Social differentiation in later life: the interaction between housing wealth and retirement in the UK and Japan

‘Social differentiation in later life: The 2nd UK-Japan international collaborative workshop exploring the interaction between (housing) wealth and retirement’

By Misa Izuhara, Professor of Social Policy

Who supports you in your transition to retirement? Is it the state, your employer or are you left to yourself to manage? Do you have sufficient financial resources including your own home to choose when to retire? Do you need to have paid work or will you look for different social participation such as volunteering after retirement? The process of retirement is becoming more complex and differentiated in terms of timing and financial resources. Active ageing policies in many advanced economies encourage older workers to remain in the labour market. However, the reasons and opportunities to do so depend on both market and institutions (e.g. retirement age, social security, attitudes of employers) as well as individual capital (e.g. health, skills, financial resources).

After a long break from the first workshop in Tokyo due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we re-convened via an online platform to explore those questions at the second collaborative international workshop on 17th September 2021. This workshop is part of the UK-Japan collaborative project ‘Social Differentiation in Later Life: Exploring the interaction between housing wealth and retirement in Japan and the UK’ which brings together scholars and stakeholders with the different disciplinary backgrounds of social policy, economics and management to examine the relationship between housing wealth and the extending working life of ageing baby-boomers in the contrasting welfare systems of the UK and Japan.

Five papers were presented covering inter-related themes:

  • Matt Flynn (University of Hull) talked about older workers’ mid-career job change in the UK and Japan and how institutional structures like internal and external labour markets; regulations; unions and jobseeker support facilitate and/or inhibit older jobseekers in their pursuit of meaningful second careers. Using Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and illustrating his arguments using interview data of older jobseekers in the two countries, he discussed how older jobseekers were able to mobilise resources to make a successful job change. He concluded by noting that people who leave the Armed Forces after the age of 50 in order to pursue a civilian career might be a useful case study for comparing the experiences of people making mid-career job changes across different countries.
  • Jo Stokes (Community Services Manager, Age UK Bristol) highlighted the importance of a holistic approach to retirement in her presentation “What have we learnt from Post-Retirement Opportunities (PRO) programme”. PRO was a project, delivered by LinkAge Network in 2018-19, supporting people who had recently retired, were approaching retirement, or facing redundancy in later life to manage the transition from work to retirement. The programme delivered free workshops, events and work placements to help older workers explore opportunities and discover what they wanted from the next phase of their life. This presentation argued the importance of social participation and connections for older people beyond paid work in their post-retirement age and the role of the voluntary sector supporting the process.
  • Widening wealth inequalities within and between generations was the theme of the following two presentations. Drawing on the data from the Japan Household Panel Survey, Shinichiro Iwata (Kanagawa University) and Junya Hamaaki (Hosei University) examined the impact of unpredicted shocks to house prices on labour supply decisions among older homeowners. They found that Japanese older homeowners tended to remain in the labour market even when they experienced house price inflation. Instead of leaving the labour market, older workers tended to reduce their working hours. However, such practice differs by income level and employment status since reduced hours are only observed among older men in regular employment with a high income and women in non-regular employment. The presentation raised further questions regarding the use of housing wealth in later life including the availability and actual use of equity release schemes.
  • While the Japan paper discussed the impact of the economic crisis on house prices, James Smith (The Resolution Foundation) revealed the uneven impact of the COVID-19 crisis on wealth accumulation between households and between generations. The COVID-19 crisis is the first UK recession in 70 years in which wealth has increased but these gains are concentrated among households at the top of the income distribution. This partly reflects the effect on active changes in households’ savings and debt, varied by age but also by the labour market experiences and personal circumstances of individuals. For example, younger people without children were most likely to report that their savings increased during the pandemic (‘forced savings’ given the lockdown restrictions on social consumption). But changes in the value of household wealth were more affected by changing asset prices than by active changes in savings and debt. UK house prices are up around 10 per cent and equities are more than 20 per cent higher. These asset price increases drove an even larger intergenerational wedge in wealth shock. During the pandemic, adults aged 55 and older accrued 63 per cent (£559 billion) of the total increase in British household wealth (£900 billion). By contrast, those aged 20-40 accounted for just 13 per cent (£117 billion) of the total wealth rise. These large, and generationally uneven, increases in wealth mean that the picture of stalled wealth progress for younger cohorts is unlikely to come unstuck anytime soon. By way of inheritances, they are also likely to exacerbate absolute wealth gaps within younger generations, which we expect to open up in future.
  • Brian Beach from University College London (formerly International Longevity Centre, UK) presented three pieces of comparative work between Japan and the UK in relation to ageing. The first example covered work published in Ageing & Society, which included seven advanced economies and examined policies related to pensions and retirement and their relationship to labour market participation in later life. Scored across four dimensions each for early retirement and later retirement, Japan and the UK were quite similar in their scores, despite having very different rates of employment among older people. This may suggest that cultural factors related to work play a significant role, above that of policy.

