Public “anchor” institutions urged to play key role in building back better
Universities, local authorities, NHS trusts and other large employers have untapped potential to reinvent local economies ravaged by the pandemic and Brexit, according to research co-published by The Good Economy this week.
This was a key finding of joint research with the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research based on analysis of economic data and interviews with stakeholders across the economy. The researchers sought to establish the role of “anchor institutions” in steering the city of Bath’s local economy to an inclusive and sustainable future.
Local action and SDG alignment
In a final report, the researchers concluded Bath’s leading public sector players could do more in their role as anchor institutions. “They should publish strategies and action plans that clearly specify how they will collaborate and use their economic power and influence for the benefit of local businesses and local communities,” they wrote in their report Bath beyond 2020: creating a resilient economy together.
The report, which is under consideration by the University of Bath’s vice-chancellor, said anchor institutions could lead in the development of “growth clusters” targeting small firms and start-ups in sectors where the city has a competitive advantage, such as in healthcare, creative industries, digital and the green economy. “In the context of Bath, it is becoming clear that the University of Bath, in tandem with Bath Spa University and Bath College, are well placed to provide some of the leadership needed for the redevelopment of Bath post-COVID,” the report said.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be adopted by anchor institutions as a framework for creating a local impact management and measurement system for tracking and reporting its progress towards achieving more inclusive and sustainable prosperity.
Bath Beyond 2020: the panel discussion
The Good Economy's Mark Hepworth was part of a panel discussion hosted by the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) exploring the potential role for anchor institutions in building back better in the wake of Covid-19 and Brexit. Other panelists included Alison Ryan, chair of the Royal United Hospital in Bath; Charles Larkin, director of research at the IPR; and David Trethewey director of partnerships and corporate services at Bath and North East Somerset Council. The discussion was chaired by Professor James Copestake (University of Bath), and featured an introduction from Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath, Professor Ian White.
This would include a focus on young people, who were confirmed to be among the hardest hit by COVID-19 stuck in low-pay sectors, child poverty and one of the worst levels of social mobility in the UK as measured by university attendances. “This strategy needs to focus on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular and must cut across the various tiers of education, all employers in the labour market and community development in Bath’s most deprived areas,” the report said.
IPR research director and the report’s lead author, Dr Charlie Larkin, said: “This situation report, which is the product of a new approach to knowledge co-production with industry, highlights the economic dislocation caused by COVID-19 and has thrown into high relief the underlying conditions of demographics, inequality and economic concentration that imped an inclusive and sustainable recovery.”
“The report indicates the necessity for anchor institutions, like the University of Bath, to work in concert to achieve goals for themselves and the wider community. I hope that this situation report triggers an active policy debate on the future of Bath, post-COVID and post-Brexit.”
Co-author of the report and director at The Good Economy, Mark Hepworth, said: “Bath has entered a watershed. Now, for vision and direction, the city must re-invent itself around healthcare and climate change innovations as drivers of community wealth building and sustainable economic development for the rest of this century.
He added: "The report provides timely insights for cities and regions across the UK given the universal impacts of the pandemic on economic and social life. Uniquely, it brings the views of different sector stakeholders together ‘in one place’ and calls for the city’s anchor institutions to pull together and take responsibility for building a resilient economy for everyone, including future generations."
Writing in the preface to the report, Professor Ian White vice-chancellor and president of the University of Bath, said: “The pandemic has created great challenges for the City, not only in terms of health, educational and wider social factors, but also for the economy. We recognise that it will be important for the University to respond thoughtfully to the recommendations within this report, recognising the duty we have as an anchor institution to play our full part in the future success of the city.”