Tag Archives: Municipal Enterprise

Localism is a global issue

15 Apr

 

Localism is the proactive administrative, economic and societal empowerment of places and their people. Across the world it is a force that battles against the natural centralist instincts of national governments.

Some societies are comfortable with federal structures that allow degrees of local independence. Others, more centrally directed, are far less tolerant of local deviation.   At this time the UK is rapidly discovering that greater localism is a key to future international prosperity.

This shift towards stronger, more-empowered, local leadership has many champions across the political spectrum – and they are supported by many public and private actors.

Opposing these champions are the massed ranks of established national forces and major utilities. They worry that fragmentation leads to a loss of control, a slide towards fiscal indiscipline and greater complexity.  Trust and experience in a common cultural adherence are key issues – defining a sense of identity.

But, while the shift has been debated for years as an issue in domestic politics, it is international trade that drives the more recent place-making emphasis. Localism is a global issue.

At this time when the UK national government is entangled in disentanglement from the European Union, central policy developers (with their dependence on macro-economic approximations) are painfully aware that their science is largely based on the aggregation of many local economic communities each with diverse needs and priorities.

Onto this stage now enter the long-promised metro-mayors and cities emboldened by new concerns for life after Brexit. Add in some fracturing of old political orders and the scene is set for a considered reordering of governmental structure – or possibly opportunistic power plays.

At its best Localism is about people and places. The people comprise residents, visitors and commuting employees. Businesses may create jobs, pay local property taxes and have expectations of local infrastructures but their employees, often commuting from far and wide, have no local democratic voice where they work. Heavily dependent on the redistribution of national taxation, Local Authorities are reduced to insignificant branch agencies with occasional competitive battles to adjust some funding formula that rarely reflects local priorities. Some places are sufficiently enlightened to spend public money predominantly with local suppliers – thus investing in greater local money circulation before it is syphoned away to big brands and Treasury coffers.

Local levers of power are minimal and this frustrates local leaders whose citizens expect them to promote local economic and social well-being. Woe betide, however, those places that fall markedly below common (nation-wide) expectations and risk outraged complaints of ‘Post-Code Lotteries’ and Daily Mail headlines.

Yet we know that some places are more successful that others. Some places seem to attract inward investment in ways that others do not. Some seem able to retain and employ their young people whilst others see only a drift away from home. Some places have a track record in creating new types of employment but others never recover from the demise of old industries. Some seem destined to be losers and never manage to catch the funding streams.

But we also know why some fail where others do not. Some attribute the differences to location, weather, historical accidents, insensitive policies or outmoded formulaic funding rules. Some places have been over dependent on outmoded industries and have not seen far enough ahead to plan a different future. But, most of all, the performance variations come down to the quality of locally collaborative leadership.

This much was recognised by Lord Heseltine’s Local Enterprise Partnerships – bodies that were, alas, quickly dominated by big-brand placemen – public or private. Fostering collaborative and constructive local leadership takes years – way longer than electoral cycles. And it demands a real understanding of local ecosystems.

All that was known and understood way before creation of the European Union. Pre-dating that by several hundred years, cities across northern Europe created the Hanseatic League – a trusted trading network that enabled deep relationships, economic wellbeing and cultural confidence.

The Hanseatic League still has echoes in modern times; embedded in an airline name and in the Business Hanse – an active network of enterprises seeking deeper cross border trade. UK cities, mostly facing the North Sea, very clearly understood that confident trading needed much more than a simple market – it demanded trust and whole community support.   And building on those formative experiences the ‘new’ place-based strategists can understand why some communities succeed where other decline.

This is is why, instead of just puzzling over raw economic data and demographics, successful communities are now being assessed on the deeper quality of local programmes that cut across the top-down sector silos. Creating and sustaining a range of these initiatives requires long-term dedication and a spirit of willing community collaboration – from schools to hospitals, from transport providers to colleges and universities and, vitally, full engagement with really local small business ventures. Hence the recent calls for greater recognition of local business/community responsibilities.

All that, of course, would be helped by a central government that saw its role as an enabler, nurturing local differentiation, instead of a state supervisor determined to scold any local experiment that falls a little short of the lowest common denominators of cost-constrained public services.

