Many have been at the macro policy level. I have written a few myself in my former time as Director of the New Economics Foundation. They are important as beacons, lighthouses for a different set of policy prescriptions.
But the most important perhaps have been those that have emerged out of practice, and inspired practice in its turn, because they have the chance to be embedded and owned by social movements… the Lucas Aerospace Plan led by Mike Cooley, which inspired a generation of work around technology exchange; the work of the Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB), with its long term venture funding; or the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Board, backing community economic development.
Co-operative Advantage is a book in this space and tradition. New out, it is based on research I have led over three years with co-operative business experts, advised by Professor Michael Best, University of Massachusetts Lowell, an internationally recognised authority on sector development. Michael was part of the GLEB story, along with Robin Murray, who has been an inspiration for the work and contributes one of the closing chapters.
The research for the book analyses growth sectors around which the co-operative model has an edge and a fit that offers a competitive advantage – identifying fifty potential innovations that dovetail with emerging trends in technology and markets. The total economic value of the sectors that we look at add up to 61% of overall GDP and account for 64% of total employment in the UK.
The authors of the fifteen sectors are co-operative entrepreneurs or business analysts with expertise in the area, and each has been the result of extensive engagement with coops and mutuals in each sector, representing a bootstrapping of knowledge.
The model of sector development is one that has a long history in economic policy making. A sector strategy in conventional economic development is a term that describes a process for stimulating the absolute growth of an industrial sector or sub sector. his would require a blend of demand and supply side measures, such as: sheltered or supported markets; active marketing; dedicated finance; infrastructure; workforce development; business networks; research and development, including links to academic institutions etc. Often these would stem from public policy decisions and be supported by the state. A sector strategy, though, is also about enabling existing enterprises to understand the trends that are shaping the markets that they operate in.
The starting point is the political economy of innovation. Innovation is estimated to account for 70% of long-term economic growth. But whose innovation and in whose interests? Innovation is endlessly talked, always assumed to require venture capital to drive it, corporate patents to protect it, but the political economy of innovation is less often subject to scrutiny.
I see innovation as social change. Yes, there are drivers for innovation that we look at in each sector, in technology, culture, demographics and environment, but we are looking for the innovations that can be accelerated for social and ecological gain. We need placards, yes, but we also need a social economy.