The second example covered a fact-finding study in Japan in May 2017, which highlighted different initiatives to address wellbeing and healthy ageing. Genki-zukuri (health creation) stations are one community-based approach in Yokohama that helps older people set up, develop, and run health-based activities and exercises. Days BLG!, in Machida City, was also featured for its innovative approach to providing day care to people with mild and moderate dementia. With links to local businesses and organisations, the service ensures that participants are engaged according to their capacity, with the group reflecting on their activities at the end of each day.

The third example highlighted the work from the UK-Japan SWAN project (Social relationships and Wellbeing in Ageing Nations). The importance of social connections for wellbeing and other outcomes in later life cannot be underestimated, but challenges appear when conducting comparative analyses in the social realm due to the complexity of measuring social connections. The critical message from this work is that people from different groups, backgrounds, or cultures may view the exact same question differently; ignoring this potential difference risks drawing invalid conclusions from comparative work exploring best practice in policy.

The presentations brought together different issues associated with ageing and work such as work-related transitions, post-retirement opportunities, and widening wealth inequalities, which generated lively discussion among the panellists and participants. Retirement processes and decisions are often not experienced or made independently from one another. The workshop indeed highlighted the dynamic interactions between (housing) wealth and retirement trajectories and decisions. Moreover, we drew interesting comparisons by exploring the topics between Japan and the UK since institutions (social security, retirement age), the housing and labour markets as well as cultural factors related to work and home ownership combine to produce differentiated practices of late career transitions and retirements.

This international project is funded by the UK Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) UK-Japan Connections Grant. The Principal Investigator is Professor Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK. The project members include Professor Shinichiro Iwata (Co-I) (Kanagawa University, Japan), Professor Matthew Flynn (Hull University), Professor Junya Hamaaki (Hosei University, Japan) and Professor Atsuhiro Yamada (Keio University, Japan).

 

Contact:

Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol (E: M.Izuhara@bristol.ac.uk, T: @MisaIzuhara)

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Marvin Rees: Leading a city in turbulent times

Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, was recently invited to speak to our current MSc Public Policy students on the theme of ‘Leading a City in Turbulent Times’. In this blog, student Isabella Bennett summarises the key points from the lecture.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to tear through the globe, the mainstream media focuses on what international leaders are doing. It is very rare that city governance level is analysed in response to various crises thrown up. From this backdrop, Rees suggests that leading a city in turbulent times is just as important as centralised governance.

Turbulence

Rees highlighted that when we define turbulence, it is when it affects wealthy people. Certainly, issues that throw lives into turmoil are continuing to be swept under the rug, until the white, straight, middle-to-higher class man is impacted. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted trade and finance; thus, the news cycle was dominated with stories about the turmoil caused by COVID-19 on trade. In comparison, long term themes of racism, homelessness and domestic violence (key issues spanning generations) are not considered as key points of turbulence until direct attention is paid to them. However, the effects of these issues are felt across large sways of the public.

It is from this that city governance can aid individuals in overcoming turbulence in their lives. Centralised government is increasingly not equipped to deal with these challenges, as the policy cycle is constantly moving. Rees also draws on how an institution can look strong, and resistant to tension, but will crumble when turbulence is introduced. This was the case in the 2008 financial crash, as the previously strong financial market crumbled. Certainly, disinvestment in a service increases its fragility. Indeed, we all have seen that COVID has led to instability in the NHS, as we continue to stay home; and this is felt no stronger than at the local level.

Leadership

It is from these points of turbulence, that we look at city-level leadership. Leadership, Rees commented, takes two forms: short term — responding to immediate crisis, and long-term — building a city that is resilient to future shocks. Certainly, we have seen that the world has become increasingly globalised. Goods, services, ideas and workforces are able to move across the globe at a greater speed than ever before. It is because of this that city leadership is important both nationally, but also internationally. Too often, cities are discussed, but not given an equal footing in policy discussions, yet the policy impacts how the city functions and the lived experiences of its citizens. This was certainly the case during the pandemic, as sovereignty was seated in Westminster to make decisions on lockdown restrictions and tiers.  Rees states that leadership needs to go beyond boundaries as the nature of policymaking changes.

Future planning

In times of turbulence, it is understandable that trust is diminished. Thus, Rees made a point that being clear on values brings trust, and this trust becomes an important commodity when making plans. Certainly, a loss of trust comes from politics impacting how the people respond to systems. Rees directly mentions the impact the media has on this trust, as many people’s interaction with politics is through journalistic interpretation. Thus, a key aspect of planning comes from restoring trust from the public, through the media. Future plans, when leading a city do not have to be concrete, but it is important to be adaptable to changing contexts and respond to how this may change ideas for the future. Rees draws on the One City Plan for 2050, and how this has been changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the stalls on industry due to lockdowns.