All this we know from the evidence of hundreds of places around the world that have defied expectations and breathed new life into their communities.  Building on capabilities that leverage the Smart’ technological enthusiasms of major cities, we are now seeing recognition of a newly empowered breed of ‘Intelligent Communities’. Some achieve this because, simply, “we’ve had enough” and others through inspired local leadership – but, crucially, all are making a name for themselves on the global stage.

It’s a puzzle for sure when we have an abundance of ‘fairly average’ national economic data but very little local data granularity to enlighten aspiring city leaders.

So when the central ‘industrial strategists’ scratch their heads and our political classes try to imagine how to recover from natural disasters or self-inflicted wounds, this time, we’d hope, the old sectorial orders must be refashioned – supplemented and overlaid with place-based and inclusive, locally-led, economic and societal nutrients. Tolerance and flexibility for their encouragement from the top down will (or should) seek accommodation with local homegrown energies.

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This article was written as a discussion paper for the Global Summit Steering Group 2018.

Blessed are the Place-Makers

2 Apr

To cynics the notion of changing what counts, and what is counted, is a classic goalpost-shifting exercise. From the top-down perspectives of macro-economists, barring a few definitional disputes, the numbers revealed by, say, VAT returns are solid. On the other hand, anyone rooted in the economic and social behaviors of local communities observes an extensive colour-chart of micro-shades. Both, however, would agree that, whilst artistically fashionable, citizens and their clustered communities could do without those distressed finishes.

As searchers for new growth strategies loudly sing cuckoo, Whitehall’s acknowledgement of the shortcomings of sectoral economics has been a long time a-coming in.

Call it devolution, call it empowerment, call it subsidiarity, call it place-making, call it Inclusive Growth, Municipal Enterprise or Regionomics, but whatever way you call it there’s no denying that economic growth and social development cannot be commanded from on high but must be created through local leadership.

That much, of course, was foretold by Lord Heseltine and his LEPs, The RSA’s City Growth Commission, the champions of Metro-Mayors, endless analysis by the Centre for Cities and myriad reports that sit uncomfortably with deep-set post-80’s dismissal of Local Authority competencies. And austerity certainly didn’t help the Northern Poorhouse.

But this new place-based impetus is not now an optional ‘nice to have’. The Brexit notion of tearing up the book, throwing the pages in the air and seeing what could be done with the pieces heralds a remarkable opportunity to do things differently and to do different things. Whitehall may not yet be entirely convinced and parliament may resist a more federal diminution of their imagined importance but, glory be, the people have spoken.

What is needed now is a clear understanding of how to better nurture place-making, local economic growth and community development. There’s no shortage of ideas that are soundly based on experiences from around the world.

Of course there’s a shortage of local data evidence – but no shortage of imagination.   Some cities and communities prosper whilst others decay. It’s not difficult to understand why. Assessing the fabric of local economies means taking account of cross-cutting programmes that bind those vertical economic sector silos together. The priorities may vary to match local needs but local leadership needs a plan.

So, as summer is a-coming in, we say ‘blessed are the place makers’ for they are inheriting the opportunity to build a better future.

 

We were ‘Sixteen, going on seventeen’: growing through turbulent times

2 Jan

hi=-tech buildingAs 2016 fades away and we embrace the New Year, we take a moment to reflect on the seismic shifts that make any predictions seem hazardous.   Some of those upheavals arrived packaged with polarized opinions and dubious evidential credibility. Other shifts gained far less media attention because they do not yet lend themselves to snappy headlines or slogans. These ‘straws in the wind’ are however just as real and may well have far reaching impacts – not least in the management and wellbeing of local communities.

To capture the uncertainty of what community leaders are heading into, lyrics from the Sound of Music may seem a very unlikely text. In the musical, young Leisl places her trust in someone just a year ahead – not much older, certainly no wiser and about to betray her trust.  Convenient calendar coincidence aside, the sense that we are now sailing into the latter stages of ‘troublesome teens’ is a handy metaphor for anyone concerned with the local development and wellbeing of communities. And in these turbulent times, those UK readers who are concerned will find it challenging to fathom the realities, see bigger pictures or plan for longer-term futures.

