Demos study the charity commissioned to look at the opportunities and threats to the creation of a more resilient UK economy after Brexit"> Demos study the charity commissioned to look at the opportunities and threats to the creation of a more resilient UK economy after Brexit" /> Demos study the charity commissioned to look at the opportunities and threats to the creation of a more resilient UK economy after Brexit"> BLOG: After Brexit - a fairer, more sustainable British economy? - Charity Times Demos study the charity commissioned to look at the opportunities and threats to the creation of a more resilient UK economy after Brexit">

BLOG: After Brexit - a fairer, more sustainable British economy?

As a foundation, we are interested in both the way the economy works and what it produces and their impact on how we relate to each other and the political decisions we make. And many - people, organisations and politicians alike - are recognising that increasing inequality between economic groups, generations and parts of the country, combined with issues of environmental degradation and the growth of new and more precarious forms of work, are among the less desirable results of our economic system with direct political outcomes.

The key question at the heart of our work is whether they are the inevitable by-products of growth in the UK. Are we naïve to imagine things could be different? Is it possible to design an economy where growth is fairer, inclusive, green and sustainable?

By fairer, we mean distributing capital and assets more equitably and sustainably than at present; by any measure, the UK has become more unequal and our financial decision-making more short-term than in the preceding 20 years. The referendum result and the pattern of voting has suggested to many that this is now having a palpable impact on the debate.

It is this fresh idea - of an economy that could be organised differently - that we are exploring, testing and challenging through the projects we fund, by bringing together new networks, by research and by proactively engaging in capital markets as a positive approach to social investment.

Making the most of Brexit provides a rich overview of the risks and opportunities brought by the Government’s decision to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin the process of leaving the EU. Such considerations will be vital in determining the Government’s negotiating positions, attitudes and the direction of travel for the incorporation of EU Directives into the UK legislative canon. However, the question about the ultimate destination remains: what kind of country do we want our economy to enable us to be?

Our own programme of grants and investment, which explore different approaches to economic institutions and activity, suggests a few additional dimensions alongside those put forward by the excellent Demos report. An economy that distributes capital, non-financial benefits and balances current needs against future requirements more effectively has the following characteristics:

Scale – a review of the literature suggests producing goods and services at an appropriate scale to support balanced and diverse sub-national economies. Greater diversity within the economies of regions and nations within the UK will do much to mediate some of the sectoral and geographical risks.

From the analysis contained in the report, the economy in Wales is particularly vulnerable to economic shocks following Brexit. Work already underway by the Institute for Welsh Affairs is aiming to create solutions to address industrial policy development in Wales that are appropriate in scale, focus and ambition to the long term needs of Wales. The consultative and inclusive approach may serve as a model to other regions and countries within the UK similarly seeking to reap the Brexit dividend.

Reduce reliance on fossil fuels and build capacity for communities, regions and countries to control and develop appropriate infrastructure - energy, transport and waste - to manage resources more effectively. The sectoral analysis highlights the considerable risks to key elements of the infrastructure from loss of EU labour (transport) and exports (energy, transport, water & sewage); building more “clean” and “green” on-shore capacity in the next two years will do much to create sustainable economies.

As a foundation, we are beginning to explore the use of our capital base to increase the scale of community-controlled renewable energy. This is through direct investment in enterprises such as AWEL community renewables, as well as challenging the utilities sector to incorporate such schemes in their business models through engagement through our mainstream investment portfolio.

Develop social capital as well as financial – the political unrest we are currently experiencing leading up to the referendum and in its wake, makes this point most starkly. Unless civil society, Government, think-tanks and other economic actors engage with the task of building effective and trusted institutions in which people have a voice but also can learn and understand, economic interventions will continually fall short. Interventions like the RSA’s Citizen’s Economic Council provide a methodology for building social capital, trust and addressing complex economic challenges.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy is tackling both the issue of building social capital as well as community energy through its work with low income rural communities. They make a compelling case that increasing social and financial capital have at their hearts the need to increase people’s ability to make effective choices based on their own needs and contexts. The ability of communities to control and manage their energy consumption and potentially production seems an important mechanism for creating a sense of shared enterprise.

Adaptive capacity – the ability to adapt, innovate and learn - is a key characteristic the UK will need to develop as we move through the process and beyond. This suggests there will be failed policies and interventions as well as successes. What we have learned from being a pioneer in the social investment marketplace is that the key is moving the risk of failure to the bit of any system most able to bear it; the answer is never communities or individuals most at risk of market failure. This report creates some useful frameworks that map the geographical and policy areas that partners must take care to protect.

Agriculture and food production emerges as a particularly vulnerable sector in many places in the analysis. Sustain and Shared Assets are both questioning the resilience of existing food and farming models as well as looking at ways that land-based economies might be adapted to support sustainable local livelihoods.

The real strength of Making the most of Brexit lies in its chorus of expert voices, highlighting risks and fears as well as opportunities that have the potential to flow from Brexit if the optimal negotiating path might be found and followed. Most of the attention to date has been on the role of Government and in particular, Whitehall. This report brings to life the range of institutional and civil society players that have key parts to play in creating an economy that works for everyone –

- local authorities in improving democratic structures and approaches;

- charities and social enterprises as ways to define the social goals, the new models and the vision for social and economic renewal;

- businesses and business leaders as key players in setting the structures of accountability and corporate governance which protect UK workers and industries from the risk of a race to the bottom;

- us all as citizens, consumers, producers, communicators and residents to engage with institutions and opportunities to make our collective voices heard.

In the post Brexit world we’re entering, a vision for change will be vital. The insight gleaned from this report demonstrates the invaluable contribution civil society can make to creating that vision, most importantly one that is owned beyond Whitehall. Over the coming years, the foundation will devote its resources toward working with the full range of partners to develop a vision for the economies of the British Isles that maximises the opportunities and manages the risks as we move into this new era.

Access the report here.

Danielle Walker Palmour is the director of the Friends Provident Foundation

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