Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm

nicholls-teasdaleAlex Nicholls (University of Oxford) and Simon Teasdale (Glasgow Caledonian University)

Since the late 1990s the idea of social enterprise – broadly speaking businesses that trade for a social purpose –has received considerable academic and policy attention. It is probably fair to say that opinions are polarised. On the one hand we have those who see social enterprise as a new paradigm whereby localised civil society responses to social problems achieve financial sustainability through economic activity and regenerate and reinvigorate communities.  Alternatively critics, particularly from the left, see social enterprise as an extension of a neoliberal paradigm whereby policies to extend market discipline and competition have been extended throughout society, and responsibility for welfare provision moves from state to communities.

In a recent article in Policy & Politics entitled Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm, we developed recent work on policy paradigms (broadly speaking a coherent set of ideas and norms that specify policy goals, instruments and problems). Continue reading Neoliberalism by stealth? Exploring continuity and change within the UK social enterprise policy paradigm

“Politics in Interesting Times” – Report from the Annual Political Studies Association Conference, University of Strathclyde

felicity-matthewsFelicity Matthews (University of Sheffield), Co-Editor of Policy & Politics

Politics in Interesting Times”.  Has ever a conference title been so apt, or provided such a unifying theme?  This year’s PSA Conference, held at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, was host to a record number of delegates, who had travelled from 75 countries to reflect on the interesting times that we inhabit.  Brexit, Scottish independence, forthcoming elections in Italy and France, the election of Trump, the decline of traditional parties, the rise of populism, new forms of representation and participation.  All of these issues – and many, many more – were discussed, debated and often contested within the conference’s ten panel sessions. Continue reading “Politics in Interesting Times” – Report from the Annual Political Studies Association Conference, University of Strathclyde

Communities First?  Governing neighbourhoods under austerity

Welsh Government is phasing out its (former flagship) Communities First tackling poverty programme from 2017/18.  The Bevan Foundation, a think tank, has stressed that subsequent local action should be led by ‘community anchors’ – community-based organisations with a good track-record and strong community engagement. In a recent article published in Policy & Politics, we use the conceptual framework of hybridity – conducted as part of the Transgob project in Cardiff, Wales – to support this recommendation, and highlight the need for local government to relinquish its former levels of control to give these organisations space to develop approaches which work for their communities.

The research explored what austerity means for participation in city governance.  The optimistic view is that making governance more participatory can help overcome the hurdles of bureaucracy, with government ceding control to enable capacity to address complex problems.  The pessimistic view is that city governance remains dominated by state elites, with third sector and community partners co-opted to compensate for the decline in state provision, compromising their ability to advocate for and ensure that communities get decent services.  In Cardiff we uncovered attitudes and practices somewhere in between these two views.

We found that austerity had accelerated the city council’s use of its city governance structure, the Cardiff Partnership, to share the risk and responsibility of service delivery with other public organisations, but also with third sector organisations and neighbourhood-level community groups.  Communities were certainly having to take more responsibility for delivering their own (formerly public) services, such as play and youth services and the maintenance of parks, sports grounds and streets.  Those at the neighbourhood frontline faced tensions and power conflicts in trying to develop workable practice.

But we did find that community-based organisations had some room for manoeuvre in developing forms of co-production that were rooted in communities as well as responding to the strictures of funding cuts.  One example was timebanking, championed by a deprived community-based organisation in south Cardiff.  The approach means that volunteers can exchange equivalent hours of providing a service such as kids’ school holiday activities for other services.  The scheme was underpinned by the council offering access to facilities such as swimming pools, but the opportunities to spend credits earned within the community were expanding, indicating potential for it to become self-sustaining (and thus definitively community-led).  But it was too early in our research to tell whether attempts to replicate it will be successful.

mpill

Credit: photograph taken by Madeleine Pill of the mural celebrating ‘Timeplace’, a community timebank running in the Cardiff neighbourhoods of Ely, Caerau, Fairwater and Pentrebane.  Timeplace is run by ACE (Action in Caerau & Ely) http://www.aceplace.org/timeplace/, a community-based organisation, in partnership with Spice,http://www.justaddspice.org/, a specialist timebanking non-profit organisation.

The city council was also seeking to transfer assets such as libraries and community centres to communities.  The frustrations of this process – such as the need for willing community groups to become formalised organisations – showed the need for change in the council’s attitudes to risk.  In the words of a Welsh Government officer, government needs to ‘recognise that the cheapest and best way to achieve real things is to spot what people are doing for themselves and support them’.