You might imagine that vast years of experience would suggest otherwise. Our diverse UK communities are, however, more Unique than United and, when academics study community wellbeing, the current research papers might sometimes seem to have been written on (or of) a different planet.

Take, for example, John Lauermann’s Municipal Statecraft: revisiting the geographies of the entrepreneurial city. It is, undeniably, a splendid work with many interesting insights.   But many UK readers will find his observations on post-growth diversification of entrepreneurial policy impacts to be several light years ahead of prevailing realities in our over-centralised State.

He contends that the search for economic growth is no longer the primary or dominant rationale for local initiatives.   Narrowly-defined growth goals, he argues, have become just one of many local policy objectives across a wider societal spectrum.   In truth there may well be far greater Municipal Enterprise being practiced across the UK but, with few exceptions, local leaders dare not highlight these efforts for fear of (a) harsh media scorn, (b) an irrational blame culture and (c) central financial penalties for daring to find creative alternatives to austerity cuts. Look no further than the momentary media outrage about hospital car-parking charges.

Lauermann’s acute observation that the historic rationale for municipal enterprise (boosting economic growth) has evolved into a more diverse and imaginative focus across multiple aspects of public/social policy will, however, mean little to those who have yet to fully embrace Heseltine’s (‘No Stone Unturned’) 2012 notion of Local Enterprise Partnerships. Being this far behind the curve might, however, provide scope to leapfrog the learning process but only if local leaders adopt a less insular perspective – a notion that, with few exceptions, runs counter to prevailing politics.

The theme of an evolution in economic thinking is also evident in Erik Beinhocker’s ‘Evonomics’.   His Oxford-based New Economics programme has a mission to identify and address the large gaps between prevailing economic theory and reality. He does not underestimate the scale of the challenge. So an explicit, widespread use of new economic approaches to policymaking may require some education of citizens, the media and politicians themselves on the risks of overconfident top-down solutions, and the importance of small-scale failure as a way to learn and prevent large-scale disasters.” His theme of multiple and local small-scale experimentation (inevitably with some failures) is, he would contend, vastly more likely to induce success.

There is no shortage of instructive reading for the UK’s local leaderships. The RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission, led by Stephanie Flanders, still bangs the drum for local economic growth but sees that ‘place-based’ growth as moderated in ways that would counter run-away social inequalities. Inclusive growth is about living standards and earnings, as well as in-work progression and tackling long term unemployment. It offers a social return in helping more people participate meaningfully in the economy, but it also has an economic rationale, with the potential to address some of the key drivers of the UK’s productivity puzzle.”

The Inclusive Growth Commission’s final report in March may be a useful stepping stone but no-one should underestimate the scale of political and public education that will be needed to counter four or five decades of ill-informed governance.

Similarly Mariana Mazzucato’s work is gaining traction but the fact that her ideas are often described as radical is a sure indicator of the depths to which economic and regulatory management has sunk in the hands of unconstrained admiration of over-simplistic, supposedly ‘free’, market mechanics.

In the old musical we may have pitied teenage Leisl’s naivety, but we should now also feel for city and community leaders, who must cast around for clues in these uncertain times. Who can they trust? What are the local priorities?   A recent discussion note written in preparation for the 2018 Global Summit pointed out that in the last six decades the meaning of the phrase knowing your place has shifted from an admonishment (not speaking out of turn) to an empowerment enabled by the advent of access to Open Data and better visualization tools.

Fortunately for the UK, a few sharper minds are becoming focused on the need for renewed effort to stave off what many see as an evolutionary crisis – a crisis for which the populism of the Brexit and Trump votes are just symptomatic.   Perhaps one of the best (and most readable) starting points would be Rick Robinson’s ‘Three Step Manifesto for a smarter fairer economy’.

In this summary of the state we are in, he finds little reason to blame our ills on ‘other’ (external) presumed malevolent forces but understands our own home-grown failures. “The failure to invest in local services and infrastructure . . . . is caused by . . . the failure of national government to devolve spending power to the local authorities that understand local needs.”  Dr. Robinson is very much aligned with the RSA’s Inclusive Growth work when he calls for legislation ‘to encourage and support business models with a positive social outcome’. His perspectives are informed by his work in the ‘smart city’ arena but he has grasped that those inspiring innovations should be driven by a far higher purpose than mere technological novelty – and in this he sees Open Data as making vital contributions to local leadership priorities. He is not alone – as the unusually articulate and constructive post-blog comments testify.

