After Business Link…Time for a change of tack?

So it was confirmed in the White Paper yesterday that Business Links will be gone by the end 2012.  All that will remain is a website, and perhaps a call centre.

So what will replace £154m per year of business information, advice and guidance?

Time for DIY support I think.

Time for businesses and the wider communities of which they are a part to help themselves on their own terms.

I am not talking about ‘local’  Chambers of Commerce or Enterprise Agencies winning contracts from the State to deliver outputs and targets in return for tax payers cash.  That will just recreate the problems of the old regime:

  • post code lotteries,
  • sectoral discrimination,
  • services designed to trigger funding payments and hit targets, rather than work in person centred ways to deliver just in time support to the people who are hungriest for it,
  • groupies who learn to lunch with the bureaucrats and help them to deliver the targets while some people who are the most hungry for support are denied it because they are not aiming to turnover £2m within 24 months, live in the wrong part of town, aren’t working in a priority sector and so on.

DIY culture can provide support that is:

  • more accessible,
  • more inclusive,
  • much less expensive and I suspect,
  • much, much more impactful in terms of creating economic, social and political progress than the current system.

Why, because it is convivial, inclusive, centred on people and relationships, not focussed on policy goals and targets, bureaucracy light, puts experts and expertise in the back seat rather than the driving seat (it is great to have them on board when we need them – but much of this stuff we can figure out for ourselves), dynamic and above all fun!

And I would ensure that everyone who wants it, who really wants to work on making progress, should have access to free, confidential and competent coaching, in the community, from a coach who is supported, and held accountable by local people.  This is both practical, sustainable and affordable with the potential for a tremendous return on investment in terms of business, culture, health and well-being, community development, skills development and so forth.

The radical secret to this is that the coach engages with and works on the clients agenda – not the agendas of the planners and policy makers.

Time to take ‘enterprise development’ out of the ghettos of ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘business support’ and to put it at the heart of our strategies for community development.

Because if we develop the people and the communities then they will build the economy.

I wonder if any of the new Local Enterprise Partnerships will have the courage, foresight and leadership to give it a go?

Duck Farming, Enterprise, Big Society and Neighbourhood Challenge

This morning saw the launch at NESTA of the Neighbourhood Challenge.  A chance to pitch to become one of 10 organisations to be given 18 months and £150k to galvanise communities to respond to local priorities.

Much talk of hyperlocal websites, community organisers, big society, radical shifts in power and areas of low social capital.  All good stuff.  But not the kind of things I hear when I am talking with people in communities in Leeds about their priorities.  These things are not their concerns.  They are the concerns of policy makers and funders.

It reminded me of  the launch of the Local Enterprise Growth Initiative.  A very sage colleague of mine said to me at the time,

Mike, I have concerns about this programme.  These people don’t understand enterprise.  I think if the minister had stood up and said that ‘The future of our communities lies in duck farming, and so today I am launching a major new programme to promote duck farming in our most deprived communities’ we would have had much the same audience nodding and clapping.  These people know how to write bids.  They know how to manage projects. But do they really know about enterprise?

I hope that this mornings audience was more versed in community organising, social capital and community.

And less versed in snaffling up money on behalf of the communities that they serve.

I am sure many communities will put forward bids.  And I expect that people from outside of their communities will sit in judgement and decide.

And there is the rub.

More on Creating Jobs…and Delaying Transformation

Will Hutton’s piece in The Observer this weekend has some very useful insights. He has looked back at how the private sector ‘created’ 1.2 million jobs in the recovery from the last recession between 1993 and 1999.  (Interesting to note that ten years on it is many of these jobs that were created less than a decade ago that are now going….)

This time around the Government needs the private sector to create 2.5 million new jobs if the economy is to recover according to plan. Last time around we ‘created’ 900 000 jobs in business and financial services – and look how that panned out.  But this time the forecasters are saying that business and financial services is likely to shed 300 000 jobs.  I have written before about how the natural instinct of employers is to destroy (or at least off-shore) jobs not create them.

So where is our equivalent of ‘financial services’ this time around?  Where is the sector that can create the jobs that provide the ‘simple key to a set of interlinked problems

Well, the obvious place to look has to be in ‘green’ jobs.  If climate change is as big a gig as it has been billed then we need to lag, insulate and glaze like never before. We need to install solar panels, wind turbines and hydro-electric units unless we want to slowly poach in the products of our own carbon hedonism.  And while some of this will be about large engineering projects much of it will need to be done at the neighbourhood level.  It is work that has to be done in our houses and gardens.  On our streets.  This sounds like it might meet the criteria for ‘good work’ for many.

But how do we make this work ‘pay’ in a recession hit City?  Where does the money come from to make it happen?

The current plan is to make the recovery work by pushing hard for further ‘economic growth’, driven by large investments in export.  I guess the short hand is that instead of borrowing money from the Far and Middle East our businesses learn to sell more to them, profitably.  I am not yet quite sure what we have that those with the money need to buy – but there must be something.  Biotechnology no doubt.  Arms perhaps – that has always been a historical stalwart.  Premier League football teams.

So our strategy is to compete, profitably, in global export markets.  And we will finance this additional export by persuading the banks to ‘lend more’ (where have I heard that before). It is a familiar story and one that, even if it works in the medium term, is surely both unsustainable in the long and changes nothing.  It leaves us still reliant on sustaining rapid economic growth and creating profits for the wealthy and jobs for the rest of us.  But, if it works in the short term we can increase the tax take and use it to fund a whole load of green jobs.

