Over time the crisis has blurred the scope and the borders of local economic development policies. The model of local development is completely in question: what are the goals? Where do we want to go? We note that the crisis is showing that we are quite disoriented.
But, at the same time the crisis is showing that the area based approach has a huge potential for innovation. The territories can be laboratories of innovation where solutions for several social and economic issues can be tackled, because the good solutions are linked with cooperation, with building relations, with social capital.
For too long we played almost the same game in all the local areas and in all the regions. We had plans to do the same, because we receive funds from the top (structural funds, national schemes…) that avoided or made difficult the singular, differentiated and innovative practices. Currently, LD deals more with delegation than with decentralization. In most cases, the municipalities end up being mere administrators of policies of third parties, not promoters of their own policies.
Local Development policies were determined by tactics and opportunism, both political and technical. There was a “bubble” of subsidies. Many things were done because there was money, but not because local decisions makers knew what were the long term objectives to be achieved.
There was a common conclusion: the “socio-economic territory” does not match the administrative boundaries of the municipalities. The municipal policy in this domain is often more “localism” than “local development” perspective.
On the other hand, LD agencies were more concerned with “improving employability” and not with real economic development and with effective job creation. It ended up in a big confusion about the real goals to be achieved at local level. Among other consequences it has conditioned the efforts to measure the real impact of local development policies in the past (certainly difficult). It was not clear what kind of indicators were needed for a good evaluation.
Several participants agreed that “local” does not always correspond with the administrative division and that we must articulate territories with internal logic for development.
If municipalities are unable to have all the same services and public interventions, they must be “generous” to make a good territorial organization and distribution of public resources and services. We should adopt a focus on complementarities among territories. This will require new leaders with the capacity to negotiate and to cooperate in achieving good multi-level governance.
The relationship between local-global levels should be articulated around adaptability, innovation, sustainability, solidarity, cooperation … We need a new paradigm based on “building relationships” in the territory, and we have to do it with fewer economic resources.
It seems that in the crisis we are “condemned” to create low-skill jobs. In parallel, we need to improve local business and stimulate economic activities. Therefore, we have to clarify what kind of development we are trying to activate.
Regarding social inclusion, local policies and local programmes should work with “differentiated” people. That means meeting real needs and knowing how to segment and not treating everyone as the same. The massive impact of the crisis should not contradict specific and specialized services for persons at risk of social exclusion, or people that are already suffering social exclusion.
For too long time the local development agencies and departments of LD of the local authorities have established a strong relationship with citizens and have been very innovative. When LD started, during the end of the eighties we had no clue and we learnt to do things that nobody had done before. Perhaps we should return to that spirit.
Despite the critical analysis, it is necessary to value the efforts and actions made in the thirty years we have been doing in promoting local economic and employment development. The crisis itself does not allow us to see beyond the present. Certainly there is an emotional element… We are shocked, disappointed, unmotivated. But we still have good ideas.