Category Archives: Knowledge Ecology And Economy

Midsummer Day In Post-Industrial Merseyside

10.06.21 Liverpool the longest day (painter at Albert Docks) 007aa 170x128These photographs taken in 2010 on 20 June and then on Midsummer Day, 21 June, reflect our times as city regions like Liverpool’s move into the new millennium. We have here derelict industrial plant in the Cheshire plain, a vast refinery in Runcorn, and finally a painter absorbed in his art whilst others hustle and bustle between the Albert Dock and the new retail centre of Liverpool.

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Big Society Voluntarism Harms The Knowledge Base

Summary: The Big Society so far is no fun at all. I seem to be spending my time (voluntarily) offering www-style tea and sympathy all round.  Almost daily emails arrive from hard-working and committed contacts, saying that their job is coming to an end and they have no clear idea what will happen next. Grim policies mean unemployment stats will get worse still, but much more is being lost than is measured. There’s no provision to retain core knowledge or maintain legacy.

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1968 And All That: The Tale Of A Jobbing Sociologist

Salford MSc Sociology as a discipline in the UK was shaping up during the 1960s; but there was still an air of mystery about the whole thing when I chose to study it. There was no clear role model on which to base expectations. The discipline has however served me well ever since. For most of my working life I’ve been what might be called a Jobbing Sociologist. This is a version of the account I gave of my interwoven personal and professional experience, writing for the British Sociological Association’s ‘Sociologists Outside Academia’ newsletter, published today.
Pre-History / HerStory (1950-), Social Science and Gender & Women.
1968 remains an iconic year for many. For some it represents a time of dramatic change preceding one’s own individual history, for others it was the start of a new way for us all to see the world.
But for me, 1968 was the point where the personal really hit the political-professional – the year I finished being a teenager and abandoned plans to be a natural scientist or a coloratura soprano (I’d tried both), and the year I got married and then enrolled for a degree in the most daring and mysterious subject I could think of: Sociology.
Realities
Needless to say, people opined that it would never last; but truth to tell my heart has stayed on both counts where I put it so long ago, and on many levels the two have interwoven over and over again as time marches on. Allies older and new will confirm that I’ve never been less than a fully paid-up feminist, but hard realities can sometimes get in the way of the more seductive theories of autonomy and self-determination.
My personal journey from undergraduate social science in the Nissen huts of the then North East London Polytechnic, to a freelance career as a writer and regeneration / sustainable communities consultant, via research and teaching Sociology and Social Policy in various institutions of Further and Higher Education and a decade of temporary ill-health ‘retirement’ when community activism was the only way to mitigate the tedium of physical immobility, has been part-moulded by my life as a spouse, mother, daughter, citizen and wage-earner. And I regret not a minute of it.
Following careers
I started my career in Sociology in London, because the Royal Academy of Music is where putative violinists such as my other half studied; we moved to Liverpool when he was appointed a member – as he still is – of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; I undertook my Master’s (Sociology of Science and Technology, 1973; the first serious piece of research on women scientists in the UK) at Salford, because by a miracle the (then very unusual) exact course I wanted was accessible from our new home city; my PGCE was at Liverpool, so every morning before lectures I could take our baby daughter to nursery.
