LANGHOLM was represented at a national conference which gave an opportunity for people “on the ground” to talk to policy and decision-makers.
Jason Railton of the Langholm Initiative attended Place-based Inclusive Growth, the annual conference of SURF (Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum).
Jason said: “I was one of many representatives from agencies and organisations, most of which were like ours, third sector and community workers.
“It’s not often that people on the ground sit around the table with people making policy and decisions and the SURF conference always provides a useful vehicle for an exchange of thoughts and ideas which, hopefully, lead to change.”
The focus was on what seems an abstract concept circulating the sector: inclusive growth.
Jason said: “It can be difficult to suspend the cynicism when a new idea is introduced, particularly if it is introduced from government level and its meaning is muddied and confused.
“It sometimes makes me think of poor Nicola Murray from BBC classic The Thick of It, introducing her infamous Fourth Sector Pathfinders initiative.
“It’s a term which means nothing and carries no weight from a department which is unnecessary and led by a group of inept civil servants.
“However, this is different. Inclusive growth is difficult to define but it is essentially about building an economic structure which, in and of itself, reduces inequalities.
“It’s about changing the view that fairness in society and support for the most disadvantaged can work only once the economy is strong. It is about reinforcing that a strong economy is the result of a fair society.
“It’s finally been recognised that poverty is bad for growth. Repressive policies of austerity, rather than growing the economy, have meant that people’s ability to consume goods and services has been reduced.
“Even when the country sees ‘economic growth’, it doesn’t mean you or I see an increase in our pockets.
“Growth, in this sense, isn’t inclusive but benefits people who are already wealthy. A policy of inclusive growth would seek to make sure financial opportunity isn’t dictated by postcode.
“Inclusive growth would mean ensuring that those worse off in society felt the benefits of a strong economy more than those at the top.”
Jason said the key challenge was how to implement it, make it work and what role people could play in it.
He added: “Unfortunately, this is where it does get muddy.
“We need to let policymakers, who implement this kind of change, know how it should be delivered.
“There’s a lot of talk about using a place-based approach more in identifying how support should be delivered. This is to be applauded; sometimes universality can be restrictive for those most in need.
“We heard conflicting opinions on this: one agency’s approach to place-based support is about places which are innovating, ready to embrace change and have the capacity to do so.
“On the other hand, there was support for communities, which struggled most with capacity and were less organised, being offered resources to grow.
“Both options have their merits but there isn’t yet a clear answer.
“Where do rural areas fit into this new system? For truly disconnected areas, like Langholm, at a geographical disadvantage and too far from a large town to benefit from residual economic or social improvement, there needs to be a more thoughtful process of delivery.
“Communities can become exhausted with the expectations placed upon them to acquire assets, provide services and the constant rhetoric of driving towards at-times an elusive sustainability.
“As one colleague said: “Maybe it’s time for a radical restructuring of our public services to better support communities and the people in them.”