All of these references point towards something that has been happening for decades but has been largely ignored by dominant central governments. Central policy development deals in averages. Local needs and impacts are lost in ‘rounding errors’.  Is it any surprise that the effectiveness of top down directives is so often far less than their instigators hoped? What, however, has been going on are remarkable but largely unsung local heroic efforts to cope with those top-down determinants.   And those local inspirations can be observed in communities the world over and, more frequently than they might admit, within in many very large companies: progress despite the senior management.

 This local experimentation, this inventiveness, this local understanding of needs and priorities is in some countries constrained by central authority and a general lack of leaders who dare to be different. Many brave experiments may fail but really great local leaders do not buckle under the barrage of ignorant media bullies. That is why the creation of metro mayors and increased devolution of powers to local communities will be both significant and challenging.

For the last few years the charge into local projects has been led by technologists keen to create a market for their ‘smart’ systems and devices. Their enthusiasms have not been misplaced – great benefits are evident – but, as local leaders gain strength, as economists gain greater insights and as citizens begin to speak up, there is a renewed interest in learning from others.

For the past two decades the Intelligent Community Forum has researched these issues. Every year a few hundred communities from around the world volunteer their experiences for assessment in the hope that their efforts will be recognised and honoured. Through that evaluation process the contenders themselves gain great insights and understanding.  From those that apply, the selection of the Top 21 and then Top 7 provides a vast archive of evidence of the characteristics that, in aggregate, indicate the emergence of truly intelligent communities.  The indicators gleaned over the years have six or seven dimensions – the themes today being much broader than in the earliest research.

The underlying focus in on the quality of locally managed programmes for Connectivity (the extent to which digital broadband infrastructure is fit for future purpose) is now joined by assessments of local programmes for:

Digital Inclusion (or Equity) – the great effort of bringing the whole of society into a digitally-enabled world without creating yet further divisions and inequalities.   In the UK the work of many charities (such as Good Things Foundation) and housing associations are delivering brilliant programmes.

The generation of a Knowledge Workforce – has impacts encouraging inward investment/employment and discouraging migration of young people. This is becoming a major focus for Local FE Colleges and partnerships with enterprise and public service agencies.

The extent of Innovation Capacity – particularly in the local provision of low-cost workspaces, mentoring facilities and investment finance to enable locally-grown new business ventures.

Local programmes for Sustainability and Resilience – whether designed to counter environmental threats or to ensure rapid responses to disasters, these local initiatives have become a key leadership priority.

The visibility of local needs as revealed by Open Data – particularly in (but not limited to) the public realm – has been hugely boosted by (a) improved visualization tools and (b) a massive growth in Data Journalism expertise.

And finally, Local Advocacy –championing pride in the local community and not shrinking from the reality that it sometimes needs more than the local football team to establish credentials on the world stage. Some might regard this ‘showing off’ as a most un-British and immodest capacity but leaders are defined by their leadership – and that often demands that they cross the boundaries of departmental silos that leave universities, hospitals, schools and energy companies to survive in separate boxes.

These primary indications of ‘Intelligent Communities’ may not exactly align with John Lauermann’s ‘Municipal Statecraft’, but they do provide a framework for local priorities – a policy mix that rises above many well-meaning but merely average national initiatives.  Local priorities must inevitably adapt to meet local needs but, when the mayors, civic and communities leaders come together to share their experiences, the common ground is extensive and is dominated by that theme of developing and experimenting with imaginative local ideas and initiatives that would never occur to any centralised authority.

So, as we contemplate an uncertain 2017, we can at least be sure that the opportunity to bring the Intelligent Community Forum’s Annual Global Summit from its home in New York to the UK in 2018 will provide a great spur for many community leaders the world over.  We are now ‘seventeen, going on eighteen’ but hopefully just enough older and wiser to cope with the year ahead!