Having been forced (just pre-1975 and the Sex Discrimination Act) to leave my original FE teaching post when I started a family, I taught the new Open University distance courses at home whilst also sewing in pre-school name tapes, and then returned to teach ‘O’ and ‘A’-levels to many engaging young and older college students alongside checking juvenile homework. Later, I wrote the first-ever Sociology Access-to-HE modules, and academic papers and book chapters on aspects of Sociology. For some years I was (unpaid) commissioning editor for the journal Social Science Teacher, working from my prototype Amstrad computer.
Getting involved
I was also an active member of the British Sociological Association (BSA) Executive Committee, instigating the organisation, FACTASS (Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences), which eventually saw off the Margaret Thatcher-Keith Joseph proposal effectively to remove any notions of personal, health, social and civic education (PHSCE) from the school curriculum: ‘History finishes at 1945’ …. Oh no, it doesn’t, not if you’re teaching a decent school curriculum.
And as we all debated in those difficult times, I was learning for real how the prism of Sociology can offer a focus and analysis which rarely fails to stimulate or challenge.
Work experience
Early on, I was a social worker in Liverpool’s dire council estates, and briefly a youth worker; later I was Research Associate in teenage pregnancy at Liverpool Medical School, and then Head of Health and Social Care at a Merseyside FE college. And in the 1980s and ‘90s I had to take several years out of employment with severe arthritis; so I learnt first hand to cope with illness and disability (which much illuminated my later work as an NHS Trust Non-Executive Director and as a Lay Partner of the Health Professions Council) alongside how, as a volunteer and political activist, to lobby for arts and community organisations, so finding my way into the local and regional centres of decision-making.
Eventually from that arose the initiative to regenerate the area in Liverpool I designated as Hope Street Quarter – and thereby my re-involvement in the whole sustainable development agenda, on a very different basis from when my 1970s membership of Friends of the Earth and Scientists Against Nuclear Arms had been seen as almost subversive. Being Vice-Chair of the North West (region of England) Sustainable Development Group, and a Non-Executive Director and Equality and Diversity Champion of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, are pretty respectable activities.
Widening the portfolio
And in the meantime I have undertaken independent consultancies on Sure Start and local authority Youth Services, helping to realign public service provision; I’m working with Muslim colleagues on a mosque project to engage disaffected young people, and to establish a Foundation for the inspiring black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. I’ve spent three fascinating years as Lay Member of the Defra Science Advisory Council (actually working in the corridors of power of which C.P. Snow wrote so compellingly, not long before I went to Salford all those years ago).
I’m currently teaching practitioners about sustainable communities online for the Homes and Communities Agency Academy; I’ve addressed conferences on my take on regional science and the new knowledge economy (‘Knowledge is like water – it flows where it can…’). I write and am a referee for regeneration journals; I have a very active website; plus I suspect I’m about to become the author of a book on communicating to achieve grounded sustainability.
The personal and the professional
So many hours on trains with the laptop, so much still to do; and now delightful Grandma duties too. My personal life trajectory has always and indelibly framed the professional one, but how else could it have been?
Free-lancing as a social scientist isn’t an easy way to earn a living, but I don’t think that’s the point. Knowledge may be like water, but sociological analysis is pure crystal. It sharpens perceptions and illuminates the social world. That’s invaluable in innumerable ways, not least as a consultant-practitioner and enabler of progressive social change.
This article was first published in the British Sociological Association‘s newsletter for its Sociologists Outside Academia group: Sociology for All, Issue No. 7 (Summer 2009).
Read more articles about Pre-History / HerStory (1950-), Social Science and Gender & Women, and see Hilary’s Publications, Lectures & Talks.

