The Brexit campaign was won on the campaign slogan ‘Take back control’. And in her comments on the agenda ahead, the new Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed that her government would give people ‘more control over their lives.’
The reason why control has become such a potent rallying cry is not hard to see. Our economy has become more complex, decisions more distant and politics less able to shape what happens in society. The make-up of local high streets is determined by global market forces, not just the choices of local people. Work, for millions of people, has become more precarious as technology develops and labour markets change. Home life is more risky for many, as more people are in private rented accommodation.
A rising lack of control is something we have identified in our data on the economy and business over the last two years. On the one hand, the evidence is clear and strong that if you give people a voice and a stake in economic life, they are more motivated, more productive and more open to innovation. On the other hand, long-term trends are working against that sense of control.
As I have written before, in Unfinished Business published by ResPublica, the number of individual shareholders on the London Stock Exchange has halved over the last thirty years (from 20% to 11% as a proportion of overall ownership). The number of people in secure, social rented homes has close to halved over the same period (from 20% to 11%), while those in private rental has doubled (from 9% to 22%). The percentage of people who are self-employed – the so-called ‘precariat’ – has increased by around a third (30%), again over the same period.
This is matched by our customer data, looking at how they view business and the economy. 59% of people simply think the economy is out of control. 62% think they lack influence over the businesses they use. Not surprisingly, 68% of all workers and 75% of part time workers want more influence at work.
Ironically, transnational institutions – like the European Union – exist in part to exert some control over these forces. But the referendum result showed that they themselves appear beyond influence and so simply compound the sense of disconnection people feel.
As such, Theresa May’s aspiration to give people control over their lives and create an economy that works for everyone, is welcome. We have Brexit. Can we therefore have Breconomics – an agenda to give people more of a stake and a say in the world around them?
- We need to harness the enthusiasm for local ownership.
- We need to make it easy for employees to have a voice at work.
- We need to recognise the needs of self-employed workers.
- We need to make it easier for small businesses to compete collaboratively.
- We need to give more people a say over the businesses they use.
Co-operative and mutual ownership – where those closest to a business own and control it – offers a way to achieving these aspirations of course. But this, social economy is just part of a bigger picture of the control agenda.
It is a time for new thinking. Whether you voted for Brexit or not, what Breconomics can now look like is vital to all those of who want to see an economy that works for everyone.