Our most decisive decade

Covid-19. Economic downturn. Brexit uncertainties. Demographic change and social unrest. Climate and ecological emergencies. Technological change.

The 2020s have already posed unprecedented challenges to Bristol, Britain, and beyond. Every single system that we depend on has been tested to its limit during the last year, with keyworkers and volunteers alike up against it to support and deliver for our communities.

The Resolution Foundation, Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, and the Nuffield Foundation yesterday launched The Economy 2030 Inquiry. It is welcome that Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, joins academic experts and business leaders as a commissioner. Just as Bristol’s world-leading approach to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and our One City Plan looks to tackle concurrent challenges at once, rather than in isolation, this Inquiry seeks to develop a comprehensive framework up to 2030.

Their initial report makes for powerful reading about the scale of challenge and opportunity we are facing, as we work to level up, not down. This new research suggests that halving the productivity gap between the UK and our European neighbours, like Germany and France, would boost household incomes by £2,500 per year.

Looking to the future, we must work to guarantee that equity, inclusivity, and sustainability underpin economic change as we move towards 2030. The decade to 2019 saw the weakest productivity growth in more than a century, with non-standard, and increasingly insecure, employment representing two-thirds of new jobs created between 2008 and 2015.

The report is also right to highlight that Westminster has cut the spending power of local councils since 2010, with the added pressure of national inaction on social care, new powers are still needed for local leaders to drive economic growth, curb rising rents, and train and re-skill workers. Further devolution, including to Bristol and the wider region, could go some way towards addressing the unusual variation in productivity across the country. The Productivity Institute is exploring how a less centralised United Kingdom could become a more productive and prosperous one, and their work can sit alongside that of The Economy 2030 Inquiry.

The end of this decade is already Bristol’s target for carbon neutrality, and a just transition as we decarbonise the city’s economy is essential. So too, working to deliver jobs and opportunities in the face of immense challenges, we need to ensure that our recovery is one that leaves nobody behind.

We have already given a pay rise to 1,900 low-paid Bristolians, through our work with unions and employers to deliver the real Living Wage. Our commitments, including the Ethical Care Charter and Construction Charter, give additional protections to workers. More widely, our One City Economic Recovery and Renewal Strategy brings together organisations from across Bristol to support sectors and communities hit hard by the pandemic, beginning to build a values-led recovery for our city.

With productivity and living standards falling while wages stagnate and inequalities rise, building back after the downturn cannot just paper over cracks that risk becoming chasms – both within our own city and society, and between the UK and other developed and rapidly developing economies. The Economy 2030 will help us identify more solutions to these big challenges of our time.