The framework within which policy-makers and decision makers have been operating over the past decades in Britain and most Western countries has been dominated by ‘managerialism’. This is a focus on the best way of managing and implementing policies in the socio-economic and political spheres which transcend, indeed almost dismiss, ideological considerations of left and right, in favour of optimum solutions to achieve policy goals: a “managed consensus”.
This city has undergone a veritable economic renaissance in the last twenty years, including radically changing its image and profile, from an old ‘smokestack’ industrial city to that of a vibrant town specialising in financial services, retail and leisure. And the city has not stood still in terms of trying to combat poverty and deprivation. Since the 1980s a succession of programmes such as Urban Aid, Areas of Priority Treatment (APT), Social Inclusion Partnerships (SIPs) and more recently Community Planning Partnerships (CPP) and Community Health and Care Partnerships (CHCPs) have been tasked with tackling poverty, deprivation and health inequalities.
Hundreds of millions of pounds have been poured into areas of deprivation including urban regeneration programmes and high profile campaigns to change unhealthy lifestyles and getting people back into employment. Despite this, levels of poverty, deprivation, unemployment and adherence to an unhealthy lifestyle remain high and stubbornly resistant to change while levels of alcohol and drug misuse are very high (Glasgow has one of the highest injecting drug rates per capita of the population in the world and 15,000 people, or 2.5% of the population, are on methadone maintenance prescribing programmes.
A report from Dr Chick Collins of Glasgow University published in 2008 graphically illustrated this. As reported by BBC News, “He cited the Ferguslie Park area in Renfrewshire, which despite having had £150m of investment, still has Scotland’s worst record on health, employment, crime and education. More than 20 years ago, the Garden Festival in Glasgow was designed to revitalise Govan, but Dr Collins said unemployment was four times the Scottish average. And he pointed out that the GEAR (Glasgow Eastern Area Renewal) project, which spent £315m in the East End of Glasgow in the 1980s, had created a net total of 39 jobs”.
And Glasgow’s experience has probably not been untypical in terms of the UK’s approach to tackling poverty and deprivation. So why have so many programmes and initiatives delivered such meagre returns?
These projects have inevitably focused almost exclusively on managing individuals and lifestyles while simultaneously attempting to achieve grand aims such as eliminating homelessness or reducing health inequalities with little resources (trying to achieve macro solutions with micro means) and result in having either no or only marginal effects. In a sense then decision-makers and policy makers in health and social care services, which have mushroomed in the past decades and who have committed themselves to this managerialist framework, can only experience a sense of frustration that so much has been expended for so little return.
The result has been a recent tendency to explain the stubborn persistence of poverty and inequality in terms of some distinctly cultural factors (Glasgow, being a prime example of this and where the concentration and longevity of poverty and associated factors such as violence is being attributed to a mysterious “Glasgow factor”) when the reality is that grand, overarching policies indissolubly linked to fragmented short-term funded programmes focused on individuals are inevitably doomed to failure.
Recession and the electoral defeat of New Labour have helped to expose the threadbare limitations of managerialism (the last government were purveyors of managerialism par excellence), but we’re not quite out of its aura yet. The ‘Big Society” with all of its hype and contradictions (see past Meikle’s Blogs) has all the classic ingredients of macro solutions to be met with micro means.
The combination of managerialism and grand solutions which has dominated our politics and culture for nearly thirty years has exhausted itself (with its probable final swansong being the aforementioned ‘Big Society’). What we need to get back to is pragmatic policies based on common sense and yes messy compromises, that leads to real sustainable differences.