An Open Letter to Glasgow City Council
An Open Letter to Glasgow City Council requesting the people of Glasgow lead the way on a city recovery plan focussed on well-being, justice and sustainability.
We hope you are safe and well during these unprecedented and challenging times.
We welcome Glasgow City Council (GCC) in establishing of the COVID 19 Economic Recovery Group, to consider how Glasgow begins to recover – and very importantly – renews from the pandemic.
However, we have significant concerns regarding the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Group’s ability to provide advice which will deliver the profound and radical changes needed to ensure the well-being of all Glasgow residents in an uncertain future.
We have identified and detailed two main challenges:
- Scope and Remit[i] – This should be more ambitious, systemic and progressive by including broader perspectives, which go beyond a narrow and traditional framing of economic recovery centred on growth. To respond to the unprecedented challenges that we face from the COVD-19 pandemic and the climate and ecological emergencies, an economic recovery should be just and sustainable.
- Composition and Process[ii] – This critical process has been removed from the people it primarily impacts. It should enable and facilitate the people of Glasgow to contribute and participate in the renewal of their city – a resident-led participatory process.
If GCC really believes that its PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW then we encourage it to let its people lead the way in shaping its future. There is no group of experts who can better understand what Glasgow needs and who, we know, will be working in the best interests of everyone.
In light of these considerations, we call on GCC to dissolve the current COVID-19 Economic Recovery Group and replace it with a resident-led participatory process, whose remit will make binding recommendations on achieving the collective well-being of all residents of Glasgow, within planetary boundaries. The expertise of the Economic Recovery Group members and others can make still a valuable contribution to a process which has resident involvement at its centre, from the start.
We offer our support and willingness to be in dialogue and work together with GCC on the development of this process.
The situation demands urgency, but we believe getting the future right is more important than speed. Substantial expertise on participatory processes, a highly committed and engaged Glasgow civil society sector and a significant amount of policy knowledge from across sectors and perspectives already exist in Scotland. By building from this, Glasgow City Council is well positioned to enable and collaborate in a truly transformative process for this city.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already changed peoples’ lives immeasurably. There is a powerful sense that Glaswegians want and need something different. Ensuring a just, fair, and sustainable response to this crisis is the biggest responsibility and challenge we have collectively faced in decades. The depth of the economic crisis we now face means that making economic growth the driver of recovery will only result in the same uneven outcomes for the people who live here that we have been witnessing for decades.
We urge Glasgow City Council to exercise bravery, leadership and creativity in calling upon and trusting the people of Glasgow to shape our collective future. We ask, if not now, when will we Let Glasgow Flourish?
Commonweal, Commonweal Glasgow, Divest Strathclyde, Enough (Scotland), Get Glasgow Moving, Glasgow Eco-Trust, Feminist Exchange Network, Peoples Health Movement Scotland, Alison Phipps OBE, Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies Glasgow University, Planning Democracy, Propagate, The Common Good Awareness Project, The Peoples Bank of Govanhill, The S.A.N.E. Collective
[i] We note the Terms of Reference for this momentous work are not yet publicly available. However, we reference that ‘the group will consider data on the potential economic impact of the pandemic; and what this impact will mean when taking action on issues such as investment, business support and employment.’ This description indicates the work of this group will be largely driven by an economic model, which prioritises growth -over all else- as the way to achieve recovery. We assert that using a growth-based economic model to guide recovery, presents a fundamental challenge to delivering a better future for all the people of Glasgow.
Glasgow – in line with rest of the UK – has for decades, pursued an economic model in which sustainable economic growth was argued as the best way to achieve a more equal society. As substantial evidence now demonstrates, this model has not delivered for Glaswegians. Levels of poor health and income inequality are amongst the starkest in the UK. The COVID crisis has made this even more profound. Those who were already vulnerable have borne the brunt of the health crisis in Glasgow and will continue to do so with the economic crisis which will unfold. We simply cannot continue to allow so many people who choose to make this city their home, pay the price for an economic model which is no longer fit for purpose.
A significant and growing body of international evidence (Raworth, 2017; Trebeck 2019; Hickel 2018; European Commission Beyond GDP Project 2018; Living Well within Limits project, University of Leeds) is demonstrating that using economic growth as the main logic from which to organise our societies is incompatible with health and well-being and climate stability. It also articulates credible alternatives. For us, this means that the response to the crisis cannot come from the same thinking which has taken us to this point. We must use this moment to go beyond a return to a broken status quo and instead seek to radically remake this city into a place where all residents can thrive within planetary boundaries. Pioneering examples of how to respond are emerging; Amsterdam is integrating a ‘donut model’ of economics, ecology and well-being into its city plan; Hawaii are adopting a Feminist Economic Recovery plan; Jackson, Mississippi, offers a vision built on co-operatives. Existing good practice highlights the Preston model of using local procurement to benefit the local economy and Havana, twinned with Glasgow, which has successfully pursued an alternative economic model for years. We recognise that there is also much good work already in Glasgow to build from.
Glasgow has an opportunity to position itself at a leading edge of innovation in terms of governance, policy, regulation, participatory democracy, technology, and economy. We can only do this if we are prepared to challenge orthodoxy and act differently.
Further, we note the establishment of separate groups for economic recovery, social recovery and sustainability. This is a siloed response to a systemic issue. As the COVID-19 crisis has made so visible – work, family, community, and our environment are fundamentally interdependent and must be considered as an integrated whole. A systemic approach demands working with these as one whole, so proposed changes in one area can be understood in relationship to impacts in the others.
In addition, and we repeat, as long as the logic of economic growth is our city’s primary driver, as embedded in procurement, planning policy, housing and the type of jobs we create and value – then efforts to address social and environmental concerns will come second to economic growth considerations. This is amply borne out by GCC decisions over preceding years.
Finally, we note that Glasgow City Council (GCC) already has a radical plan to transform the city’s economy to net-zero carbon by 2030. This was drawn up by GCC’s Climate Emergency Working Group in an open and democratic process that included contributions from local grassroots campaign groups: Get Glasgow Moving, Divest Strathclyde and XR Glasgow. The group’s recommendations were approved by GCC on 26 September 2019, with work due to be presented back to GCC’s Environment, Sustainability & Carbon Reduction City Policy Committee on Tuesday 28 April. This meeting was cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis, but the implementation plan should nearly be ready. It must now be published to become the starting point for economic recovery planning.
[ii] Composition and Process
We recognise that the group membership represents considerable and important expertise. However, we highlight that the group composition leans heavily towards a very limited race, class and age demographic, and is not gender balanced. This falls far short of the incredible diversity of Glasgow in 2020. It is not acceptable that the economic future of this city, will only be imagined by an unrepresentative demographic who, despite best intentions and efforts to engage, cannot adequately reflect and understand the variety of lived experience that is needed.
Further, the group represents a form of expertise in the city which is highly professionalised, with largely shared educational and cultural experiences. Such a group is highly likely to be subject to groupthink. This will not only exclude knowledge vital to understanding the issues, but also excludes novel ideas, proposals and solutions which sit outside the bounds of traditional expertise. The validity of resident experience and expertise must be considered as equally as important in a development as significant as this. We point to the Poverty Truth Commission and the Climate Emergency Working Group as example of this understanding.
Most importantly, while we recognise efforts to widen membership and to make it more representative with the late additions of GCVS and Trade Unions, we believe that the use of a representative process is the fundamentally wrong approach for a challenge this significant. This is a moment to catalyse people’s ownership and involvement in what comes next, embedding local democracy into the very fabric of the Glasgow that is becoming.