What can be taken from this?

From Rees’ points above, we can see that city leadership takes a back seat in the discussions on key points of turbulence in our lives. This is despite the citizens living in the city, and their lives being thrown into difficulty. As a result, city leadership must focus on supplying a clear message for the citizens, to instil trust for the future. Moreover, Rees calls for city leadership to play an increased role on the international stage, citing the examples of New York’s mental health policy and Helsinki’s functional city policy on how we can learn from city governance to deal with the long-term issues facing citizens. This is coupled with a lack of trust in centralised government over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Find out more about MSc Public Policy and BSc International Social and Public Policy at the University of Bristol.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Social Disinvestment State Unleashed

Dr Noemi Lendvai-Bainton, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Urban and Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies, discusses the recent Hungarian election and how it reflects the trend towards political populism & the rise of illiberal democracies.

After a very long and rather Kafkaesque election night in Hungary, FIDESZ secured a victory for a third term of governing with a two-thirds majority. After eight years in government, the vote for the radical right in fact increased, with both Fidesz (49% of votes) and Jobbik (a far–right party with 19% of the votes) gaining more votes than four years ago. Tellingly, Orban in his victory speech thanked ethnic Hungarians living abroad (largely dual citizens of Romania, Ukraine and Serbia with voting rights) who ‘defended Hungary’, he thanked his Polish friends and Kaczyński, and he gave thanks for all the prayers (with no end to religious references).

The campaign was a single-issue, emotively hostile and negative campaign, focusing on the migration issue and financier/philanthropist George Soros, that erased public policy as a matter for debate all together – the end of an era when negative campaigns can’t be electorally successful, it seems. A déjà vu of the Brexit campaign in which the migration issue captured the public discourse.

This Hungarian result talks to a lot of different issues. It reflects a deep division between the capital Budapest, where the opposition won by a two-thirds majority, and the ‘country’ (countryside) where Fidesz won almost outright. It reflects on the widespread and significant institutional ‘reforms’ in the country which confidently delivered votes in small towns and in villages through channels of appointed officials, public finances, and EU funds (no need for subtle pressures here – civil servants were asked to take a photo of their ballot papers and email it to a central account; Kindergarten teachers were told to hand out Easter chocolate to parents as a ‘gift’ from Fidesz). The election result also points to the fact that corruption has become normalized – despite unprecedented levels of corruption concerning both EU funds as well as public funds, the government secured its third term.

No longer can one think that populism is a short-term political project. Orban can now thrive on the basis that his legitimacy with a high turn-out (70%) at the election makes him a stronger leader than many of his counterparts in (Western) Europe. His anti-EU rhetoric is expected to intensify in the coming months and years and he is already working hard on building a new transnational coalition against ‘liberal’ Western Europe and to evict all NGOs from the country that have political missions.

Read more…

This article was first published in Social Europe on 19 April 2018.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

No single food or nutrient is to blame for obesity, so what is the right balance?

Dr Laura Johnson, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, discusses her new paper in which she assesses the impact of dietary patterns on obesity and how modelling may help influence change in both personal habits and public policy.

No single food or nutrient is to blame for obesity. There so many routes from diet to overeating and weight gain, and in real life foods and nutrients aren’t eaten on their own. So, it’s misleading to look at foods that way in research, it’s the overall balance of diet that matters.

I realised this a while ago when I  used detailed records of food intake from children age 5 and 7 in the ALSPAC cohort to generate an overall diet score that predicted obesity later on. I thought that eating more fat, less fibre, and having a more energy dense diet (more calories in each bite) would all feature in a diet that fuels obesity (or an ‘obesogenic’ diet). I used reduced rank regression or RRR (a pimped up version of factor analysis, see excellent explanation by Andy Field here) to find the best combination of foods to capture differences in the fat, fibre and energy density of the children’s diets. RRR generates a score based on what you eat. It’s calculated by adding up the intake (grams/day) of 42 groups of foods that are weighted for importance and a higher score means your diet is more obesogenic. I showed that children with the highest pattern score at age 7 were 4 times more likely to have too much fat by the time they were 9 years old (other researchers have since seen similar associations in adolescence and adulthood).

A pretty strong result, right? But, what use is a score made up of 42 foods? Isn’t it too complicated to ever be the basis for changing behaviour? I don’t think so, not if we use computers to deal with the complex calculations. All we need to know is what foods have been eaten (by individuals or populations) and then the obesogenic score can be computed automatically. We would then have a single score indicating whether the overall balance of your diet (or the Nation’s diet if thinking in policy terms) is more or less obesogenic. A total diet score would be better than current measures which only focus on fruits and vegetables or sugar-sweetened drinks, which let’s be honest, no one believes are going to solve the obesity epidemic on their own!

