A Rising Tide

This week is the ‘Festival of Economics’, hosted by the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership. The festival hosts speakers and events to provoke thought and debate about economics and what that means for people and their everyday lives.

Some tried to peddle a belief economic growth would ‘trickle down’ in a way that would benefit everyone, often using the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats”. Supporters of this theory argued that growth, measured by Gross Domestic Product, GDP, the overall value added by economic activity, regardless of how it was generated, would reach all parts of the economy and everyone would be better off.

That theory is widely criticised and here in Bristol, experience has shown us it’s more complicated than that. Using the same measure, GDP (or at a city level, Gross Value Added, GVA), Bristol has seen exceptional economic growth over several decades. But that growth hasn’t been benefitting everyone. Many neighbourhoods have fallen further behind others. Concentrations of persistent disadvantage have remained in pretty much the same places and inequality is on the rise.

Basic measures of economic activity, such as employment, earnings and skills, are mirrored by the effects on people’s lives such as health, housing and crime, in demonstrating the fundamental inequalities in our city.


It is clear that growing an economy in such a lopsided way was hugely inefficient. Not only were the costs of these inequalities and disadvantage (the welfare costs, the health costs, etc.) acting as a brake on prosperity, but we were missing out on the potential of those people who were being effectively excluded from contributing to the economy, the life and the wellbeing of the city. It is now widely accepted that inequality and exclusion weaken economic growth, waste resources and limit sustainability.

We are committed to introducing policies and activities to support more inclusive economic growth. Growth that enables all to participate as well as benefit.   Growth that is more fairly shared across the city and is more sustainable so that it is for the long-term. This means that we can directly address inequalities, help each individual to maximise their potential and to make more responsible use of resources.

Our Inclusive & Sustainable Economic Growth Strategy, co-produced with many people and organisations throughout the city, has a vision “to enable all the people of Bristol to create a sustainable, inclusive and growing economy from which all will benefit”. We see inclusion as a driver of economic growth, through a diverse workforce and economic structure that promotes creativity, innovation and the productivity that delivers prosperity.

People are the key element in the ‘triple bottom line’ of profit, people and planet that must be the purpose of the local economy. We have set out our thinking in a strategy and we are now asking for views on the actions to achieve the objectives. Consultation on the Inclusive & Sustainable Economic Growth Action Plan will begin this month, with the intention that our planning will be inclusive and so better equipped to deliver for everyone.

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