that the work itself was more stressful and feared for the consequences on their health   

Financial exclusion in Spain

Access to finance through bank accounts and other financial services is essential for citizens’ economic and social participation.  In this sense, retail banking is a foundational infrastructure. Yet instead of ensuring this basic functionality, banks’ actions to defend profitability have had deleterious effects on their customers, increasing the financial exclusion of vulnerable consumers. The Spanish research group (FINRES) lead by Marta de la Cuesta (UNED), part of the Foundational Economy Collective has recently published a paper on this problem in the Geoforum journal. In this paper, the authors consider financial inclusion as the sustainable provision of financial services and products and their adjustment to individual needs. They adopt a financial ecology approach and propose a comprehensive framework to analyse the different types of difficulties that vulnerable financial consumers face in their relationship with banking institutions, as well as their underlying causes.

Read more here.

Further Education and Welsh renewal

A new report by an international team of foundational economy researchers examines the role that further education could play in Welsh economic and social renewal.  Enabling Renewal wascommissioned and published by Colegau Cymru / Colleges Wales, the association which brings together all the Welsh Further Education Colleges.

The report argues against the assumption that the role of further education is to serve business demands. As the researchers note, the result in Wales is more narrow certification, a workforce which is increasingly overqualified for the jobs available and no evidence that this attracts inward investment. At the same time, Welsh further education campuses have dense networks of contact with business communities which include some exceptional “shining light” SMEs who combine commercial acumen and social values.

The positive message of the report is that Wales can build on this base so we have more shining light firms and a more capable workforce. The report shows how this can be done. Further education campuses can have a more active role in training for broad occupational categories like customer service, in developing shared apprenticeship schemes and in networking SME firms in sectors like care and construction. In this way, further education can help reorganise the labour market and business communities. More Research Reports can be read here.

Meeting social needs on a damaged planet

Since the publication of the Foundational Economy book in 2018, our thinking has moved on in an incremental way through public interest reports, working papers and academic articles on a broad range of topics. Many in our audience will have read some but not all of these outputs, so here is a new working paper Meeting social needs on a damaged planet which draws together material from these diverse outputs.

The first section explains the distinction between Foundational Economy ( FE 1.0) which focuses on meeting social needs without explicit concern for the environment and Foundational Economy 2.0 ( FE 2.0) which relocates the foundational project within the environmental limits we have to respect on our damaged planet The second section introduces distinctive foundational metrics like residual income and the concept of reliance system which underlines how socio technic systems practically frame social needs. The third and final section recommends the care-ful practice of radical policy through new forms of governance and experimental learning which displace mainstream ideas about sectoral intervention as industrial policy.

More Working Papers can be read here.

Jacobin Italia conversation with the Collective

Jacobin, the American democratic socialist quarterly magazine in 2018 launched Jacobin Italia as its first foreign language edition. Jacobin Italia has since developed its own lively independent editorial voice and in December 2020 the magazine carried a conversation between Marco Bertorello for Jacobin and four members of the Foundational Economy Collective. The conversation covered issues of common concern and ranged broadly over the key questions about the necessity for (and possibility of) a new political economy. 

You can read the conversation in the Italian original at or read the English translation.

Report on Austrian key workers

Die Leistungsträgerinnen des Alltagslebens or The High Performers of Everyday Life is an important new research report from the Austrian members of the foundational economy collective. They explain how Covid 19 has highlighted the importance of the key workers in foundational activities who, as the “ heroes of everyday life”, have kept things going by working through lock down, often at risk to their own lives. We can all agree that they deserve not only more pay but better lives after the, but how do we make that happen, The Austrian answer is through a broadening of the agenda of trade unions and organized labour so that they bargain not just on pay for their members but on the foundational essentials for all citizens . As in the OGB/ Austrian Trade Union Federation slogan, the aim is a “good life for all”

The body of the report is in German but English readers can find an executive summary on pages viii to xi.

FE 2.0 and new wood report

Earlier FE research focused on FE 1.0, the assembly of material and providential reliance systems developed after 1850 to meet the current generation’s essential needs and Covid 19 reminds us of the continuing importance of maintaining these systems. But in FE 2.0 we need to build new resource and conversion reliance systems which safeguard the well- being of future generations by reducing the planetary burden.

Our first major FE 2.0 report, Serious about Green, is about building a new resource reliance system, wood economy, where the carbon sequestration benefits of afforestation can be levered by a strategy of downstream value capture for higher value products. The report explains that this opportunity can only be realised through supply chain co-ordination which has been absent in Wales where strategic good intentions have not been carried through into planting and processing.

This report is also a milestone because it is produced by Foundational Economy Research Ltd, a not for profit off shoot of the foundational economy collective. This gives us “skunk works” capacity to work at pace with outside partners on strategic projects which take the foundational agenda forward.

New working paper on UBS

The arguments made by the foundational economy collective overlap with those made by other like-minded groups and individuals. The most obvious synergy is with those pressing the case for universal basic services because foundational thinkers and basic service advocates agree that individual income is not enough when collective consumption matters greatly. The UBS concept is associated with the University College London Centre for Global Prosperity which in 2017 introduced a concept which has since been significantly refined and developed. Our good friend Anna Coote, of the New Economics Foundation, has with Andrew Percy co- authored a book which provides an accessible and up to date statement of The Case for Universal Basic Services. In working paper 7 she summarises the case and explains how it relates to foundational thinking.