SMEs in the Welsh food system

SMEs in the Welsh food system (August 2021)

This independent report provides a pioneering analysis of a foundational reliance system which challenges romantic preconceptions about local food and alternative distribution systems. One crucial problem in the system is that the number of SMEs has not increased over the past decade while micro firms generating low incomes have proliferated. More purchasing of local food is no solution because the Welsh food system is heavily dependent on imports and exports to England and the EU when Welsh farm producers are narrowly specialised in meat and livestock. SME processors need access to volume demand which can only come through supermarket chains and food service distributors which compete aggressively on price so that they offer suppliers narrow financial margins which make SME expansion difficult. Hence the report’s policy recommendations to refocus Welsh Government policy around more infrastructural support through food parks and innovation centres and to offer public contracts which encourage locally owned food service distributors to stock more Welsh lines.

September Conference on Foundational Renewal

This year’s foundational economy conference is a three-day online event from Tuesday 7th to Thursday 9th September organised by the WISERD Research Centre at the University of Cardiff. Our theme is ‘Foundational renewal – Transforming reliance systems in the wake of COVID-19’. The opening plenary on the good working life is by Hilary Cottam who many of you will know as the author of the Radical Help book on welfare reform. As you can see from the attached programme, we then have sessions over three days with speakers from the collective and guests from Britain and Europe. As usual we mix academic and practitioner speakers. The conference closes in a session with Lee Waters, the trouble making politician who has driven Welsh Government commitment to foundational renewal and is now Deputy Minister of Climate Change.

Information about the event can be found on the WISERD website Foundational renewal – Transforming reliance systems in the wake of COVID-19 | WISERD  which also has the link to booking your Eventbrite ticket. Foundational renewal: Transforming reliance systems in the wake of COVID-19 Tickets, Tue 7 Sep 2021 at 10:00 | Eventbrite . There are a number of ticket options available and you can either book for all three days, or just for individual days. 

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.