Regional Sustainable Development, Citizens And Strategy

Where to go? ~  green, grey & brown sites Sustainable development is a challenge for us all. If we don’t engage everyone, future generations will soon begin to pay for our neglect. For this reason, there are in the UK Sustainable Development bodies with national, regional and more local focuses. But what should these groups actually do? Here are some of the ideas which I as one individual have thought about as a member of a sustainable development group with a regional remit.
Sustainability As If People Mattered
What are the regional Sustainable Development (SD) bodies in the UK for? Is their role to provide ‘advice’ to politicians and state-employed policy-makers at the regional level? Is it to lead by example and implement programmes of work? Is it to be a talking shop between people representing different ‘stakeholding’ interests in SD? Is it something else altogether? Or is it all of these things?
Meaning and leadership in regional Sustainable Development
My personal view is that good regional approaches to SD are all these things.
Regions in the UK are all of a size (between 5 and 10 million people) where well-crafted action for sustainable development can have meaningful impacts. Regional SD groups should therefore:
* work together, with each other and with others, on the basis of mutual confidence and shared understandings – both of the factors shaping the region’s physical and socio-economic contexts, and of the perspectives of all partners;
* recognise that everyone is a stakeholder in this difficult challenge, not just those who are formally represented at the regional level;
* understand that SD is different from almost all other processes in that what happens now and in the near future cannot be revisited on the same basis and revised at some point later on: SD is globally shaped and uni-dimensional in respect of time;
* also understand that ‘good enough’ and actually deliverable has some chance of success, whilst ‘beyond any scientific doubt’ but not yet actionable is of very limited value in this period of rapid eco- and socio-economic change;
* offer visible and clear thought leadership to ‘people on the street’, as well as more formal and conventional strategic advice to those who formulate regional policy;
* recognise that this is real life; our current insights into the challenges of SD are far from perfect. Nurturing an ethos of shared responsibility in all who live and work in a region is however critical, right now.
Supporting regional approaches to sustainable development
The UK government has been working with the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), Defra and others to promote regional SD. To this end, there does now seem to be a modest level of financial support.
It is nonetheless puzzling that these national bodies apparently imagine that each regional SD group can identify without further effort what the specific or even unique challenges for their region are. Yet, whilst this can be done for matters such as flood risk, the issues are far less obvious in many other respects. Not many policy makers and politicians at the local level, for instance, are even aware of what the risks might be.
Much work still needs to be done to bring together the relevant social, economic and environmental profiles for each region of the UK, and to encourage regional SD protagonists to share pro-actively their assessments and responses to these profiles. Just as UK regional strategies in science remain weak, so do those for SD.
Hearts and minds
There is a compelling case for regional SD bodies to recognise that ‘advice’ alone is not enough – especially in a time of flux for overall regional development policies, even before we come to the ultimately much more pressing matters of global warming, diminishing bio-diversity, economic difficulties (domestic and global) and the general well-being of current and future citizens.
Regional SD approaches are about leading from the front (no-one else has that specific focus and remit…). They must recognise the stakeholding of every person in their region, and find ways to reach them all. This is about encouraging dialogue, sharing good practice, aligning policy and developing the ideas which will help us all to face the future.
To achieve this requires not only analysis of the current regional state of play, but also commitment to help change the cultural climate as well as the environmental one.
Here is one challenge which a rational-legal or scientific approach alone simply cannot resolve.
Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Future Currencies: Carbon? Water? Knowledge?

What will be the fundamental ‘currencies’ of the future? What, if we are serious about global sustainability in all its forms, should these currencies comprise now? It’s likely, if we collectively are ever going to achieve a level of long-term viability for the human race, that we will have to shift the emphasis from money (or the gold standard) to the really basic requirements for life on earth – carbon, water and nitrogen, plus knowledge of all sorts to keep the whole show on the road.

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C. P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ Is Fifty Years Old Today