When the Communities First programme was reshaped in 2011, Cardiff Council innovated by contracting community-based organisations to manage the four deprived neighbourhood ‘clusters’ eligible for programme support. In so doing, the council downloaded risk and offloaded staff costs as the organisations took on responsibility for finance, HR and evaluation – thus becoming hybrid third-public sector organisations.  Their staff had to navigate the tensions and dilemmas of implementing a (national) programme, engaging in the (city-wide) strategy overseen by the Cardiff Partnership, and the needs and demands of their communities.  Doing this aligned with the demands of austerity, enrolling these community organisations into service delivery in ways that included voluntarism, thus increasing community self-reliance.  But we also found, to an extent, that community organisation staff were able to innovate (such as with timebanking) – and in ways that maintained their community-focused mission.

Therefore our Cardiff research shows how the ‘devolution, decentralisation and downloading’ of Peck’s (2012) ‘austerity urbanism’ encourages hybridity at a scalar, organisational and individual level.  But our research also reinforces the need to understand local practices to provide insight beyond the dualism of empowerment or incorporation.  The Cardiff experience of participatory governance demonstrates the potential for transformative alternatives in the everyday and the small-scale – and also highlights the need for state supports rather than constraints in these processes.   In the case of Wales, the need to sustain the work of community anchors should be a priority.

The ‘Transgob’ project analysed the discourse and practice of participatory urban governance under austerity in two British (Cardiff and Leicester) and four Spanish cities.  It was funded by the Spanish government’s National Research and Development Plan (reference CSO2012-32817).

Dr Madeleine Pill is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Valeria Guarneros-Meza is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, based at De Montfort University, in the UK.

If you enjoyed this blog post you may also like to read Community asset transfer in Northern Ireland by Brendan Murtagh.

Making sense of neoliberalism in the era of Brexit and Trump

Christopher ByrneChristopher Byrne, University of Exeter

The term neoliberalism is most commonly used to refer to the free market-oriented reforms enacted by right-wing governments in the UK and US throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and continued by ‘Third Way’ politicians such as Tony Blair in the UK and Gerhard Schroeder in Germany into the 2000s and beyond. Recently, mainly as a consequence of ‘Brexit’ — Britain’s rejection of EU membership in a 2016 referendum — and the victory of avowed economic nationalist Donald Trump in the recent US presidential election, there has been talk of the end of the neoliberal era. Continue reading Making sense of neoliberalism in the era of Brexit and Trump

A pathway to precarity? Young workers and zero hour futures in the social care sector

Montgomery-Mazzei-Baglioni-SinclairTom Montgomery, Micaela Mazzei, Simone Baglioni, Stephen Sinclair

In an effort to solve crucial issues such as youth unemployment, policymakers can find it tempting when it looks like there is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. When you have a population living longer and requiring personal care for many years to come it can seem logical that there is a future in that sector for a generation of young workers. However there is a risk that the prospect of new potential employment for young people eclipses an awareness of the quality of work available in that sector.

Our recent article in Policy & Politics entitled Who Cares? The social care sector and the future of youth unemployment explores the actual potential of the social care sector in the UK to offer good quality career pathways for young people. Continue reading A pathway to precarity? Young workers and zero hour futures in the social care sector

Vodcast to promote article: Relational Wellbeing: Re-centring the Politics of Happiness, Policy and the Self

 

Take a look at this short video by Professor Sarah White, Professor of International Development and Wellbeing at the University of Bath, who talks about her research, published in Policy & Politics, on why all the interest and talk of our wellbeing may reflect an anxiety that all may somehow not be well…

 

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also like to read Policy, politics, health and housing in the UK by Danny Dorling.

Reflections on my article: “Creating public value through caring for place”

patsy-healeyPatsy Healey

Many of us these days are deeply worried about the tone and content of contemporary public debate and discussion about key issues which affect us in common. Somehow, the gulf which has long appeared between elites, experts, academics and everyone else has widened out dramatically. We seem to lead separate lives, imbibing separate ideas and creating separate crude stereotypes about others with whom we share our environments and our political institutions.

A century ago, from the struggles between labour and capital and between tradition and modernity, and the fight for the political rights of workers and women, some sense of a shared political community was forged. Today, while we pass our fellow citizens by on the bus, in the playground, at the supermarket or the doctor’s, or meet in a care home, how much do we understand of our various ways of life, struggles and challenges? Political institutions without some sense of what citizens of that community share in common is far from any conception of democracy. They become easy prey to the megaphones of contemporary populism, as we in the Western world are re-discovering. Continue reading Reflections on my article: “Creating public value through caring for place”