 

Migration: the issue that goes away and doesn’t come back

4 Jun

Migration issues are rarely far below the surface in the current neverendum debate. Overcrowding is cited as an inevitable consequence of the migrant influx but no one questions the underlying causes of congestion.

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

To what extent are overcrowded cities and the pressures on services and infrastructure the result of our own homegrown policies over which we have complete control?

Parag Khanna in his new book ‘Connectography[1]’ observes the growth of megacities – increasingly coastal megacities – and, like the UK’s Centre for Cities and the RSA’s City Growth Commission, regards that growth as inevitable – a long-term trend towards the supposed richness of culture and economic efficiencies of scale.  The drift within England from North to South and the consequential pressure on London and the South East has at least been recognized as in need of remediation – hence the Northern Powerhouse concept – but the remedy proposes further growth of great cities from Manchester to Newcastle via Leeds, and HS3 must go to the back of queue behind HS 2 nowhere near as important. The 2007 Treasury White Paper on subnational growth pointed in sensible directions but fell amongst the chaos of global economic calamity (and bonkers bankers) in subsequent years.

But what if our smaller towns and communities in the vastly greater hinterland were better enabled to be economically thriving without driving their citizens away to distant cities never to return? While we bemoan the pressure of overcrowded capitals do we spare any thought for the depopulation of vast tracts of land and market towns or the demands on road and rail travel for commuters who cannot find work near home?

This is our internal migration issue, the imbalance of rural and urban economies. It affects many countries – which is why you can buy a second home for next to nothing in rural Northern Spain or the middle of France. We read of massive effort and creativity being poured into solving the challenges of making megacities habitable. That’s no bad thing but let’s not kid ourselves; we choose to huddle together. That internal migration towards ever-more complex cities (mostly internally-displaced economic migrants) far exceeds any issue of a few hundred thousand refugees arriving from elsewhere.

Local Authorities can and should rise to the challenge. They may not have mayors like megacities have mayors but they surely know what is needed to bring the children (and jobs for the children) home. They understand the consequences of neglect.  It is time for Municipal Enterprise.  The issue that went away but now needs to come back requires a multi-year round of rural renewal.  The investment will pay dividends – not least in the greater resilience of cities!

Discuss.

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[1] Connectography: Mapping the Global Network Revolution, Parag Khanna, pub: Weindenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, ISBN 978-1-474-80423-9

 

 

Smart Cities/Intelligent Communities – policy directions

29 Apr

hi=-tech buildingI spent nearly the whole of last week in Dubai – speaking to business leaders from India about the development of Intelligent Communities.  My address was based on a paper The Prospects for Places and Communities – IOD Global Convention April 2016 – a substantial reworking of an earlier paper from 2015. I also chaired a panel discussion with the MD of a risk management consultancy, the Head of HR for an oil & gas company, the MD of an education and teaching service and a Professor from Greenwich University UK.   The theme concerned Excellence and Innovation in a Digitalised Economy and the context was the role of enterprise in the development of Smart Cities throughout India.

The common experience was that while many ‘Smart’ pilot projects had raised wider interest there was concern about the local leadership strength for more substantial development programmes. There is, of course, huge diversity of policy direction and expertise within the Indian National, State and Local Government levels because priorities and awareness levels differ widely. But this observation applies equally across the UK and other parts of Europe.

One of the downsides of being away from base for nearly a week is the email mountain that builds up – but that stack of emails also reinforced my view that technological enthusiasms are, certainly in the UK, getting in the way of local leadership clarity.

https://khub.net/web/paul.thompson.1/blog/-/blogs/digital-transformation-the-rise-of-the-digital-city

https://www.itu.int/en/itunews/Documents/2016-02/2016_ITUNews02-en.pdf

http://www.telecomtv.com/articles/iot/bristol-is-open-preparing-the-ground-for-the-programmable-city-13507/

http://www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk/forums/agenda/uk-smart-cities-2016-agenda.pdf

