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Dr Noel Longhurst and Richard Clarke, University of East Anglia

05 January 2021, 4:37 UTC Share

The Norwich Good Economy Commission

The Norwich Good Economy Commission is a new two-year collaborative project through which the University of East Anglia and Norwich City Council are creating the space to explore what a good city economy might look like, and what steps could be made to get there.

Norwich is a city of great distinction. Made rich on the staples of medieval trading, it was second in size to London well into the eighteenth century. England’s first UNESCO City of Literature has a compelling story to tell, of how the industrial revolution changed its place in the national order of things. Today Norwich is still a vibrant, innovative, and ‘Fast Growth’ city, but now medium sized. In a nation dominated by powerhouses, North and South, being medium in the East isn’t always straightforward.

The new Norwich Good Economy Commission comes from the University of East Anglia (UEA) wanting to better understand, and enhance, its local economic and civic impact, and from Norwich City Council’s ambition for a better future for the city. Those overlapping aspirations were brought together in a joint workshop in late 2017, one funded by the University’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Accelerator Account. That event, with speakers both national and local, tapped into the wider national debate around ‘inclusive growth’ and ‘inclusive economies’. Its conclusions fed into Norwich City Council’s public consultation about a vision for Norwich’s longer term future.

That ‘Norwich 2040’ Vision was publicly launched in November 2018. With themes charting a path towards a more creative, liveable, fair, connected and dynamic city, the Vision didn’t shy away from the challenges the City faced. Removing local barriers to achievement, especially for young people, was a key theme, as was investment in people and communities at the margins. The Vision became the framework within which the Good Economy Commission was developed.

Prior to the first meeting in the late spring of 2020 (and six months ahead of the public launch) initial scoping work had been done. The structural socio-economic challenges it identified, those leading to low pay, wealth inequality and reliance on retail and hospitality were brought into sharper relief by the Covid pandemic, which through lockdown added another thick layer of uncertainty and precarity to the mix. In a city so heavily reliant upon the service sector, the shocks and after-shocks of the seismic events of 2020 continue to reverberate across the local economy. Challenges identified in the ‘2040 Vision’, and then again by the Good Economy Commission, have gone from long term aspirations to urgent priorities.

The Good Economy Commission emerged onto a pandemic landscape populated with agencies seeking solutions to ‘building the economy back better’. The position it occupies locally, is however, unique, and hopefully precious. As a forum for the people of Norwich to come together to tackle hardships in the local economy, the focus is on problems that have hitherto eluded solutions, hearing from local people that haven’t often been listened to. Its fundamental role is to create space: space for new thinking, space for new conversations, space for new research and space for new interventions. In doing so, it seeks to work between the gaps of other strategies and groups, catalysing, challenging and building new collaborations. More than ever, in a time of pandemic and climate change, this is a time for reflection on what kind of economy we are trying to build, for whom, and by what kinds of measure.

The work of the Commission has really only just begun, but already the Commission has fed research into the effects of Covid-19 on the local economy into the wider policy conversation. A first phase of activities has shifted onto the specifics of skills, social enterprise, and digital inclusion. A wider conversation has begun, seeking to engage the voices who aren’t normally involved in discussions of ‘the local economy.’ As the Chair of the Commission, Professor Catherine Waddams, said at its public launch ‘We want to make Norwich a better place for all people who live and work here.’

Noel Longhurst is Lecturer in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia. Trained as an economic geographer, he has a longstanding interest in sustainable economic development.

Richard Clarke is a Relationship Manager at UEA since December 2014. Sustained interest and involvement, pre-dating arrival at UEA, in human rights, social justice and economic and social regeneration.

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