Oval Partnership Briefing Note
A badly balanced local economy tends to fail. There may be few local employers, unemployment may be high, shops may be shut down, the public realm may be declining and crime levels may be higher than they need be. A failing economy, whether local or national, can be repaired but it can’t be done overnight, It takes years.
Before attempting to repair a local economy, it is necessary to understand exactly what is broken, what can be done about it and who should be doing it.
What is broken?
The economy is the overall system of (i) production, (ii) distribution and (iii) consumption of goods and services. If any of these factors are too weak or get too far out of balance a local economy will fail. For example suppose unemployment increases (weakens production). Fewer local shops will be able to thrive (weakens distribution). If local shops close, residents have to spend elsewhere (consumption moves elsewhere and so do the benefits).
What can be done?
There are three main sets of influences over the local economy
(i) External factors: These include things like rises in VAT, congestion charging, public expenditure policy, transport policy etc.
(ii) Local environment: Existing buildings, employers, housing, schools, transport infrastructure etc.
(ii) Micro-economy: The behaviour of local individuals, households and businesses in respect of - what they buy,
where they buy it, what goods or services are provided, where they are provided, who is employed etc.
In general, a local economy can do little to influence external factors. However, it is possible to influence the local environment e.g. through the local planning process. It is also possible to influence the micro economy by what we choose to spend money on and where we spend it.
Who should do it?
It is not within the power of a single individual or organisation to transform a local economy. A local authority can have a strong influence but it cannot do everything on its own. It needs the support of the community, the continued support of existing investors and to attract new investors. If all are pulling in different directions then the chances are, the local economy will pay the price.
When opportunities to invest in an area do arise, it is often said that ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’ but it is also true that “The things that are most important don’t always scream the loudest”. Through consultations, canvassing, research and analysis the Oval Partnership tries to understand what is important to the community and press for that which will bring the most benefit.
In most cases, a local economy has very little control over external factors. However, communities within a local economy that develop a loud coherent voice do have the ability to influence some external factors particularly those in the immediate environment. This is where community groups and associations like the Oval Partnership can help For example, major developments such as the Vauxhall, Nine Elms, Battersea (VNEB) Opportunity Area actively seek community engagement. Another example, is the air space review which offers an opportunity for the community to influence the flight path into Heathrow thereby reducing aircraft noise on at least some days of the week. Such opportunities are rare and should be grasped when they do come along.
Much of the neighbourhood’s building stock is relatively old and traditional commercial areas appear to be in decline. Developments like St George Wharf point to a new world but this approach is not a solution of every area. Local shopping parades sit on busy A class roads but local parking control prevents local businesses taking full advantage of passing trade. Such parades are in need of new investment and a clear vision for the future.
Derelict and underused sites abound awaiting the right time and investment. Consider the following businesses that had their roots in the area but have long since moved out.
Such businesses needed to move out of the neighbourhood in order to grow. As a result, the benefits accruing from those businesses are now reaped elsewhere. Although there may me some regrets at losing some businesses/shops it is not necessarily bad for the local economy. It all depends on what happens afterwards. If a new business moves in and is successful then that it good for the local economy. On the other hand, if a property remains empty or becomes semi-derelict like Offley Works this would be bad for the local economy. Sometimes reinvestment takes longer than it need do.
If you ask any large group of residents what they would like to see in their local shopping parades, shops like butchers, bakers, fish mongers, green grocers, bookshops etc. will most likely be mentioned. However, the micro- economic reality is different. Many such shops existed in the past but the support from the community was not sufficient to retain that investment. Over time, shops evolved, to reflect what the market wanted. Certain types of investment tended to prevail e.g. large centralised supermarkets. More recently, there has been a resurgence of home deliveries spurred by the Internet. There has also been a rekindled interest in community. Farmers markets, have been increasing in number and offer a rare opportunity for local communities to come together
This section is not in any sense intended as a criticism of supermarkets, home delivery or any other micro-economic behaviour. It is simply trying to raise awareness of the way things are and in small way help understand how we might influence the local economy in a positive way.
It is not possible to cover ever aspect of the local economy. The following links contain some short articles on selected topics. The external/environmental factors section deals with a small range of topics in the immediate neighbourhood environment that it may be possible to influence
The micro-economy section focuses on local shops and businesses that provide goods or services in the area.