Science & Music books C.P. Snow introduced the idea of the Two Cultures in the annual Rede Lecture in Cambridge of 7 May 1959. Himself both an eminent scientist and contemporary historian of science, and a novelist, in that lecture he lamented the gulf between scientists and ‘literary intellectuals’, arguing that the quality of education in the world is on the decline. Now fifty years later (as on the fortieth anniversary) a range of commentators continues to debate this claim.
Science & Technology.
Some of us may feel that the great contribution to British culture of Charles Percy Snow (1905 – 1980) was in fact to write novels and commentaries about science which are still remembered for the light they shed on how science works in modern society.
For me that’s certainly true: the dozen novels of the Strangers and Brothers saga (1949 – 1970) and his non-fiction (if not undisputed) accounts of how science ‘works’ – especially Science and Government (The Godkin Lectures at Harvard University) (1961), The Two Cultures and a Second Look (1963) and The Physicists: A Generation that Changed the World (1982, republished 2008) – have helped to bridge that science – humanities chasm.
Focus on the Corridors of Power
These were the books which, as a post-grad student of the sociology of science, opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t even previously known existed: the world of high level science and policy, the world as Snow himself styled it, of The Corridors of Power.
But this focus has been largely lost in the debate about the Two Cultures and the heavyweight attack which the literary critic F.R. Leavis (1895 – 1978) made on C.P. Snow’s thesis a couple of years after the Rede Lecture, suggesting that Snow was a dreadful novelist and rejecting the validity of his concerns that the literary elite was not scientifically literate.
Not always incompatible
Isn’t it interesting in this context that quite a lot of excellent musicians are also good at maths and science; and probably just as many very good scientists are also decent musicians?
There remains as ever a cultural gap between the humanities and ‘science’, but they are both very complex enterprises, and it does not follow that all those in the arts are unaware of science, any more than the converse must always be true.
The nature of evidence
What is more worrying is that sometimes people don’t seem to understand the nature of evidence (not ‘science’) … that whenever possible it needs to be good enough to rely on, before conclusions are drawn.
Of course all evidence in the end is relative, but we have to start somewhere…. the important thing in a democratic society, is that the basis on which we as individuals, and those with influence, choose to decide actions and positions is open to scrutiny.
Moving towards rationality
Slowly, modern western society is becoming more rational and moving out of the mists of myth and cultural comfort zones. There is without doubt a limit to how much this can or should happen, but I think we’re nearer to a balance on this than we were even a few decades ago. Many scientific terms are commonplace in everyday debate.
When C.P. Snow wrote his Two Cultures lecture we as a society ‘knew’ less than we do now. It’s difficult to accept the claim that education for most people is ‘worse’ than it was in the 1950s and 60s – and I say that as the product of an inner-city grammar school of that era. Then we just didn’t perceive the awfulness of the education which most children received; this was still the post-war era when anything was better than nothing.
For most people, cultural memory is it seems very short. We can surely now, despite all the naysayers, learn more, quickly, about anything, than ever before.
The longer view
It’s said that 90% of the scientists who ever lived are here on this planet now. Possibly the same applies to artists, for what it’s worth. But what I’m sure of is that C.P. Snow has excited a lot of people – including me – over several decades, with the debate he sparked.
Snow’s perspective is of course now dated; but those who currently deny that things have got better have (potentially) the benefit of hindsight ,and they need to think quite carefully about whether they are using that very valuable vantage point properly. More people now know something about science and the arts, than ever before.
You don’t need to be able to describe the double helix and the works of great poets in detail to share some mutual understanding about our complex cultural underpinnings.
Evidence and ideas for sustainability
What you do need to be able to do is draw threads together to make sense of where you find yourself in the world… and never has that been more true than now, with the ‘one planet living’ challenges we all face.
Indeed, Lord Snow argued himself that the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.
Bridging the gap
I’m not therefore sure that the most important debate around education can continue now be an arid discussion of so-called ‘standards’; surely it has to be about searching for common understandings? And in that debate C.P. Snow and those who followed have helped a lot.
If the musicians and their counterparts can sometimes bridge the gap, then maybe the rest of us should start to be more positive, and have a go too.
Read more about Science & Technology.
For more commentary on the fiftieth anniversary of the ‘Two Cultures’ Rede Lecture, see e.g. here and here.

The University Of Liverpool Post-Graduate Poster Day

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: 'Poster Day is a rainforest of research diversity' The University of Liverpool has one Graduate School for all disciplines. The School’s annual Poster Day (27 March, in 2009) enables all these fields to be showcased together. I had the happy task with a few other ‘external’ judges of selecting the first-ever prizewinner for the new ‘North West Hub’ award, to emphasise links between academia and the wider world.
Education & Life-Long Learning and Knowledge Economy.
The exemplary aims of Poster Day are to offer graduate students practice in the skills required to communicate to a degree educated public, and to provide an opportunity for them to learn more about research being undertaken in other parts of the University.
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: exhibiting in Mountford Hall
The University of Liverpool Graduate School Poster Day exhibition was fascinating; the cross-faculty range of work under one roof would surely have taken months to get fully to grips with, but we had just a couple of hours. I used the time to talk to some very interesting people, all passionate about their work and the reasons they were doing it.
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 307 ~ Woolly Welfare? Reliably Counting Lame Sheep
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 270 ~ An Empirical Investigation of the Libyan Audit Market & No. 272 ~ Corporate Governance and Firm Value
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 31 ~ Achaemenid Egypt: 130 years of Mystery
The involvement of ‘external’ visitors was a new step introduced this year. Here we see some of the Graduate School Team, including Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with my fellow judges:
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with the Graduate School Team & Poster Day external judges (NW Hub)
But in the end we had to make a decision, spoilt for choice though we certainly were.
The general criteria for the North West Hub overall prize included visual impact, organisation of the material, the accessibility of and rationale for the research, and, last but not least, the enthusiasm and clarity of the researcher him or herself. It seems very fitting that the award was after much discussion made to Andrew Lee-Mortimer for his engineering research project around Design for Sustainability.
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post- Poster Day: No. 85 ~ Andrew Lee-Mortimer: Design for Sustainability (NW Hub prizewinner)
Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning and about the Knowledge Economy.