In our latest paper we asked “Do the same foods make up an obesogenic diet regardless of whether you are young or old, boy or girl, rich or poor?” (Because the ALSPAC score might only matter to children living in Bristol in the late ‘90s) “Who in the UK has a more obesogenic diet?” (Because those people need the most help to change) and “Are diets getting more obesogenic over time?” (Because that might suggest national obesity policy isn’t working).

To find some answers we used diet diaries from nearly 10,000 adults and children taking part in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey between 2008 and 2014. We repeated the RRR in different groups and found it was remarkably stable – the same foods came out as most important to an obesogenic diet over and over again. So, we can feel confident that the obesogenic pattern score and that way foods are weighted by importance reflects the way everyone eats in the UK today. The most and least obesogenic foods we found were (sized and in order of importance):

In terms of whose diets are most imbalanced we found massive social gradients with those in manual jobs and households earning less than £15,000/year having the most obesogenic diets, which mirrors social inequalities in obesity prevalence. Among children, diets became more obesogenic between 2011 and 2014. Among adults a more obesogenic diet went hand in hand with more time spent watching shows on TV/Laptops/Tablets, less physical activity, and eating takeaways more frequently.

All these trends are a starting point for targeting and testing interventions designed to make small changes across a range of foods to shift the balance of diet. By using our score, it could be possible to gauge how multiple changes to policy or what we eat adds up to a less obesogenic diet and with luck prevent obesity in future.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Shaping successful smart cities

Professor Alex Marsh, Head of the Centre for Urban and Policy Studies (School for Policy Studies) and Co-Investigator for the ESRC/AHRC/JRF Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, responds to the report produced by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities.

Last month the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smart Cities launched a report entitled Top Tips for City Mayors. The report collated tips provided by members of the group offering key insights, priorities and issues to consider when approaching Smart City development, policy and practice. The APPG report offers more than 50 tips provided by 17 member organisations.

Stephen Hilton and I have taken a look at the tips presented in the report and provided an overview of its key messages. We take the opportunity reflect on some of the points made in the report, note some of the tensions, and highlight issues that deserve greater attention. This analysis is available in our own report: Shaping successful smart cities.

Quite a lot of the Smart City conversation can get bogged down in the digital technologies quite quickly. One of the APPG report’s headline messages is that the Tipsters give a much higher profile to citizens – focus on how smart technologies can meet needs and deliver benefits. The report thus aligns with the more citizen-centred approach that is very much at the centre of Smart City debate right now.

Stephen and I summarize the key messages from the APPG report under five headings: citizens; resources to do the job; priorities for action; data; and partnerships. We then give a flavour for the sorts of arguments being made by the Tipsters under each heading. Download our report to find out more.

In our subsequent reflections we highlight a number of issues that the APPG report does not dwell on but which, in our view, are absolutely vital.

We note that while the rhetoric of the Smart City has embraced the importance of citizens that is not the same as ensuring that citizens are meaningfully involved in practice. Plenty of effort will be needed to make ‘citizen-centred’ development a reality rather than a slogan.

The issues of leadership and governance of the Smart City are increasingly recognised as important, but there is much hard thinking still to do about effective leadership styles and appropriate governance structures and processes.

Smart City approaches are pursued at local level for a variety of reasons: embracing digital is perceived to offer a diverse range of potential benefits. Local smart city policy often has a mix of objectives. Yet these objectives are not necessarily entirely complementary. Hence, we would argue the potential for conflicting priorities needs to be acknowledged and managed.

There is currently much advocacy in favour of Smart City approaches. There is, we submit, an element of hype and hyperbole. The benefits claimed for such approaches run quite a long way ahead of the benefits that have so far been demonstrated. As one Tipster observed, “most potential applications are not yet commercially proven”. That doesn’t mean that benefits are not there to be derived from smart. But it is important to look beyond the hype to probe the when, how and for whom value will be generated. Similarly, there are hard questions to be asked about sustainable business models: who is going to be paying to keep infrastructure and services operational?

Finally, privacy and security are a key component of public debate about our digitally-saturated world. They are equally important in thinking about the Smart City. Applications typically make use of big and open data, which can be gathered from sensors or captured as a byproduct of citizens’ day-to-day online activities. How to we ensure our uses of such data are viewed as legitimate? And how can we ensure that Smart City infrastructures and the data derived from them are secure?

These are not necessarily new questions, and they are not questions to which are no answers. But they need to be kept front and centre of the Smart City conversation.

The APPG Top Tips report offers a quick route to gaining a flavour of current thinking on the Smart City. Our message is to that we need to make sure we keep out eyes on some broader issues of fundamental importance, alongside the specifics of how smart might be put to work for the benefit of citizens.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Policy makers do not need to introduce formal structures to achieve political innovation

Drawing on a case study of English Devolution in the UK, Dr Sarah Ayres, Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research, examines the role played by ‘informal governance’ in shaping political innovation.