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/business/research/city-redi/news/2016/april/rcuk-urban-living-partnership-call.aspx

https://theknowledgeexchangeblog.com/2016/04/18/delivering-digital-differently-how-should-we-provide-public-services-in-the-future/

https://www.publictechnology.net/articles/opinion/smart-cities-next-stage?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Email&utm_content=Daily%20Email+CID_715d86dace54ded75cbd55a8df3f23a8&utm_source=Email%20newsletters&utm_term=Smart%20cities%20the%20next%20stage

http://www.telecomtv.com/articles/iot/digital-greenwich-using-iot-to-connect-people-not-their-toothbrushes-13483/

https://www.publictechnology.net/articles/news/european-commission-unveils-data-support-package?utm_medium=email

National Innovation Plan: call for ideas – Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – Citizen Space

In amongst these references you can, if you search hard enough, find some pointers towards the sort of goals that communities might reasonably expect. However the overall theme is technological – the means – rather than discussion of the purpose of all this effort.

In addition to summarizing the principles that underpin the development of Intelligent Communities I spent much time discussing with business leaders where they saw the boundaries of their business interests.   It is clear from a great many case studies that enterprise involvement in matters normally assumed to be in the public domain, and particularly the engagement with Universities and Colleges, plays a huge and often decisive role in local economic and societal development.  That scope for Public/Private engagement is hugely under-developed in India as much as in the UK.

Also lurking in my inbox was an interesting paper ‘How to Measure the Economic Impact of Universities’.  This methodological overview set out the complexity of the challenge but also usefully pointed to a range of measures that could be further developed.

There is a great deal of work needed in the UK to further define the principles for local economic and societal development and to build local leadership expertise.   Needs vary, leadership contexts and infrastructure challenges are hugely diverse and there can be no simple model for nation-wide application. But taken together the underlying objectives can form the basis for a cohesive development structure.

The time has passed for yet more pilots and demonstrators of clever technologies.   There is massive scope for setting out guidance and best practice mission indicators for communities of all sizes.  It is now time to encourage local leaders to develop more ‘intelligent’ frameworks for future local economic and societal developments.

 

The Collaborative Economy – and digital themes for 2016

30 Dec

Computer Weekly has reprinted an article that I penned when considering NextGen and Digital Challenge themes for 2016.   It’s impossible to rank their significance but in top place I have the Collaborative Economy – collaborative skills being now recognised as a fundamental for all manner of ventures, community projects and public sector initiatives.

New metrics for capturing Quality of Experience will gain supremacy over the poverty of legacy QoS measures (see previous post 8/12).   That trend will inform regulatory efforts – not least in considering digital futures.  Much will depend on regulatory expectations of (and insistence on) corporate capacity to collaborate.  In many ways Collaborative Advantage will outplay old notions of  Competitive Advantage.

Open Data will also contribute to a richer 2016 – particularly in Health and in Municipal Enterprise.  Here again collaborative skills will fuel progress – and once again leave non-participants wondering why their grand schemes fail to deliver.  Under the spotlight of new evidence, Municipal Enterprise will, in 2016, become openly and honestly discussed.   The ‘art of the possible’ will no longer be assessed by an elite but liberated by data journalists and the shift towards more Open Corporate Data as enterprises begin to catch up with the public sector.

Fiber optics

And finally 2016 will be the year when the UK wakes up to the realisation that digital access infrastructure investment is much more than searching for quick fixes by trying to adapt legacy networks designed for analogue telephony.  Digital access design is significantly different – and the entire UK economy demands fresh (collaborative) future-proofed approaches.

This Box Contains Up To Ten Eggs

4 Jun

[This script was written in preparation for a UK conference on digitally-enabled economic development.  This version does not include presentation guidelines and other stage directions]

 

egg box This box contains up to ten eggs.

These are no ordinary eggs. These are Broadband Eggs. Enjoy – they usually come in a Free-Range Broadband Egg Box, probably from a trusted supplier of some other trusted supplier. Be sure to read the small print and limitations of liability.

 If you buy this box of eggs please be aware:

  • the box may not be full
  • some eggs may be cracked
  • box & contents not suitable for long journeys
  • some may have been eaten by strangers on the way home
  • each egg may be of variable quality
  • some may already be scrambled

But, we believe this box of eggs is all you will ever need. 

We do not accept returns of more than one egg at a time.

Terms and Conditions apply.

 

There are many beneficial aspects of Municipal Enterprise – the increasingly evident focus on growing community development and local economic well-being. But possibly the most under-rated impact of Municipal Enterprise will be a major revolution in business and political honesty.