We can put off transformation for another day.

What Does Big Society Mean to You?


  • All things to all people?
  • A revolution in service design and delivery – co-production and co-design?
  • Trusting people more?
  • A fundamental re-distribution of power?
How will it/might it play out in your neighbourhood?

What are your thoughts?….

Person Centred Development at Schumacher North

Person Centred Approaches to Social and Economic Development

23rd October 2010 – 2.00pm Leeds

Building on Schumacher’s ‘Economics as If People Mattered’, I will run an interactive workshop to look at person centred and responsive approaches to community building and development.

The workshop will explore how we can influence investment away from ‘concrete, steel and glass’ and into ‘the potential and aspirations of people’.

The impact of this approach on the ideals and ideas of ‘Transition’ will also be explored.

Find out more about the Schumacher Conference and book your place.

Creating Jobs in Leeds….

What a very touching and re-assuring letter those 35 key directors of FTSE 100 companies published in the Telegraph this week.

In their view the cuts are necessary and have to be made quickly.  And the resulting  job losses of some 500 000 from the public sector in the next four years will be offset by new jobs created in the private sector.

But what has their track record been in job creation in recent years?

Well, according to Andrew Hill in the Financial Times they have between them shed 20 000 UK jobs since 2007.

I believe that  large employers have not been creating jobs in the UK for a good while.  Nor should we expect them to in the future.  It is not what they exist to do.  They exist to create profits, not jobs.  For them, jobs represent costs and wherever possible should be cut in pursuit of productivity and profit.  If they can use technology or offshore labour to reduce employment costs, then that is what they will try to do.  Not because they are bad people, but because they are first and foremost good business people.

There seems to be some suggestion that ‘Big Business’ is prepared to invest some of the war chests that they have accumulated over recent highly profitable years in creating new jobs.  Personally I can’t see it happening.  Not on any grand scale.   Not unless those new jobs make good sense in the pursuit of profits.  And in that case they are hardly doing a social service are they?

In Leeds I have been told that the top 100 employers employ between then 100 000 people.  Should we expect that number to go up or down?  I know where I would place my bets.

So where might jobs be created in Leeds if we should not expect big business to do it for us?

Well, maybe we need to shift the thinking away from ‘jobs and employers’ to  ‘enterprise’ and ‘good work’.  Instead of the main narrative being about ’employers creating jobs’ it could be about us learning to find our own work; understanding for ourselves how to keep our economic engines running while doing ‘good work’ that makes our communities a better place for us and our children?

And this is not about getting on our bikes and chasing jobs down the M1 or across the M62.  It is about asking ourselves what we can do to create value in our own community and make it a place of hope and potential for all of its members.

Employers and Jobs or Self Reliance and Good Work?

Schumacher pointed out that from the perspective of the employer, work is a bad thing.  It represents a cost.  It is to be minimised.  If possible eradicated – handed over to a robot.  This truth always makes me smile when the government talks of the private sector ‘creating jobs’.

From the perspective of the worker too it is  often a bad thing. What Schumacher called a ‘disutility‘. A temporary but significant sacrifice of ‘leisure and comfort’ for which compensation is earned.

Schumacher pointed toward a Buddhist perspective where work serves three purposes:

  • to provide an opportunity to use and develop potential
  • to join with others in the achievement of a shared task – to provide opportunities for meaningful association
  • to produce the goods and services that are necessary for what he called a ‘becoming existence’

He then went on to say

to organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence

What can we do to make sure that more of our work is ‘good work’ and not merely a disutility for which we are compensated?

What products and services do we really need for a ‘becoming existence’.

This for me is the true role of the ‘Social Enterprise’ sector in our economy.  The development of good work.  The enhancement of association and compassion.  To provide a real alternative to the mainstream ‘work as profitable disutility’ philosophy of much (but not all) of the private sector.

And there is no good reason why we should not take sufficient value from our business to lead a ‘becoming existence’ is there?

I’m trying to learn just to die with pride,

Like the birds and the trees and the earth in time

But I’ve got this complex and it makes me fear,

That I’ll die knowing nothing and feeling less.

Hope and Social

Now, anyone for some truly social enterprise?

Making Leeds the Best City in The UK…

That is the challenge laid down to us by the new Leeds City Council Chief Executive, Tom Riordan.

What would it mean for any city to be the best?

What criteria would be used to decide and bestow such an accolade?

And who would it be ‘best’ for?  Employers?  Residents? Students? Homeless? Artists? Financiers? Children? Elders?

But suppose we framed the question of ‘best’ differently, and asked how we could make everyone in the city feel like Leeds was the ‘best’ place for them to be to make the most of their life and to fully explore and develop their potential?

To live their life the way they want to, making their own decisions and living with the consequences.  Feeling valued, respected and like they belong here.  Feeling supported in a community that they enjoy and contributing to it fully.

Now that would be a question worth asking.   An accolade worth pursuing.  A league table worth topping.

It would almost certainly not depend on physical infrastructure, but on psychological infrastructure.  A network of relationships, support and encouragement that valued people, regardless of wealth or education, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or age.  A psychological infrastructure in which help could be asked for and offered.  A city in which collaboration, association and innovation in the pursuit of progress was everyone’s business

It would be a city of enterprise and compassion.

Buy, Buy Everything…

From 1985, when Birmingham’s Bull Ring was innovative:


And this about Leeds Grand Daddy of Shopping Centres: