Doing more with less : Cities in the financial crisis


By URBACT, on November 17th, 2011

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Across Europe the economic crisis dominates headlines.  Public funding is under enormous pressure with budget cuts taking place across the EU’s public sector so cities have to address their challenges with fewer resources than before. In this climate of austerity local leaders need to work smart to make sure that policies and local initiatives are efficient enough to generate growth, create jobs and combat exclusion whilst protecting the environment.

Across Europe the message is clear – we need to do more for less. Indeed in some cases the challenge may even be to do more with almost nothing. How do cities act and react in this context?

ESIMeC partners have put people at the heart of their economic recovery and resilience plans. The transnational work and local action plans all tackle the challenge of workforce development from a different angle.

The downturn has highlighted the vulnerability of workers who are no longer essential to production processes due to either low skills, or “old skills”. In the future, cities will need to build a more skilled workforce which is less expendable, more adaptable to change and better able to transfer within and between economic sectors. However, it is not enough to just invest in the supply of skills. Employers also need to address the organisation of their workplaces so as to better harness the skills of their workers, and create more sustainable employment opportunities in the future. This is particularly important in small and medium sized towns, which can find it hard to attract and retain good quality jobs and where qualified young people leave to look for better jobs elsewhere.

Cities are in the driving seat

To get more from the limited funds available, cities have to maximise every opportunity to foster growth. Different policies and programmes can no longer be developed in isolation. Major infrastructure development projects for example can be defined strategically in order to help secure maximum employment and inclusion potential for the local population. Cities have a duty to build better links between skills and economic development policies with skills and human capital being a key priority for economic development in the 21st century.

One shift that could make a big difference is the way that interventions are coordinated. At present many public authorities work in policy “silos”. This approach is often derived from long term traditions and organisational cultures but it is not effective. Modern economic and societal issues are complex and require a more integrated and holistic approach.

This is the theme of ESIMeC’s 6th transnational event in Sabadell at the end of November 2011.

Can we really do more with less?

The world in which cities operate is vastly different from ever before and represents a major challenge. The way that cities operate also has to change radically if they are to succeed in addressing new challenges in the context of a reduced public sector purse. The discussions within the ESIMeC project have already highlighted some important policy principles for cities:

Cities can use people as their key asset and driver for sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.

Investing in workforce is not a zero cost solution and it requires a real commitment from public and private sector stakeholders alike. It can however be a reasonably low cost option with high levels of return on investment both within individual companies and within the wider society and the economy as a whole. ESIMeC  has looked at the role that the green economy, cultural and creative industries and the knowledge economy have to play in economic recover and resilience. People are at the heart of this landscape.

We also need to review the way we measure performance and success. Is it still appropriate, for example, to use metrics such as number of people gaining employment or should we be considering more qualitative measures of impact to reflect the changing economy and labour market? If we want employers and cities to work together to invest in the workforce and drive economic growth new indicators are required which reflect the quality of the jobs created and the career progression available to workers.

Finally Partnership working is an integral part of this process. Pooling resources and expertise effectively to jointly address common local issues does not have to be expensive. It relies on strong leadership; a shared vision; a recognition that more will be achieved through collaboration than without it; clear roles and responsibilities and a shared will to succeed.

by Alison Partridge, Lead Expert for ESIMeC

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