But – woah – before I go on – I must explain what I mean by Municipal Enterprise. We can come back to broadband egg boxes later.

Municipal Enterprise is not an oxymoron.   Municipal Enterprise is (A) local public/private investment in local enterprises, (B) generating local employment and local economic growth, (C) enhancing community well-being, and (D) often linked to essential infrastructure and community services needs.

Moreover, the profits of Municipal Enterprise can be returned to the public purse for local re-investment and replacement of local taxation such as property rates.

With devolutionary aspirations espoused across the political spectrum, folks are beginning to remember what made this country a great place before politicians imagined they needed to run everything from the centre.

More than a century ago, The Great Stink of London was in large part solved by Joseph Bazalgette’s sewers – the construction of which explains why some old waterfront properties are now on the inland side of The Embankment.

Look at the great Town Halls of Victorian times and you are looking at Municipal Enterprise writ large – built on the profits of local enterprises.

You may not all have heard of the Municipal Works Loans Board – the Treasury controlled lender for infrastructure works. You may not have heard of the Local Government association’s new Municipal Bonds Agency – designed to provide cheaper and more flexible finance for Local Authorities.

You may not be aware of how much Municipal Enterprise is practiced – not least because much of it is kept below the radar for fear that Whitehall will seek to claw back the profits from Local Authorities.

Such are the post-80’s ingrained attitudes towards public expenditure and wholesale deference to private enterprise, that, even on electioneering doorsteps with evidence of local tax reductions, Municipal Enterprise is somehow viewed askance.

Even though Municipal Enterprise is accountable through the ballot box, citizens seem to imagine that distant shareholders, motivated by short-term profits, can exclusively ensure better local outcomes attuned to needs of local people and businesses.

They may of course be right. It would be prudent to question the current investment expertise of Local Authorities who for so long have been reduced to service agencies for the delivery of national policy.

Citizens may find it difficult to understand something that seems to contradict the supposed ‘natural order’ of things – except of course that there is no natural order that does not reflect local community wishes and local needs to grow employment, retain and accommodate its children for future prosperity.

So far, in the UK, the devolution debate has focused on countries, regions and major cities – territories where the implausibility of Whitehall micro-management is increasingly obvious.

And the responses to that debate have been both fairly unimaginative and ignorant of unintended consequences.   Does major city A declare UDI and create major tax headaches for businesses and postcode lotteries for citizens needing services? Who draws their boundaries?

Municipal Enterprise is not an argument about tax and spend or ‘optimising’ welfare standards. Municipal Enterprise is about local leaders recognising future needs and investing to ensure better local outcomes.

Which thought brings us back to these broadband egg boxes.

Your local economy, your local community of people and business, needs future-proofed broadband access. Will you, dear citizen, trust your local government to ensure that the egg boxes contain what they say they contain?

Will your local leaders seek investment partners who will agree to not deliver a dismal digital cul-de-sac designed only to maximise profits and dividends for distant shareholders?

Will you locally review what some ‘expert’ regulator in London deems adequate?  Or will you demand that the regulator is ‘unbundled’ so that you can set the local standards that will meet the local needs, attract further local investment, create further jobs and innovation, and generate revenues for your local community?

And at this time of ‘Peak Snake Oil’ will your community leaders question the salesmen that promise otherwise?

For too long the over-centralised state has dis-empowered local communities and allowed those broadband eggs to be sold in boxes that are rarely full or fit for frying.

BUT

These need not be passing broadband eggs – theoretically coming your way.

These need not be pretend broadband eggs – these may be truly fully fibred, future-proofed, really SuperDooperFast broadband eggs.

These could be broadband eggs that are actually available, when you need a full set.  These broadband eggs could perform exactly as you might expect, even as your children’s expectations increase in the future

Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you – a full box of ten eggs.   Catch.

________

Note: For Ofcom-based data on the level of broadband services Delivered versus Advertised see this report produced by Which shows that whilst cable services from Virgin Media largely deliver ‘what it says on the box’ all other services based on BT’s DSL and FTTC fall woefully short of expectations.  broadband-advertising-not-up-to-speed-june-2015-406391