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- Author or Editor: David Beel x
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In recent years, the ‘city region’ has seen a renaissance as the de facto spatial centre of governance for economic and social development.
Rich in case study insights, this book provides a critique of city-region building and considers how governance restructuring shapes the political, economic, social and cultural geographies of devolution. Reviewing the Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Swansea Bay City Regions, Cardiff Capital Region and the North Wales Growth Deal, the authors address the tensions and opportunities for local elites and civil society actors.
Based on original empirical material, situated within cutting edge academic and policy debates, this book is a timely and lively engagement with the shifting geographies of economic and social development in Britain.
Community wellbeing as an element of happiness research is a rather nebulous concept because first of all it is not clear how collective wellbeing amounts to more than the individual wellbeing of its members and second because it is not clear at what level ‘community’ takes place (see Phillips and Wong, 2017). While usually referring implicitly to a geographical location, community can also refer to the kinds of networks of affective connection and social ties that constitute people’s lives – and in a globalized and digitally connected social world these can be increasingly complex and manifold (Rainie and Wellman, 2012). Elsewhere we have described the ways in which information technology impacts on these local affiliations (Wallace and Vincent, 2017). Here we look more explicitly at one aspect of community wellbeing – that of cultural heritage. In doing so we argue that wellbeing is a property of communities rather than only of individuals. This therefore goes beyond the conventional view of happiness as an individual phenomenon.
One way of understanding wellbeing as a collective property is to consider the interactions of cultural and social capital and the way in which these convert into economic capital. Cultural heritage can be seen as an aspect of collective cultural capital and here we draw upon Bourdieu’s discussion of these issues. Bourdieu defines cultural capital as the set of attributes, dispositions and ‘taste’ that is valued in a given society (Bourdieu, 1984) and reproduces elite positions through the artefacts and knowledge that embody cultural goods.
Since 2010, the UK Government has sought to reshape the ways in which economic development takes place and although this shift in governmental delivery began under New Labour, there has been a continuing emphasis on developing the city-region scale to unlock economic growth. As noted in the previous chapter, it was much vaunted by the Coalition Government elected in 2010 (Deas, 2013), whereby they replaced the RDAs with LEPs and latterly LEPs morphed into CAs. These policies were subsequently continued by the Conservative administrations (Conservative Party, 2015) through a variety of locality-specific ‘devolution deals’. In this context, the rhetoric of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ as a flagship policy for delivering economic growth for the North of England (Lee, 2017) has sat alongside a severe austerity programme that has seen LA budgets cut significantly. This, therefore, raises difficult questions with regards to the ability of CAs and LAs to address the current and future needs of their populations (Etherington and Jones, 2016a). Finally, although the context of ‘Brexit’ and the forever changing leadership and ministerial portfolios of the Conservative Party means the future of the Northern Powerhouse remains uncertain, the political territorialisation and regionalisation (Harrison, 2014) of the city region has problematised the position of civil society actors working in their respective city regions and those working outside or on the periphery of city regions.
Welcome to ‘Devo Sheffield’ – a city region that comprises the South Yorkshire council areas of Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield, alongside the East Midlands authorities of Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales and North East Derbyshire. As discussed in the Introduction, with the ongoing processes of constitutional change and devolution in the UK, city regions in England are being brought to the centre stage of policy and politics to address, firstly, paraphrasing Lindblom (1968), the ‘problem’ of economic growth and a rebalancing of this geographically to iron-out issues of spatial combined and uneven development (see Martin, 2015), and secondly, the ‘problem’ of securing effective and accountable governance arrangements, whereby effective economic growth and development is contingent on open and transparent engagements with civil society. This model is being heavily influenced by the US ‘Metropolitics’ agglomeration thinking of Katz and others, transferred at speed into the UK through discourses such as the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, ‘Metro-Mayors’, and promises of additional functions to civil society actors to create the conditions for ‘real control’ (Wharton, 2016: 9).
