2019 Foundational Economy Colloquium

The Collective’s 2019 Colloquium was held in Brussels on the theme of “Socio-ecological transitions: making space for the foundational”. The event was sponsored by Cosmopolis- Centre of Urban Research at the Free University, Building Brussels and Cities of Making and the organiser Sarah de Boeck  put together a full programme over the two days of 9 and 10th September which featured plenaries by distinguished academics, presentations by collective members and by guest academics and practitioners engaged with making space for foundational activities in urban places.

New foundational thinking

Short FE Film

In this short film, members of the foundational economy collective explain how and why the foundational economy matters. It was filmed at the 2019 foundational economy colloquium and produced by the colloquium organiser Sarah de Boeck.

COVID-19 UK NHS report

This report outlines how fragility was built into the UK’s hospital and public laboratory systems so that the Covid- 19 crisis was an accident waiting to happen, a normal accident.

The hospital system did not have the buffer capacity needed to absorb a pandemic surge and the public health laboratory system lacked the organisational capacity to respond to unexpected circumstances. All this was unintentionally caused by a combination of long-term funding shortages and the hyper-innovation of organisational churn imposed on the NHS and public health in the name of public sector reform.

 Beyond this critique, the report addresses remedies and the question of how to rebuild so that we have more robust health systems and more generally can re-skill the state so that it does not default onto distress outsourcing whenever it wants quick results. Renewal requires much more funding and a new approach, the care-ful practice of policy, which recognises the limits of the control paradigm – the top-down approach to policymaking that has been dominant for three decades.


COVID-19 and a Welsh community

This short report comes from the small deindustrialized town of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales which through the lens of official statistics  would be described as “left behind” But a different kind of close-up knowledge was obtained from a community online questionnaire about the impact of Covid-19  in May and early June 2020. Wages are low and self-employment is precarious but family and community matter to most of our respondents (both native born and immigrants) and most felt that the lock down has brought the community together to help neighbours. At this point, business failure and high unemployment were apprehensions about the future; not the present realities they will be in autumn and winter 2020. But the survey underlines the importance of public policy on access to the foundational basics and the ned to maintain and renew infrastructure which allows families and communities to get on with what matters for them.

Residual household income

Our new working paper Cohesion through housing? argues against regional policy which aims to improve competitivity and create high wage jobs which would “level up” the UK’s “left behind places”. Per capita output measures of GVA and GDP are the standard metrics used in regional comparison. But, household income is more relevant to living standards and our paper focuses on the residual household income measure (after taxes, housing costs, transport and utilities) for owner occupiers, social renters and private renters in all the UK regions. Variation in house prices by region and by cost of housing according to tenure creates winners and losers in terms of living standards. Many ordinary places with low GVA per capita can work well enough for owner occupiers who can set low housing charges against modest wages; just as high GVA London can be purgatory for private renters paying one third or more of disposable income as rent. The implication is that regional policy needs to engage leading as well as laggard regions and to consider how the cost, quality and availability of housing and other foundational services drive living standards directly; and whether housing can be disconnected from the circuits of wealth accumulation.

How ordinary places work

Understanding how ordinary places works is important because it can open up new possibilities of making citizen lives more worth living. Our new research report How an ordinary place works: understanding Morriston takes up this challenge by focusing on a district town with 30,000 population some 3 miles north of the centre of Swansea. The report is of broad interest because it analyses Morriston in a new framework about the collective drivers of wellbeing. Within a hard frame of local settlement and activities, wellbeing depends not just on income but on the functioning of supply side infrastructures which provide foundational services through local networks and branches. On the infrastructure of grounded local services, Morriston starts with the advantage of relatively cheap housing. The mobility
infrastructure is car based so those without cars must struggle. While citizens complain about neglected social infrastructure of parks, community hubs and high street.

Working paper on liveability

Our new working paper Foundational liveability: rethinking territorial inequalities is a response  to political demands in Wales and requests from academic colleagues: “If the main steam has per capita GVA and GDP, where are our simple, intelligible foundational measures”  Hence this paper about household residual income and foundational liveability. This incidentally undermines the idea of a successful or failed region with a unitary character because most regions are liveable for some types of household and unliveable for others. It also makes the connection to financialised capitalism because linkages to wealth accumulation are at least as important as earned income.The empirics in the paper show how this reframes the UK regional problem because we need policies for taxing unearned income and wealth in London as much as for boosting the Welsh productive economy.

2018 Colloquium outputs

The 2018 Foundational Economy Colloquium on Social Innovation in the Foundational Economy was held on September 5th at Cardiff University and on September 6th in the Steelworks General Offices at Ebbw Vale.

Here are slides and text which give some of the papers from the Cardiff sessions headed by the plenary from Oriol Estela Barnet head of strategic planning at Barcelona; and below are some presentations and notes of discussion from the Ebbw Vale sessions on care, regeneration and procurement

Plenary: Oriol Estela Barnet (PEMB) “On Barcelona’s first steps towards a foundational strategy” Cardiff Sept 2018

Regional economies: Adam Leaver (Sheffield) “The financialization of property and the diseconomies of agglomeration”Cardiff Sept 2018; Andreas Novy and Leonhard Plank (TU Vienna) “Intermediary institutions in Austria and Vienna” Novy Cardiff sept 2018

Cities: Sarah de Boeck, David Bassens and Michael Ryckewaert (VUB Brussels) “Making space for a more foundational construction sector in Brussels” Cardiff Sept 2018; Mike Hodson and Pam Stapleton (Manchester)  “From developer regeneration to civic futures in Greater Manchester” Hodson Cardiff sept 2018

Citizenship: Filippo Barbera, Nicola Negri and Angelo Salento (Turin) “Foundational economy, local commons and citizenship” Cardiff Sept 2018; Mick Moran and Karel Williams (Manchester) The struggle for social citizenship in the 2020s” Williams Cardiff sept 2018

Wales: Colin Haslam, Sukhdev Johal and Nick Tsitsianis “How and why the foundational economy matters in Wales” Cardiff Sept 2018

Care:  Diane Burns, Sue Evans, Adrian Roper “What can we learn about care by thinking about money” Welsh develops Care Ebbw Vale sept 2018; Diane Burns, Julie Froud and Adrian Roper “Report on workshop discussion of care” Cardiff Sept 2018

Regeneration: Jill Ebrey and Ross Williams “New place based policies (for Morriston)” Welsh develops Regen ebbw Vale sept 2018

Procurement: Steve Cranston and Calvin Jones “Blaenau Gwent Foundational Economy Pilot.” Welsh develops Procurement Ebbw Vale Sept 2018Steve Cranston and Kevin Morgan “Report from procurement workshops Workshop report procurement Ebbw Vale sept 2018

Report on Manchester

Our most recent report in August 2018 From developer regeneration to civic futures Report sets Manchester’s current choices in a historical context and argues that the city is at the end of a trajectory of developer led regeneration. And needs a new politics for foundational service provision which would once again tackle issues of collective consumption but do so in a more participative way which involves citizens. This report on the city region of Manchester is part of a broader ongoing concern with regional policy.

New Book

This new book from the foundational economy collective will be the go to source for engaged citizens, active practitioners and critical academics beyond who want to know more about the foundational economy concept and its relevance to the politics of progressive reform.

The foundational encompasses material utilities like water, gas and electricity and providential services like education, health and care. The book explains how the material and providential matter economically and politically because they are the collectively consumed infrastructure of everyday life, the basis of well being and should be citizen rights. The emphasis on citizenship is an important  new development in foundational thinking.

From this point of view, the foundational economy has a history which began heroically and ends in degradation. In the century after 1880 national and local state action built up the supply of foundational services right across Europe and North America. Since 1980 their systems of provision have been undermined by state neglect. This is variably combined with privatisation, outsourcing and market choice which import the unsuitable business models of financialized public companies and private equity.

The book takes up the political challenge of thinking about how we can have a better future. It does not recommend specific policies but proposes broad principles for re-building the foundational which could mobilise old and new social actors in broad political alliances; ask the citizens what they want; reinvent taxation; lean on intermediary institutions; and do not assume the state is benign and competent.

The book is relevant to all of Europe and beyond and will be available as an accessibly priced paper back in three languages. MUP, publisher of our Manchester Capitalism series, leads in English in September 2018 with German and Italian editions to follow from Suhrkamp and Einaudi in 2019. Before you buy the book, do read our introductory chapter on this web site which explains the argument of the book here.