The Scottish Parliament's think-tank

Alternative approaches to economic development in Scotland

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Following our 2023 work on ideas of economic transformation, this blog by David Waite, Richard Crisp and Anne Green reflects on different ideas of change, their background and questions to consider for the future.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government launched its Programme for Government, which sets out its actions for the year ahead. There are several implications for economic policy in this document, from a seeming reemphasis given to economic growth (“sustainable economic growth for a purpose”), to commitments to a wellbeing economy and community wealth building.

Additionally, preparations for a Community Wealth Building Bill and a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill are under way.

These are among several new economic ideas being considered in Scotland. In addition to these approaches, we can see steps made to consider both a Doughnut Economy and the Foundational Economy in Glasgow. The Futures Forum itself has also hosted related seminars on “good living” and “business purpose”.

Underlying such alternative approaches to economic development is a resistance to, or scepticism around, decades of traditional growth-oriented urban and regional policy, which many consider have failed to address issues of inequality and environmental degradation.

However, despite this common orientation, little work has been developed to consider how Community Wealth Building differs from the Foundational Economy, for example. Furthermore, what common principles and features do these alternative approaches share?

The following table compares five approaches.

An overview of the five ‘alternative’ approaches to economic development

Inclusive GrowthWellbeing EconomyDoughnut EconomicsCommunity Wealth BuildingFoundational Economy
EmergenceLate 2000s, increasingly gaining traction from c. 2015Wellbeing economics since late 1980s, gathering pace from late 2000sPioneered by Kate Raworth 2012, expanded in her 2017 bookMid-late 2000s in UK and US, with increasing traction since c. 2015From 2013 (Manifesto for the Foundational Economy), increasing traction since COVID-19 pandemic  
Leading ProponentsOECD   International Monetary Fund (IMF)   Centre for Progressive Policy (UK)   Brookings Institution (US)  Wellbeing Economy Alliance (global) New Economics Foundation (UK)   Carnegie UKKate Raworth and Doughnut Economics Action Lab (UK)CLES (UK)   Democracy Collaborative (US)Foundational Economy Collective of researchers (a mainly European group)  
VisionAn economic system enabling the greatest number and range of people to participate in economic activity and to benefit from economic growth  Economies which promote ecological sustainability, intergenerational equity, wellbeing and happiness, and a fair distribution and efficient use of resources  An ecologically safe and socially just space (the Doughnut) in which humanity can thriveLocal economies organised so that wealth is broadly held and generative of income, opportunity, dignity and well-being for local people (wealth for all)  Society strengthened by focus and investment on infrastructures that make civilised everyday life possible  
Urban ExamplesWest Midlands (UK) New York, Paris, Seoul, AthensNorth of Tyne (UK), Santa Monica (US)Amsterdam, Brussels, MelbournePreston (UK), North Ayrshire (UK), Barcelona, Cleveland (US)  Barcelona, Enfield (UK), Wales
Source: Authors’ research (Crisp et al., 2023)

Our wider review of the five approaches points to differences in terms of the visions set out, the mechanisms for change articulated, and the geographies that the approaches respond to.

In terms of the former, Wellbeing Economy and Doughnut Economics are arguably most pronounced as they hinge on a vision of the “good life”. On the mechanisms for change, there is a common concern for democratic participation, but, beyond that, there are marked differences in terms of prescriptiveness (with Community Wealth Building being the most prescriptive). With respect to geographies, strikingly, there is rarely an explicit articulation of the geographic disparities to be addressed (aside from Community Wealth Building), despite the mobilisation of these approaches by local authorities.

Advocates claim these approaches can transform economic development policy, yet what we know about the success of these initiatives, and how these approaches conceive of trade-offs across different objectives, remains limited.

Furthermore, there is significant scope to explore how these approaches are being operationalised in local policymaking contexts. In cases such as North Ayrshire, there is evidence of a ‘pick and mix’ type of practice, whereby different elements of different approaches are combined in an effort to meet objectives. Perhaps such pragmatic combinations reflect the need for flexibility in dealing with the thorny economic, social and environmental issues being confronted.

A Royal Society of Edinburgh funded project being developed with colleagues in Glasgow, Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam is currently investigating such practices.

In summary, Scotland has provided a fertile ground to implement alternative approaches to economic development. However, the approaches exhibit a degree of flux (in application) and there remains uncertainty about where different approaches agree and disagree. It also remains to be seen if approaches promoted in the current Programme for Government will provide long-term guidance for local policymakers in five to 10 years time.

Reference and credit for full paper referred to in this blog – Crisp, R., Waite, D., Green, A., Hughes, C., Lupton, R., MacKinnon, D. and Pike, A. (2023) ‘Beyond GDP’ in cities: assessing alternative approaches to urban economic development. Urban Studies, OnlineFirst. Copyright © 2023 (Crisp, R., Waite, D., Green, A., Hughes, C., Lupton, R., MacKinnon, D. and Pike, A).

Scotland’s Futures Forum exists to encourage debate on Scotland’s long-term future, and we aim to share a range of perspectives. The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the Futures Forum’s views.