‘Devo Sheffield’ was accordingly coined on 12 December 2014 (HM Government, 2014) and builds on a City Deal and Growth Deal to roadmap a ‘journey that sees the people of Sheffield put in charge of their own economic destiny’ (Otten, 2014: 1.
The impact of austerity in cities has been framed around ‘austerity urbanism’. This is a concept initially developed by Peck (2012, 2014) and extended more recently by Davidson and Ward (2018) to describe a strategy of fiscal policies and cuts focused on cities. This is in part a neoliberal response to previous policy failures to generate sustainable economic growth, which would influence the local tax base (Kennett et al, 2015). This ‘austerity urbanism’ approach has received criticism for being primarily overly ‘US centric’ and that it underestimates the role of global as well as national economic processes, shaping the way cities are becoming focal points, for ‘managing’ the distributional consequences of fiscal crises and retrenchment (see Hastings et al, 2017; Pike et al, 2018).
This critical engagement is extended further, to include how social and institutional actors exercise agency within cities in terms of contestation and negotiation (Meegan et al, 2014; Newman, 2014). Much of the work to date precludes agency and the ways urban actors can either resist or at least mitigate the impact of austerity. This point has been extended by Blanco and colleagues (Blanco et al, 2014; Davies and Blanco, 2017) and similarly by Bristow (Bristow and Healy, 2015; Webber et al, 2018), where attention is drawn to the importance played by agency in relation to LAs as ‘regulatory intermediaries’ adapting, responding and reacting to austerity crisis.
As was stated by then Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies (1999), ‘devolution is a process, not an event’ – a sentiment deployed to express the dynamics and opportunities of devo-statecraft. In following this process within the context of Welsh devolution, this chapter seeks to highlight an interesting series of dynamics with regards to the development of city regions as the latest phase in a broader process of sub-national government restructuring under devolution. As stated throughout City Regions and Devolution in the UK, city regions have been vaunted as the appropriate scale for economic growth and this has informed the intentions of both the Welsh Government and the LAs of the CCR towards creating city regions in this context.
The chapter seeks to engage empirically and analytically with the broader body of literature on civil society vis-à-vis central–local relations in regional and local economic development. Particularly in the context of previous interventions by Duncan and Goodwin (1988), we show how the empirical case study of the CCR is actively recasting central–local social relations, and in doing so, building on Chapter 2, this raises interesting questions on the evolving dimensions of metagovernance. When Duncan and Goodwin formulated their ideas on states and uneven development during the 1980s, devolution in the UK, of course, did not exist. The chapter recasts central–local relations through devolution and suggests inter-scalar relationships increasingly coming to the fore. It suggests that notions of being scalar ‘agent and obstacle’ (Duncan and Goodwin, 1988) can provide an analytical lens in and through which to view the shifting and sticky relationships emerging between local state(s) and national state(s) in Wales.
This chapter questions where rural regions are being placed within the context of neoliberal growth strategies that posit agglomerative accumulation, that is policies to nurture value growth (primarily measured by GVA uplift), which is mainly aimed at the urban and more recently city-region spatial scale (Brenner and Schmid, 2011; Woods and Heley, 2017). The rural development question (Pemberton, 2019; Ward, 2006) is an enduring puzzle, which has eluded policymakers globally (Bock, 2016), while being consistently undermined by an urban bias (Hoggart, 2005). The global focus on the development of city regions and their implicit scalar, geopolitical and geoeconomic framing (Jonas and Moisio, 2018; Calzada, 2017), continues to reinforce this dynamic. Focusing on urban growth strategies, the chapter considers what this means for rural regions as they attempt to articulate growth strategies of their own, while being entangled within broader metagovernance processes surrounding economic development (Jessop, 2016b; see also Nelles, 2012; Winter, 2006). We highlight how rural regions struggle to create effective economic policy when they are cast as peripheral, or in the orbit, of major urban conurbations (Harrison and Heley, 2015), as such disparities have the potential to exacerbate the problems of combined and uneven development.
