Research themes


This research comes out of our opposition to the idea of the “competitive city” whose success is measured in a league table using standard indicators of income. Against this, in 2014 we argued in the Guardian cities section for the idea of the grounded city whose success is built on its ability to ‘distribute mundane goods and services which ensure the civilised life of the largest number of its people’.

Our arguments about the dynamic conditions of urban growth were developed in CRESC Working Paper 141 How Cities Work: A Policy Agenda for The Grounded City, which emphasises (not the internal dynamic of agglomeration) but the role of an uncontrollable hinterland in determining the rise and fall of cities. Here we draw on historian like Braudel and Tilly, rather than the new urban economics of Glaser and Overman.

This working paper also identified the role of property as an internal accelerator of city growth and a source of untaxed wealth. This general point is illustrated in the Manchester transformed public interest report on how the showpieces of central Manchester have little connection with the deindustrialised northern boroughs and frustrate the official policy of upgrading transport and skills so that people could commute into Manchester from outer boroughs.

Most recently, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has produced a new Spatial Framework for the development of the city over the next 2 years. This raises fundamental questions about the gap between citizen needs and the priorities of a growth coalition of officials, councillors and large property developers. Read our response of January 2017 here. A new report on planning in Greater Manchester will follow in summer 2018.


Regions are important because they have distinctive resource bases which foundational thinking must engage and they can (with national sponsorship or tolerance) upscale experiments which would otherwise represent community initiatives. One of the practical lessons we learned from our early work with Enfield Borough Council (The Enfield Experiment) was that we needed the leverage that could only come from working at a regional or city region scale.

In Wales a devolved  assembly and regional government had failed with economic policies of building infrastructure and skills and attracting mobile inward investment had manifestly failed. With funding from the Federation of Small Businesses (Wales) in 2015 we produced  a research report on What Wales could be which changed the terms in which the Welsh discussed their problems. The report demoted GVA and GDP as indicators of success, diagnosed a missing mittelstand and recommended a policy focus on food processing and care

The Welsh political classes are now talking foundational economy, but now need to make the move to doing foundational economy. With funding from Coastal Housing, Joe Earle is currently researching a new report What Wales can do on the Swansea Bay City Region. This report has been followed up by academics and practitioners coming together to undertake funded local experiments in Swansea and Ebbw Vale

Meanwhile, in the Australian state of Victoria, Peter Fairbrother has produced a report on a foundational strategy for the Gippsland region after the brown coal power stations close. Read here This emphasises the importance of building on local resources and identifies the handicap of political and organisational structures which inhibit working together.


Adult care is the cinderella service compared with health although quality of life for an ageing population in the high income countries of the 2010s is as much of a problem as access to hospital services and acute treatment was in the 1940s. Reforming adult care  is a key foundational priority because it offers a triple dividend: higher quality care from a better trained and paid workforce which is delivering on citizen entitlement to care which is one badge of a civilised society.

In 2016 we produced a public interest report Where does all the money go? on residential care when the financialised chains were threatening large scale closure after austerity cuts. Using “ follow the money “ analysis , we analysed the business model of private equity owned chains which required double digit returns on capital and pointed out that increased revenue would be used to repair margins whose logic was higher prices charged or pressure on pay and conditions, A subsequent shorter report on home care pointed out that, in this branch based activity, financialised chains had an incentive to load the branch with hours.

Drawing on the experience of our co-author, Peter Folkman, we argued the problem in care was not private ownership but the misapplication of private equity’s high risk, high return  business models to what should be a low risk, low return activity of care. We also emphasised the importance of experimenting with reformatting care around community hubs and such like rather than the 60 bed units that fit the chain business model.

This theme of experiment is being taken up By Diane Burns of Sheffield Management School in  a Wellcome funded project on innovation in care at Sheffield City Council which will be developed through a relation with South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA). Interest in such experiments is growing in Wales and a group of academics and practitioners now meets under the chair of Sue Evans, chief executive of Social Care (Wales).