Informal governance can be defined as a means of decision-making that is un-codified, non-institutional and where social relationships play crucial roles. Research evidence suggests that an analysis of informal governance is essential if we are to fully understand how political innovation occurs.

The issue of informality in policy-making is particularly timely as public managers seek to manage multifaceted policy problems within contested and uncertain environments. One view is that political decision-making has increasingly moved away from the national level of government to a more spatially diverse, temporal and fluid set of arrangements. From this perspective, policy-making is increasingly taking place in arenas where there is no generally accepted rules and norms according to which politics is to be conducted. Some argue that it is the surge of ‘wicked problems’ that have prompted this type of leadership, as multiple actors come together to solve complex policy problems. These developments raise important questions about how informal governance operates in this transforming policy landscape and the impact it has on political innovation. Yet, there is comparatively little research on the role of informality in policy-making, partly because of the complexity of studying it.

The case of English devolution in recent years provides us with an interesting example of the complex interrelationship between formal and informal policy making. In the case of English devolution, evidence confirms that informal governance has created an ‘innovative space’ to explore new possibilities and develop trust between critical actors. Elected politicians had a pivotal role in creating an ‘innovative space’ for senior administrators to develop new high trust relationships and working practices. Back stage, administrators were using informal governance to (re)configure institutional arrangements.

Evidence also confirms that informal governance was used to enhance the autonomy and discretion of administrators, leading to an ‘innovative oriented culture’. This shaped both the intention to be innovative and the creation of a permissive environment for change. Informal governance was used by a closely-knit group of well positioned and highly skilled boundary spanners who were motivated to use it in pursuit of securing government objectives. It was used as a tool to break deadlocks, promote political momentum and complement a weak formal bureaucracy. The ‘formalisation’ of informal working at critical points was utilised to secure political innovations that had traction.

Finally, research data confirmed that informal governance led to more responsive problem solving and a shared commitment to new policy goals. Central-local relationships were viewed as more collaborative and there was enhanced diversity and creativity in local policy outcomes. However, while informal working was viewed as a route to policy innovation, some respondents acknowledged the negative impacts regards transparency and accountability. Whitehall officials could be accused of using soft power to enforce the ‘shadow of hierarchy’ in nebulous ways, thus undermining the ability of local actors to secure real influence.

This research tells us that when formal structures and procedures are weak, political innovation can still thrive. Indeed, operating ‘back stage’ offers a number of distinct advantages for political innovation, although these must be mitigated against the pitfalls associated with increased informality if policy effectiveness is to be achieved without undermining democratic legitimacy.

This post is taken from a recent article by Dr Sarah Ayres entitled ‘Assessing the impact of informal governance on political innovation’ published in Public Management Review. This was written as part of a Special Issue on ‘Political Innovation’ and edited by Professor Eva Sorensen (Roskilde University, Denmark).

Dr Sarah Ayres has also co-edited a number of other reports on the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities, including ‘Policy-making ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage: Assessing the implications for effectiveness and democracy’ and ‘Territory, Power, Statecraft: Understanding English Devolution’.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Corruption research: Hunting for glimmers of light in the gloom

Dr Caryn Peiffer, Lecturer in International Public Policy and Governance in the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research, and her colleague Rosita Armytage of the University of Birmingham reflect on findings from their current project Islands of Integrity.

In most countries that struggle with endemic corruption, discussion of corruption is everywhere. It dominates national newspapers and is the subject of political infighting and point-scoring between politicians. Corruption scandals and allegations are discussed in family homes, social gatherings, and on street corners. Strong opinions and rumours are easy to come by.

But the challenge for researchers is to find people who can shed objective light on where and why it happens. Corruption is located ‘elsewhere’ – always attributed to other sectors, organisations, units, or individuals. For obvious reasons, few will admit their own involvement.

We thought we would have better luck focusing on anticorruption success stories. If people are generally willing to join in a conversation about corruption but reluctant to blame or attribute responsibility, we thought – perhaps naively – that it might be easier to start a discussion about what is going right. Not so.

We have just completed the second phase of our Islands of Integrity research project. In the first phase we scrutinised data from Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer and statistically identified potential anticorruption success stories. These are sectors within countries – whether the courts, education, or healthcare, for instance – where the data show a significant reduction in bribery, despite static or rising levels of bribery in all other sectors. In the second phase we have contacted people familiar with each of our potential cases in an effort to vet a handful of these apparent success stories to assess whether they are likely to represent a real reduction in bribery on the ground.

The third phase will focus in depth on whether and how bribery reduction was achieved. In the process of narrowing down to two cases for this fieldwork phase, we’ve had some surprising reactions from a handful of in-country experts.

