23 August 2008

Buy-in and regional development

A key chapter, titled 'What sort of Future?', by David Byrne, in Geordies: Roots of Regionalism, discusses amongst other things the British Government's policy towards northeast England in and after the 1930s:
The proposals for regional development ... were an interesting and fruitful combination of macroeconomic industrial strategy and Keynesian social strategy. ... All public bodies were involved in this programme, but the major initiatives were associated with a new political form, the corporatist political organizations created by the Special Areas Commission in the form of appointed rather than elected bodies. ... The significance of this separation of economic development from direct democratic control by local government cannot be overstated.
The significance, to me, is that of a growing gap between government and the people it is supposed to represent. It's a reminder of the crucial importance of buy-in to policies that affect us. The continuing turmoil in the world's financial markets tells us that even banking experts don't fully understand the nature of the risks they are taking in a complex environment. There is a case, then, for delegating economic and policy decisions being taken by a small group of experts. But their goals should be those of the people affected. Economic policy can be arcane and amenable only to specialists. But its goals need not be. A Social Policy Bond regime, by targeting broad social and environmental objectives, could draw more people into the policymaking process. Some statistical economic growth might be sacrificed but the benefit in terms of more buy-in could be immense. It could do a lot to eliminate the bitterness and rancour that affects so much of Britain outside the southeast; the feeling of being colonised by the capital, of being a victim of decisions made hundreds of miles away.

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