Challenging the status quo: LB Brent’s new inclusive growth strategy

Successful growth is typically measured by indicators such as numbers of jobs and the total amount of wealth, but these measures don’t tell the whole story. In our latest Spotlight, Jonathan Kay, Senior Regeneration Manager, explains why LB Brent is taking a new approach to economic growth through its new Inclusive Growth Strategy.   

Brent in 2020 – and beyond

LB Brent has one of the most diverse populations in the UK, with 149 languages spoken and a rich cultural heritage. But it also has the second lowest wages in the capital, high housing costs and wide variations in peoples’ employment, income and health outcomes. Current evidence suggests that the borough, like much London, is set to experience significant demographic and socioeconomic change over the next two decades.

By 2040, LB Brent’s population is forecast to increase by at least 17% – to top 400,000 people. New technology, the climate emergency, and changing work patterns are all expected to have a profound impact on the local economy – but also on how people live, travel, work and interact. We’re anticipating that there’ll be 24% more older workers and 5,000 new self-employed people, and that one third of existing jobs will be at risk of automation.

Growth around Wembley stadium in Brent
Wembley is one of the borough’s key employment areas. Source: LB Brent.

A new approach to how we measure growth

The standard way to measure ‘successful’ economic growth looks at the number of jobs, how much people earn and how much wealth businesses generate within an area. But too often the benefits of this sort of economic growth are shared unequally, with many people left behind. Policymakers, politicians and the public are increasingly concerned about these widening inequalities.

One response is a new approach that tries to ensure growth is more inclusive. “Inclusive growth”, says the OECD, is “economic growth that is distributed fairly across society and creates opportunities for all”. This is the principle underpinning the Mayor’s Good Growth agenda – and our new Inclusive Growth Strategy (IGS).

What inclusive growth means to LB Brent

Launched at the end of 2019, LB Brent’s IGS seeks to challenge the status quo by empowering local people to take advantage of the opportunities that stem from growth. The aim is to reduce poverty and inequality, increase the borough’s resilience, and enhance the economic and social wellbeing of the community.

Our Chief Executive sponsored the project from the outset, which helped engage people from across the council in a meaningful way. While the Regeneration Team managed the project and produced the final strategy, different council directors and service areas took the lead on each of the themes (Economy, Housing and so on) – and their expertise and input was invaluable in helping to shape a robust set of policies.

As well as our internal partners, we worked with a postgraduate research team from LSE Cities to scope out and develop the strategy. Seven LSE students with urban-based degrees came to work with the council, carrying out intensive research and we ran a series of workshops with Partners for Brent, which includes Citizens Advice, Crisis, London Fire Brigade, Transport for London and developer Quintain.

A summary of LB Brent’s Inclusive Growth Strategy

Drawing on seven themes – Culture, Economy,  Education and Skills, Environment, Health, Housing and Infrastructure – the strategy explores what LB Brent is like today, the key trends likely to affect the borough, and what the potential responses to those trends might be to make a better future.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which has been carrying out research into the inclusive agenda in UK cities since 2013, has suggested that inclusive growth strategies should be framed around improving prospects for low-paid workers, boosting education and adult skills, and connecting people to economic opportunities.

Given that much of LB Brent’s economy is low-skilled and low wage, the IGS emphasises the importance of an adult skills strategy, more opportunities for upskilling and retraining, and more support for getting underperforming groups, particularly women, into work, so that everyone can participate and share fairly in the increased prosperity growth brings.

But the strategy also stresses that none of the above themes can be tackled in isolation; there’s a need for joined-up policy and delivery across all areas, such as Health and Culture. Other key policy responses include diversifying the borough’s housing delivery so that there’s more equal access to housing for all generations, promoting the circular and creative economies, and using social prescribing for the improvement of wider determinants of health.

Extract from culture section of Brent Inclusive Growth Strategy
An extract from the Culture section of LB Brent’s Inclusive Growth Strategy 2019–2040. Source: LB Brent

Implementing the strategy

Key to implementing the strategy will be engaging with residents and partners, developing targeted initiatives in areas like skills training, and the support and guidance that self-employed people and small businesses need. We must also do a lot more awareness-raising, particularly around the environmental aspects of the strategy and the behavioural changes, such as reducing plastic and water usage, and increasing uptake of more active forms of travel like walking and cycling.

That’s one of the reasons why we made the short video about the IGS. We want as many residents to engage with us as possible but not everyone will be interested in the level of detail that we’ve included in the research base, full strategy or synopsis.

The policy responses and actions we plan to take to address the challenges and seize the opportunities of growth at a local level come with targets linked to 250 new initiatives. We’ll use these targets to monitor the outcomes and the success (or otherwise) of our new approach, to  make sure that growth is truly inclusive, benefits all and reduces inequalities in LB Brent over our short-, medium- and long-term futures.

Top tips for developing an inclusive growth strategy

  • Make use of the rich data available to contextualise growth in your borough. This data will help you understand the specific challenges, risks and opportunities in your area, and provide a strong foundation for new policies and approaches.
  • Stay up to date. New data and research is being published all the time. Before we launched the IGS, we spent several months updating all our data and, in light of this, we’re considering updating the IGS bi-annually to keep it ‘fresh’.
  • Inspire people. The corporate approach worked well for us, particularly in terms of getting people on board, but there were still a lot of lengthy internal sign-offs we had to go through to finalise the IGS.
  • Don’t underestimate how long it will take. You’ll need time and resources to create a wide-ranging, long-term and joined-up strategy. To get the breadth and depth we wanted in LB Brent’s strategy was an iterative process and it took a couple of years.
  • Think about how you communicate. Use the full range of media and communications tools you have available to reach out and get your messages across to different audiences.

If you have a strategy, project or initiative that you’d like to feature as one of FoL’s Spotlights, get in touch with Sophie