For a start, most people we talk to are adamant that things are just as corrupt now as they ever have been, regardless of what the data might appear to say. Sectoral experts (NGO officers, advocacy experts, practitioners, academics, and specialists such as criminologists) in almost all the countries our project has looked at have expressed significant reluctance to discuss or even examine data which might suggest that there has been a reduction in bribery in their sector.

Many of those who have been willing to look at what the data suggest have pulled no punches about how suspicious they are of its validity and statistical soundness. Some have refused point-blank to discuss what factors might have been at play during any given period when there was an apparent reduction in corruption. And some, of course, simply didn’t reply. Why, we find ourselves wondering, is it so hard to get a conversation going with the people who might know what really works – and why – in the fight against corruption?

What might all this hesitancy be about? Some clues have been offered by our more communicative (though no less sceptical) respondents. We discovered, for instance, that if we were very clear that our data might only be detecting temporary reductions in corruption, and didn’t necessarily suggest that these improvements had continued or were ongoing, some of our respondents were more willing to get involved and investigate further.

Critically, as other correspondents pointed out, the sectors we are looking at – ranging from land use and health services to policing – are often the focus of intense political contestation. For police forces in particular – our focus in three of the countries we considered – there is the real danger that data that indicate even a temporary improvement might be appropriated to neutralise anti-corruption work. It might be commandeered for public relations efforts by incumbent administrations, or by anyone with a vested interest in prolonging and sustaining corrupt practices.

We wonder if all this adds up to a kind of pessimism. Perhaps experts who feel that there is still a long, long way to go on the anti-corruption trail find it hard to recognise even small or temporary improvements, particularly where apparent shifts are marooned in a sea of nationwide and worsening corruption.

Of course, it is also possible – as one of our most vehement correspondents has told us – that nothing has changed and our data is deceiving us. It may be that the success we think we have identified is an illusion created by poor data, and statistical outliers are, of course, notoriously clouded in this type of suspicion. But it may also be that those fighting corruption on the ground are fearful that any stories about corruption reduction will undermine the urgency of their work and erode the political will to combat the very serious corruption that still remains.

Some pertinent questions have recently been asked by Duncan Green about how the anti-corruption movement can sharpen up its act. But it turns out that researching corruption is almost as challenging as reducing it. And researching success can be particularly politically challenging. Seeking to locate improvements in contexts of ever-worsening official abuses of power can easily appear foolhardy, naive, or downright counterproductive. As researchers, we must consciously balance the need to find out what works in the fight against corruption with the imperative to do no harm.

Nevertheless, we will continue to investigate these glimmers and gleams of apparent improvement further. If we do discover some small – even if only temporary – improvement in one location, it might provide a clue to the circumstances, policies, or politics that can reduce corruption in other contexts too.

This post is cross-posted from the DLP blog (posted 25/07/17).

(Image: Darkday via flickr under Creative Commons)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Bristol City Office

Tessa Coombes, PhD student in the School for Policy Studies, former councillor, ex-policy director at Business West, and part-time blogger considers the new plans for the City office and the impact this will have on the way Bristol is governed and the people who govern it.

city-office
Marvin Rees addressing his new office. (Image courtesy of Tesssa Coombes)

There’s a new approach to partnership working being proposed in Bristol.

Living as we do in the most centralised state in the western world, many different approaches have been taken over the years to try and break down barriers, grab additional local power and move away from the silo thinking that dominates our political and administrative systems. However, few of these have managed to make any significant difference to policy and decision making at a sub national and local level.

Recent years have seen more debate about devolution, leadership and collaborative governance. This has manifested itself in discussions around ‘place-based leadership and power’ where different ways of working are being identified to address the challenges faced by localities. There’s also been a change to the way some cities are governed, with the introduction of directly elected mayors providing clear, accountable local leadership with enhanced powers.

Robin Hambleton in his book “Leading the Inclusive City” (2015) sets a conceptual framework that identifies five intersecting realms of leadership: political leadership, public managerial/professional leadership, trade union leadership, business leadership, and community leadership. He suggests that where these realms overlap we create innovation zones where more creative and inventive behaviour takes place, particularly where it can be focused on aspects of unified action.

It is this very concept that is about to be tried in Bristol through the creation of a City Office. It’s an idea that seeks to address some of the challenges faced by the public sector, with ever decreasing budgets and reducing powers. It is about partnership and collaborative governance, bringing organisations, individuals and budgets together to tackle the issues that we have failed to tackle before, where collaboration and joint working are essential, alongside the willingness to be creative and innovative.

Whilst there have been many partnerships developed over the years in Bristol, some that have worked, others that have been less successful, somehow this new partnership feels different. Perhaps the increasingly challenging context for change is one reason why it feels different this time. With a new form of governance in the city, a directly elected mayor who can lead with greater power and greater visibility, maybe there is now the direction and clarity the city has needed to make this work.