The Economist Debate: Keynes Vs. The Free Market

The Economist magazine has had an online debate on the proposition that ‘We’re all Keynesians now’. The outcome was not encouraging. By two-to-one that proposition was rejected in favour of a free-market position. Perhaps some economists have yet to learn that the current day physical realities of the context itself keep shifting, and that the science of human behaviour is in the end an art, with outcomes that depend on how we handle the interaction between fact and feeling.
Economics Observed.
In 1936 the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) pointed out that in a downturn the economy is operating below its potential, so expanding demand can create supply, which will in turn give people jobs and more prosperity, thus creating (to quote the view in 2009 of the US economist James Furman) an economic ‘virtuous circle’.
That, says Furman (along with many others) is ‘the paradox of economics in a downturn. Normally, the only way to grow the economy is the old-fashioned way: delaying gratification through reduced deficits and increased savings to encourage more investment. But in a downturn, these steps would just compound the problem and worsen the vicious circle of rising unemployment, underutilized capacity and falling consumption.’
We can argue the toss about how much economic ‘growth’ we should pursue in a world which already uses far, far more than it should of environmental resources, but intentionally causing devastating poverty by restricting government and other large-scale spending – the preference of the free-marketeers and monetarists – won’t help.
Socio-economic expectations and sustainability
Sustainable futures depend not only on what will in theory happen next, but what’s happening now.
There is a cost attached to severe recession: the people whom it hurts on a daily living basis get very upset. And upset people become disenfrachised and disaffected – which is in no-one’s interest.
Those of us engaged in regeneration and renewal know only too well, despite the apparent logic of the free market position, that this cannot be the way forward.
The Economist debate
The Economist debate on the theme that ‘We’re all Keynesians now’ is therefore timely; but disappointingly it transpired to be very largely a discussion – or so it seemed – between a cohort of people who work in the financial sector, mostly in the USA…. and who also therefore have huge influence on the lives of us all.
Doing his best for the Keynesians we had Prof. Brad DeLong, professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and in the Clinton administration a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.
Those opposing the Keynesian position were led by Prof. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, co-author of Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, acclaimed as “one of the most powerful defenses of the free market ever written”, and co-creator of the Financial Trust Index, an indicator of the level of trust Americans have in financial markets. Prof. Zingales’ position was to defend the idea of the Free Market.
Money or men and women?
There was little discussion in the Economist debate of people as people, and almost none about the extraordinarily complex issues we now face in our global physical environment.
Money and Monetarism or at least the Free Market (themes favoured by the Chicago School of economics) were the positions which, from my reading of the proceedings, ruled the day.
But when we start to disaggregate socio-economic outcomes and impacts in respect of the diverse downturn experiences of different people (gender, age, physical state, cultural background and other factors) it is very hard – in both the intellectual and the affective sense – not to go for Keynesianism.
Haves and Have Nots
Other, more austere, approaches may seem attractive in the long-run to people who won’t in the interim really go without; but surely even they recognise that the legacy of a deeply disenfranchised social hinterland – under-educated and sick children, depressed and impoverished families without focus, and all the rest – will not be an advantage in times to come?
We have to keep people in work as far as possible (preferably eco- and socially sustainable schemes), or we risk more than we may gain. It’s how the Keynesian approach is handled that really matters.
Sustainability is no longer a given
Yet most commentators continued to debate as though everything ‘except’ the economy will stay the same. It won’t; and the versatility of neo-Keynesianism surely helps us here more than the strictures of the Chicago School .
Gas /oil, carbon, water… one or more of these will become the major financial ‘currency/ies’ of the future; and my guess is that the new gold-standard currency will soon be simply knowledge.
If economics can’t take account of these factors in meaningful, rather than soul-less, ways, we’re in for a rougher ride even than needs be already.
Keynes was creative
Nor did I see much about John Maynard Keynes the person in this debate.
Wasn’t Keynes a man with a wide range of interests, a member of the Bloomsbury Group (that intellectual and progressive force in the London of the 1930s), married to the ‘Bloomsbury BallerinaLydia Lopokova, a talented Russian ballet dancer?
Wouldn’t Keynes have been worried to read about the sterile dehumanised theoretical models which continue to be proposed by the Monetarists and Free Marketeers? What if anything, he might have asked, has been learnt in the past eighty years?
Imagination in the face of multiple challenges
Only Keynesian-style approaches accommodate the changing realities of life across the globe for millions upon millions of different people (men and women in many diverse cultures, all cruelly hit by the credit crunch) who simply can’t live without jobs of some sort, because they have no resource other than their daily labour.
Surely Keynes would have urged us to use imagination as well as mathematical models, to try to resolve the dilemmas we now face.
How can we cope, all at the same time, with economic crises, climate change, famine and much else, unless we seek the application of intentionally humane and decent economic frameworks?
Decision-makers and destinies
It’s worrying that so few of the Economist’s debaters looked outside their models to the contexts in which we actually live. They are after all also generally the people in the private sector (and in right wing governments) who decide what to do with ‘their’ economies.
The Free Market folk undoubtedly believe they have incorporated human motivation and behaviours into their models. The problem seems to be that – the behaviour perhaps of economists themselves apart? – rationality has little to do with behaviour in reality; and in any case the language of the Chicago School does belies an understanding of the human condition for ‘ordinary’ people.
Perhaps – could it have been said before? – such people simply don’t count in the face of the Free Market?
Humanity and economics are inseparable
Recent experience in developing sustainable communities has seen those in regeneration forced to understand it’s not just logic which influences how people behave; we ignore their humanity and need for stakeholding and inclusion at our peril.
The same applies in the face of terrifying outcomes if we get the economics wrong. A lot more insight into the day to day realities of the human condition is required.
Read more articles about Economics Observed.

