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Of Sheds and Shedmen…

October 1, 2010
My pal Iain Scott has just written a swingeing piece on the problems of the ‘inward investment, picking winners and cosying up to large companies’ approach that has underwritten governmental approaches to economic development not just here in the UK, but across most of the west, at national, regional and local levels.  An approach that he characterises as being about ‘sheds and shedmen’.
So how have the ‘sheds and shedmen’ got such a tight grip on our economic policy and associated investments?
  1. Large well organised bodies of professionals make a lot of money from it – architects, planners, developers – they spend fortunes on organised lobbying – just look at the sponsorship of most of the big regeneration conferences – nearly all ‘sheds and shedmen’.  Look at MIPIM.  They will not easily give up their market share.
  2. Politicians like ‘sheds and shedmen’ because they give them something to open and point at.  ‘Look at the lovely building we have delivered, see how it shines, my lovely….’
  3. Politicians also like ‘sheds and shedmen’ because they provide interventions that can fit within an electoral cycle…“when you elected me this was  a wasteland…now it has a ‘shed'”.  More person centred approaches to tackling, often generational, problems in the local economy and community are likely to take longer and may not provide the short term ‘electoral’ benefits that our democratic leaders require
  4. Much of the electorate fall for the seductive line of ‘attracting employers who will bring us jobs and a bright and shiny future’. We have failed to provide them with a different, more compelling and honest narrative.  We have also failed to expose the nature of the ‘deals’ that are often required to attract such investment.
I am sure there are other reasons, but these strike me as the big ones!
So I propose a mission: to influence investment away from steel, concrete & glass and into people, their aspirations and progress.

Who is up for that?
Get in touch and we will organise….
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4 Comments
  1. Well I am ‘up for it’ Mike. The favourable response to Birmingham’s Big City Plan illustrates the scale of the task.

    The point is that the local press, the local ‘regeneration industry’, associated services such as conference venues & restaurants and the local authority all have more to gain in the short term when 2 companies each create 15,000 jobs as opposed to when 7,500 new businesses create 2 jobs apiece.

    I am not sure there is a consensus in favour of ‘top down’ or the ‘shedmen’ approach but those who advocate the approach are the loudest voices with the deepest pocket.

    I went to an event hosted by Localise West Midlands the other day. These guys who advocate what I consider to be broadly a ‘correct’ approach to economic/community development are a million miles away from even participating in the debate about how to foster enterprise. I have to say that for some reason those with a ‘localist’ or even an ‘Enterprise for All’ mindset have allowed themselves/ourselves to become marginalised.

    I am not sure what the solution is.

    • You point towards several fronts I think Rob. And I think the most important is that the problems and challenges lie with those who should be our allies in more person centred approaches. Much of the bottom-up, community development, ‘localism’ practitioners are at best ambivalent about enterprise. Many of them see it as a ‘right wing Thatcherite plot’ to corrupt communities with rabid capitalism and to exploit them for the benefit of fat cats.

      We have to clean up the language and help them to see that enterprise, rightly understood, is really about building power and agency in life and community rather than about the naked pursuit of profit through the exploitation of markets.

      I suspect that we should put our efforts into organising and training our allies.

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