There is also the ‘shadow of austerity’ across the whole of the public sector and local government in particular. The council in Bristol once again faces severe cuts that mean its ability to do anything beyond deliver on statutory services is significantly reduced. That in itself is a big restraint, when you are facing big problems in the city that cannot be solved without significant time, effort and resource. Yet, there is a history of partnership working in the city that has successfully delivered change, with business, public and voluntary/community sectors coming together to make things happen.

Bringing these elements together, in a new partnership approach, could provide the impetus needed to make a difference.

The idea is to enable the city to develop solutions to the issue that matter most, issues that to date we have failed to adequately address. It is also about learning, experimenting and innovating, about not being too afraid of failure and being brave enough to take risks in order to find that set of solutions that do work. The city office is unique in its aim of changing the way we do things, by working together and applying collective resources to the challenges we face, by taking a truly ‘total place’ approach to city development.

It will operate at both a strategic and tactical level, bringing organisations together on project activities that deliver in the short and medium term as well as focusing on creating a shared vision for the future. The concept of additionally is critical, all the projects and activity of the city office need to bring with them the ability to provide something extra as a result of working together.

In addition to the project activity, the Mayor introduced the idea of a ‘Single Plan for Bristol‘, a strategic level shared vision for the future of the city, in a similar vein to the OneNYC Plan. A bold idea that has the potential to really make a difference to the key challenges we face as a city. This is where the city office can bring people and organisations together to work collaboratively to set out a long-term simple but ambitious vision with measurable and achievable short and medium term targets. It should be about addressing the root causes of problems and providing sustainable solutions, and not ducking the difficult issues. It is also where we can set out how we address the ‘big’ issues, like how we eradicate inequality and poverty in our city, providing something that everyone should be able to sign up to.

There’s a long way to go on developing the city office and this new approach to ‘place-based leadership’ but so far the signs are positive and the potential is definitely there to influence and create change.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Are we really witnessing a great ‘devolution deception’?

Ben-HarrisonjpgAs part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science, a debate took place in Bristol on 9/11/15 on the impacts of directly elected mayors on cities, including contributions from Baroness Barbara Janke, former Leader of Bristol City Council and Member of the House of Lords, Thom Oliver, Political Scientist, UWE, David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol, and Ben Harrison, Centre for Cities.  A lively debate included reference to George Osborne’s plans for cities and city regions, and particularly whether we are witnessing a ‘devolution deception’.

Here, Ben Harrison argues the case against such an interpretation. 

To dismiss the Government’s devolution agenda simply as a “deception” is to opt out of a debate at the very time that real change is finally possible.

I was recently in Bristol earlier this week speaking about the merits of directly elected mayors, when I heard a familiar refrain during the audience Q and A. Far from being a significant redistribution of power from the central state to local areas, the Government’s entire devolution agenda, the attendee said, was nothing more than a “devolution deception”.

This is far from the only time I’ve heard this kind of critique put forward, not least from the national Labour party and its new leader, and earlier this week from the leader of the Liberal Democrats. But does it really stack up – is the Government really deceiving people when it comes to its intentions on devolution?

Let’s examine the biggest concerns that tend to underpin claims that devolution is but a fig leaf for other, hidden policy agendas.

  1. The Cities Bill does not specifically commit the Government to provide any additional powers to local government

A key part of the parliamentary opposition to the Government’s agenda has been that despite the rhetoric, the Devolution Bill does not identify a list of specific policies that will be devolved to a specific set of places, and therefore it won’t allow for the devolution of anything at all.

In fact, the opposite is the case. The Bill is a deliberately generic and enabling piece of legislation that essentially allows for the devolution of almost anything – housing, health, welfare, policing and more – to a local level, and allows for different settlements to be reached in different places depending on local appetite and capacity. The only limit on devolution under the model will be the willingness and ability of local and national politicians to reach agreement on what will be included. And of course the experience in London, where the powers of the GLA has grown significantly since the turn of the century, suggests this picture can and will change over time.

  1. The Government is driving this process from the top down

Yet despite the potential expansiveness of what is on offer, many still struggle to equate the current policy process with devolution because they see the Government setting the agenda and criteria for what will or won’t be devolved within the framework set by the Bill. If it’s a ‘top down process’, how could it possibly be devolution?

The major factor that has led to the current round of city-region deals, featuring more substantial devolution than previous attempts to decentralise, has been the active involvement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. George Osborne has had to deploy his own substantial political capital to set clear criteria that must be met to achieve devolution, and most critically, in order to prise control away from Whitehall departments (including the Treasury) who instinctively look to control and constrain any moves to push power down from the centre.

That’s why it is not contradictory for the process of decentralisation to be set out and driven from the centre – in fact, in a country where central Government holds almost all the power, it is necessary if we are to see tangible progress made. In 21st Century Britain, the dominance of Whitehall departments, coupled with the lack of power held by UK cities, means that only the authority of the highest offices in the land can drive the devolution of real power to cities and city-regions across the country.

