Public Policy and Devolved Governance: Facilitating the Social and Solidarity Economy in the Liverpool City Region

From : Guidelines for Local Governments on Policies for Social and Solidarity Economy, UNRISD

Helen Heap, Alan Southern, Matt Thompson, 2020

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National policy support in the United Kingdom for the social and solidarity economy is complex, often caught between central and local interventions, both direct and indirect. Recent legislation has sought to change what all businesses can do, to update what was seen as anachronistic company law and to encourage – through reduced administration – a more enterprising mindset. Directly, the SSE has experienced legislative changes to the forms and types of organisation the government wished to encourage. This has stimulated a very particular idea of the social economy underpinned by an overriding ideology of less business regulation and a more entrepreneurial SSE sector.

Support for the SSE has, in recent years, taken place against a backdrop of austerity and public sector expenditure cuts. There were two further pieces of legislation worth noting for their impact on the local SSE during this period. The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 required public service providers to consider economic, social and environmental value in their procurement decisions. This provided opportunities for local governments to support the SSE. Locally, one district authority took the lead in this regard. Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council produced a Social Value Framework to embed social value accounting in their procurement arrangements, and was regarded as a local leader in this field.

A second policy from national government has the potential for more profound impact on the SSE. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 established 10 city-region Combined Authorities in England, with eight having a directly elected “Metro Mayor”. Liverpool City Region was established with a Combined Authority and Metro Mayor, both of which have taken a lead on facilitating the local SSE. The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, for example, is seeking to incorporate social value in all policy, aiming to have a direct positive impact for the SSE especially in terms of accessing public markets and protecting community land and buildings.

The potential from devolution for the SSE cannot be overstated in the city region. As the Combined Authority released its local industrial strategy, the SSE was recognized as an important part of the wider city region’s attempt to build a more inclusive economy. The Metro Mayor recognizes the SSE as a partner needed to achieve city-region objectives, and the Combined Authority has worked with practitioners to provide new means to collaborate. New governance arrangements have produced, for the first time, a political voice for the sector through the Liverpool City Region SSE Reference Panel. New collaboration has led to an important finance initiative to deliver better forms of social investment into the sector.

Overall, however, the UK remains a highly centralized state and this limits what can be achieved by the local SSE. In Liverpool City Region the SSE is shaped by its own political history, with both radical and reformist behaviours. SSE actors have been quick to seek collaboration with local authorities, sometimes to their own detriment as funding has been reduced. Many have sought to reiterate their independence even as they co-partner with local agencies. Some sections have shown their own entrepreneurial spirit, shaping local community responses to austerity, and have been quick to respond to the Covid-19 public health crisis. Much remains to be done to face the needs that exist in the city region, though – both the needs of communities, and the help required to ensure the development and successful growth of the SSE.

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