Community Forum, Cornwall and Manchester, June 2019

Our Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, participated in two Community Forums recently. We partnered with Cornwall Community Foundation for an event in St Austell and the charity ‘Economy’ for a roundtable event in Manchester. Here are Andy’s reflections on the visits.

On the face of it, there is not much that connects the economies of St Austell in predominantly rural Cornwall and inner-city Manchester. As I said in a recent speech, all economies are local. But my conversations at our latest Community Forums also revealed a number of common concerns among local people there; concerns echoed right across the UK.

My trip to St Austell began with a visit to STAK, a charity café that supports local residents. Not only do they feed those in need for a very small fee, but they help them overcome financial difficulties by running a free debt-advice service. STAK trains community members to become debt counsellors who can help with budgeting and debt problems. Charitable projects like this provide a first-hand insight into some of the financial challenges facing (too) many people in our society. They also underline the importance of programmes to support financial literacy, a recurrent theme of my Townhall visits over the past two years.

Visiting STAK also served as a reminder of the crucial importance of volunteer-led programmes in supporting our economies and societies. STAK, like a number of other charities, uses a programme of “time credits”, which reward those who volunteer with discounts on certain activities. It seemed to work extremely well for them. Inspired by this experience, in a speech I gave afterwards I proposed adopting a time credits system right across the charity sector – if you like, a digital common currency for volunteering. 

I then attended a roundtable event at Treverbyn Community Hall in St Austell. Here I met with various community leaders, representatives and volunteers. It was a very lively event with many views strongly and passionately expressed. These issues ranged from climate change to the loss of charity funding, the cost of housing to problems of infrastructure.

One issue that was raised by many was the lack of job opportunities. Cornwall lacked connectivity, digitally and physically. It lacked a big city to act as a hub for business.  And it lacked a university to act as a magnet for talent, locally and from elsewhere across the UK. The decline of traditional industries, including mining and manufacturing, had yet fully to be replaced. St Austell is one of the largest towns in Cornwall and remained the main centre of the china clay industry. But St Austell is modestly-sized and the china clay industry is not on the scale it once was. 

Cornwall has a great many attractions and advantages, however. Tourism is a large and growing part of the economy, with visitors drawn by the coast and attractions such as the Eden Project (sited in a former clay pit) and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The creative and renewable energy industries are growing.  There is an incredibly strong local identity and spirit.  One thriving local family-owned business is the St Austell Brewery where I toured their impressive facilities.

A couple of weeks later, I travelled to Manchester to meet with people from across the city who have been participating in economics ‘crash courses’ run by the charity Economy. This aims to help improve peoples’ understanding of everyday economics, encouraging them to engage in discussions and decisions that affect their lives.  Those participating in these courses are clearly energised by the experience. This type of citizen engagement is very much in keeping with the Bank’s own Citizens’ Panel project, which so far has involved 11 visits across the UK.

In Manchester, our discussion covered a diverse and rich range of topics including the environment, living standards and the impact on charities and communities of the reduction in funding from local government. Some of the themes were strikingly similar to what I’d heard 300 miles away in St Austell, even though we were in a vibrant city that sits at the heart of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

Several participants felt there was a significant divide in terms of wealth and power between London and the rest of the country. The dozens of cranes scattered around Manchester speaks of a city on the up (physically and metaphorically). Yet it is clear that the benefits of this development are not always being felt by local residents. Some of the group explained how they felt older people’s contributions and needs were sometimes overlooked – in housing, transport, shopping and banking.

Through the Bank cannot fix many (if any) of these issues itself, understanding them at a local level is crucial in helping us understand the economy and financial system.

I would like to thank the Cornwall Community Foundation (Tamas Haydu and Jeremy Ward), Treverbyn Community Hall (Sara Marsh), St Austell Brewery (Colin Stratton) and Economy (Joe Earle) for their support in arranging two very enjoyable and informative visits. I would also like to thank the Bank’s Agents in the South West (Donna Kehoe and Malindi Myers) and North West (John Young) for hosting me. 

This page was last updated 08 July 2019
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