For almost 20 years now I have watched and advised a large number of projects, programmes and strategies designed to encourage enterprise and entrepreneurship in communities in the UK – both affluent and poor.
In already affluent communities the efforts focus on business attraction and retention – through property development and subsidies, improving transport links and other infrastructure.
In poor communities the efforts tend to focus on outreach work, motivation, training, improving access to finance and the development of local workspaces – intended to increase the capability and capacity of local people to successfully get a foot on the enterprise ladder.
Large sites are demolished and re-developed using the public purse to attract private sector investment – usually from retail or commercial sectors. The resulting developments are commercially lucrative shopping centres and business parks. They generally result in the rich getting richer as global brands are able to exploit the large scale development opportunities involved.
In poor communities the development work tends to involve large scale demolition of social housing involving the disruption and re-location of entire communities. The best projects result in well designed new estates with plenty of community spaces and facilities. They have education and training facilities designed to help local people in the new community to access the jobs that have been created in the affluent areas.
This has been the pattern of development for decades now. If the objective is ‘narrowing the gap’ it does not work. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen. The developments in the affluent areas are increasingly seen as irrelevant to people living in the poorer communities – as they do not aspire to be fodder for call centres, back offices, and retailers.
It is time for a different approach. One that listens to, and is respectful of, local people, of their hopes and dreams – and helps them to pursue them in ways that make sense to them.