We have argued throughout this book that the UK is witnessing important ‘state spatial restructuring’ (Brenner, 2004, 2019) developments through the creation of ‘city-region building state projects’ (Jones, 2019a, 2019b).
In this chapter, we consider the implications of applying the city-region concept to a medium-sized city and whether such an application of a spatial and governmental policy is appropriate when the central city in question is also not necessarily economically dominant or connected to its wider city region. Building on the previous chapter, this raises the wider question that, within the process of sub-nation state restructuring, how can the city-region construct a deal with its application in what are often ‘relational’ and ‘stretched’ (MacLeod and Jones, 2007) polycentric city-regional contexts. We focus on the case of the SBCR, based in South West Wales, observed through the lens of Welsh devolution and through the concept of the city region as a scalar narrative for the delivery of economic development.
This chapter suggests that as a concept for delivering economic growth in Wales, the ‘fit’ of the city-region concept to Swansea Bay pushes the very essence and dynamics of the economic model in question to its spatial limits, hence the title. This is questioned via comprehending how and why the scale and differences across the SBCR stretch the spatial construct of city-region building. Swansea as a smaller, geographically peripheral UK metropolitan centre, lacks economic dominance over a city region, which is polycentric and porous in its social and spatial nature. This means it struggles to embed the dynamics of the city-region neoliberal growth machine model, outlined in the Introduction, into a coherent centric local growth framework.
The first quotation is taken from civil society perspectives within the UK2070 Commission, which as noted in the Introduction, is investigating spatial inequality and proposes an agenda for strategy long-term action. The study examines experiences in ‘left behind’ places, by looking at perspectives on inequality of those civil society organisations who are already working in these contexts. This chimes with City Regions and Devolution in the UK: The Politics of Representation, which has probed on the ‘symptoms’ rather than the ‘prevalence’ of the phenomenon and the role of civil society actors therein. We have provided an overview of city-region building and considered how local governance restructuring shapes political, social and cultural landscapes. Reviewing the GMCR, SCR, SBCR, CCR and the NWGD, we have exposed the tensions and opportunities for local elites and civil society actors. Moreover, the nature of the economic development that civil society actors are expected to work within is contradictory. We have identified the tension between civil society autonomy at the margins of city-region devolution and the abrogation of responsibility at the centre. Like the social economy localism debates that preceded this wave of devolution, dependent on state and its agents, city-region building with civil society is ‘a vehicle by which social and economic risks can be moved away from the state and on to local communities, which are expected to assume responsibility’ for economic governance (Leyshon and Lee, 2003: 19–20).
The Government today outlines a new approach to local growth, shifting power away from central government to local communities, citizens and independent providers. This means recognising that where drivers of growth are local, decisions should be made locally. (HM Government, 2010: 5)
The government has an ambitious programme of devolution. It has sought to decentralise power through structural and legislative changes. The introduction of directly elected mayors with specific powers and responsibilities has enhanced local control and accountability … Just as the UK is bringing back power over its laws, money, borders, and trade from the European Union, so local places are taking economic, social, and cultural policy away from Westminster and Whitehall. (HM Government, 2018: 52, emphasis added)
[T]he motivation behind much recent institution-building in city-regions is ultimately rooted in a powerful logic of subsidiarization that sits well with the mosaic-like geography of contemporary capitalist society. Whether or not this trend enlarges the sphere of democracy and the right to the city remains a moot point depending precisely on the specific forms of political community that are put in place in any particular instance. (Scott, 2019: 569, emphasis added)
It has now been ten years since the launch of the UK Government’s ‘Local Growth’ White Paper (2010), which set in train a series of policy initiatives concerned with removing the barriers for ‘civil society’ actors to participate in economic and political life through empowered devolved structures and new institutions of governance.