  1. The process has taken place entirely behind closed doors with no public scrutiny

A separate concern relates to the lack of transparency that has characterised the deals currently being negotiated between the Government and city-regions. Unlike in previous rounds of city and growth deals, proposals have not always been made public, and with goalposts shifting, councils have struggled to communicate to their communities and colleagues in the private sector what devolution will mean for their place.

These concerns are understandable and should be addressed as a priority in the months to come – indeed already places are engaging in more detailed consultations on new arrangements for their places. But it is also important to recognise that these deals are being negotiated by politicians at a national level with a manifesto commitment to do so, and locally elected politicians with a mandate to represent the interests of their constituents. Equally, while other approaches may have been possible, the reasons why the process has to date been undertaken in this way are also understandable.

The Government has deliberately eschewed setting out a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to devolution, and has encouraged places to come forward with their own proposals in time for them to be implemented during the coming Parliament. Agreeing these proposals requires political compromise and a willingness to take on, share, and give up different powers and responsibilities. The political reality is that these are often difficult and uncertain conversations that benefit from a degree of privacy, to allow for more honest and frank conversations to take place. It would be much harder, if not impossible, to conduct these negotiations in public.

  1. This isn’t about the devolution of power, but the devolution of budget cuts

Finally, and perhaps most significantly in terms of an accusation that the Government has a “hidden agenda” when it comes to devolution, is the issue of cuts to local government budgets. Many believe that the Chancellor is in essence giving a little with one hand, but taking dramatically more with the other, while leaving councils with the responsibility to deal with the consequences for public services.

There can be no doubt that local government has undergone significant resource reductions since 2010, and as we heard from the Chancellor this week, there will be more pain for the sector to come in this Parliament. Observers are right to suggest such moves signal a concerted effort to change the size and scope of the state, and that doing so raises profound questions regarding the future of public service provision. But to suggest this is some kind of hidden agenda is, I think, misjudged.

Firstly, the Chancellor advertises his ‘austerity credentials’ proudly – they are a key part of his own personal brand and no one can have been surprised that the forthcoming Spending Review will feature more cuts. Secondly, whether one agrees with the ambition or not (and many do not), I think the Chancellor sees devolution as a necessary and complementary factor required to deliver a smaller state. The thinking here is, yes budgets will be dramatically smaller in the future, but the ability of (and imperative on) local leaders to drive efficiencies and new models of public service provision will be enhanced. Of course this is a political and financial judgement, and the merits of it can and will be contested, but on the Chancellor’s terms at least, devolution is not a distraction from austerity, but actually goes hand in hand with it.

It is to be expected that many are suspicious of the impact devolution will have across the country, and that many remain sceptical regarding the Government’s commitment to truly give power away. We have, after all, been here many times before, and failed to see control wrestled away from the central state. Equally, given the scale of public spending cuts planned, concerns regarding the future provision of public services are also understandable.

Yet to dismiss the Government’s devolution agenda simply as a “deception” is to opt out of a debate at the very time that real change is finally possible. It’s true that the prizes on offer today may seem modest, particularly when compared to the kinds of powers wielded by cities in Europe or America. But after decades of centralisation, the real questions those with doubts about the current agenda should be asking is how can we make sure that the incremental reform that is on the table today is delivered; how do we ensure that places do have greater ability to shape the way in which the forthcoming cuts affect them; and how do we ensure that, bolstered by newly established city-region leadership across the country, the devolution deals of 2015 mark the beginning of the story, not the end.

This was first posted on the Centre for Cities blog.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Finance, housing and the ageing population

Alex Marsh, Professor of Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies urges a systematic, urgent, and holistic approach to thinking through issues related to housing, care, and ageingAlex Marsh

When we think about the financial aspects of housing, care and ageing it is essential to approach the issues holistically and to embed our understanding of the housing system in broader developments across a range of policy areas. These include developments in education policy affecting student debt levels, responses to changes in the labour market, pensions policy, social security policy, and broader macroeconomy policy. Earlier this year, for example, the FT reported on some ECB analysis arguing that Eurozone quantitative easing was responsible for fueling housing market bubbles in a number of countries (paywall), including the UK.

Policy in all these areas — and more — is reflected in the way in which the housing market behaves. And the way in which the housing market behaves is, in turn, reflected back into these other policy areas. Holding on to these interconnections is crucial.

Some would argue that the UK housing system is fundamentally broken. Others wouldn’t want to go quite that far. But many would agree that the system is decidedly unwell. The recent Foresight report by Michael Edwards rightly argues that we need to recognize that the problems are multidimensional and the solution therefore needs to be multi-faceted. We face acute short-term p
roblems triggered by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) layered on top of long-term problems generated by the unique combination of characteristics of UK housing market and Westminster housing policy. (more…)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email