John Willman, Tim Leunig And North West England

08.09.27  NWDA AGM 2008 John Willman  Liverpool BT Conference Centre John Willman is UK Business Editor of the Financial Times, so his take on the UK economy was an important contribution to the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference in Liverpool. His message, whilst analytically cautious in the present market chaos, came over as generally upbeat. Would that Tim Leunig, the academic who advised the economic emphasis should Go South, had seen things in the same light. Better surely for the North and the South of England, if we face the UK’s regional (and centralist) challenges, than if we run away?
The headline message from John Willman‘s talk came over to me as: Tim Leunig is mistaken. And the UK economy is fundamentally strong.
Leunig’s recent staggering judgement (in the report Cities Unlimited, by the free market leaning independent think tank Policy Exchange) that in general developers should abandon the North of England for the delights of the Golden Triangle – he suggests more development around Oxbridge, which will supposedly realign the North-South markets – in my view takes some beating for silliness. John Willman appeared to be of a similar mind.
The great Victorian cities
Far from suggesting, as Leunig seems to, that Greater London should become even more overheated, Willman made the case that the ‘great Victorian cities’ are the best equipped for the new ‘global living’. There is, he said, a Kit: some combination of conference centres, art galleries, a four-star hotel, some culture and festivals, and maybe a port.
In these respects the major English cities of the North (of the Core Cities, only Bristol is South) have the edge on continental European cities such as Bordeaux and Porto. They’re also great and fascinating cities (as I too can attest), but they’re probably 15 years behind their parallels in Britain: Their docksides have yet to be developed for the new leisure economies, for instance.
North-South divide: London ‘vs’ the rest
The debate about the North-South divide, Willman told us, is sterile. It’s useless to ‘blame’ London. The UK capital is a truly global city; in this, the North can never expect or even hope to compete. It’s just not a realistic objective to close the gap.
And London, with the mayoral model which elected mayor Ken Livingstone provided, showed how a ‘get things done’ city can operate.
The national and global economy
Despite the panic, only 3% of UK mortgages are in default. Willman judged that Britain is still doing pretty well as the sixth largest manufacturer in the world, a supplier of very high quality products.
In these respects the UK economy is well placed for the globalised world; as is North West England, with its emphasis on the service economies, life sciences, media and creative products and the current / forthcoming energy industries (including nuclear energy) .
The Wimbledon effect
The UK is an open economy, which in some senses punches above its weight. Britain demonstrates the ‘Wimbledon effect‘: we don’t necessarily take the headlines, but we do host the event.
In fact, the consultants Saffron Brand recently reported that perhaps the UK sells its story ‘too well’ – some of our cities are actually more highly rated than cold analysis suggests they might be.
A strong basic economy
Willman’s overall judgement at the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference was that UK economy is ‘so much stronger than 30 years ago’.
Perhaps some of us continue to see the elephant in the room – climate change and environmental sustainability – as an critically important challenge, still to be adequately (and very urgently) addressed.
Whatever… Would that Tim Leunig and others like him were as willing as Willman, on the basis of the evidence over many decades, to recognise that people everywhere have to believe in themselves to make their economies work effectively at all.
Read more about Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions
and about Economics Observed.

Natural Vs. Physical Science Research Points Up Regeneration Added-Value

Science Laboratory with computers Are the Natural and Physical Sciences squaring up for inter-disciplinary combat? Each requires huge sums of money to maintain research momentum, but who decides what research offers best value? How can we measure Particle Physics ‘against’ say, environmental technologies? With their vast ‘pure research’ budgets to secure, perhaps the Physicists will now also discover that evaluating research investment regenerational impacts supports their case.
The rumblings of dissent between the physical and natural scientists are getting louder. There is a view abroad that investment in areas like Particle and Theoretical Physics is too expensive, when we need urgently to develop sustainable, ‘One Planet Living‘ technologies.
Applied or fundamental research?
Today’s Guardian newspaper (6 September ’08) has an article about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – a facility (apparatus or laboratory) in Geneva which will cost £5bn over the next 20 years – which adds substance to these rumblings. Prof. Sir David King, previously the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, argues that ‘big’ money for scientific research is best spent encouraging top scientists to address climate change and related environmental issues; Britain has so far contributed about £500m to the LHC.
The Physicists however argue that thus far we know about only 5% of what constitutes the universe; we cannot stop exploration of the fundamental nature of matter.
Valid views
Both perspectives are valid. But which will hold sway?
The environmental research argument is compelling to people who know little about science, as well as many (often including natural scientists who feel short of funding) who do. The fundamental, ‘science for the sake of knowledge’ position is also persuasive, but perhaps only really to those who already perceive the deep intellectual challenges of exploring the nature of matter.
Political decisions
It was probably alright to leave science decisions to the scientists a century ago, when the Haldane Principle decreed that political involvement in research decisions was unacceptable. But things have changed, and science is now infinitely more expensive than it was then.
How, on behalf of UK plc, should the Government allocate its cash? Decisions on specific scientific programmes are still made by the Research Councils; but overall allocations are decided by the politicians.
The socio-economic case
Some while ago, practitioners in the Arts and Culture began to espouse the ‘socially useful’ position: what they do should be supported because it helps community development and regeneration generically, and makes jobs.
My expectation is that, finally, the physical scientists may catch on to the same notion.
Currently, there is little of any discussion about how investment in Big Science – the large research facility programmes – impacts on the locations in which it is placed. In the future this may change.
Jobs and infrastructure
Some 10,000 scientists are employed by (and were attracted to work in) the LHC; and that’s before we get to the armies of scribes and other support staff required for such a programme. This, inevitably, must have a huge impact on the various economies in which LHC is embedded.
Scientists until now have held the idea that ‘value-added‘ – the additional socio-economic regenerational (as opposed to simply business) impact of research investment, over and above its scientific value as such – is irrelevant to their decisions about which proposals to support. Research funds may be from the public purse, but regenerational impact, we are told, is irrelevant to decisions about where programmes are located.
Shifting criteria
This high-minded dismissal of non-science-related socio-economic impact, I predict, is about to come to an end. Many technologists and natural scientists, like their more arty colleagues, now make compelling cases for how useful their work will be to society, within quite short time spans.
This is the only way practitioners in the more abstract and fundamental physical sciences can go, in terms of short-term impact. They will have to begin, however reluctantly, to acknowledge the legitimacy of questions about the ways their huge budgets can, alongside unravelling the mysteries of the universe, provide improvements to local economies, infrastructures and regional regenerational prospects.
You read it here first.
Read also:
Science, Regeneration & Sustainability
From Regeneration To Sustainability: A Northern Take On Knowledge

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