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Economic Justice

How do we build an accessible and democratic economy asks Citizens’ Economic Council report

According to a new RSA report barely one in five citizens think they have any influence over key economic decisions.  Most citizens feel locked-out from economic decisions made by key bodies like the Bank of England and HM Treasury— with only 13% in the North East saying they have any influence over central government.

Building a Public Culture of Economics, is the final report of the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council, a two-year qualitative study to engage a group of citizens in economic policy.  It also found that the economic experts involved thought the project helped them make more informed decisions, understand citizens’ perspectives and to communicate complex economic issues more effectively.

A survey by RSA and Populus, conducted as part of the research, warns of an ‘economic democracy deficit’ between citizens and key institutions:

  • Only 22% of citizens think they influence central government’s economic policy.
  • People generally feel they have more influence over local institutions than national ones..: a third say they have “a lot of” or “a little” influence over economic decisions made by local authorities (33%), followed by local businesses (31%); trade unions (28%); the NHS (25%); central government e.g. HM Treasury (22%); the Bank of England (20%); local high street banks (20%); FTSE 100 chief executives (18%), and finally Local Enterprise Partnerships (16%).
  • … but only 3% say they have “a lot” of influence over Local Economic Partnerships, unelected bodies designed to set local priorities on key areas like skills; the RSA says LEPs must become much more transparent and accountable.
  • On a local level national public policy appears removed from peoples’ lived experience: for instance, North East residents reported the most influence over local councils in the UK (42%) but the least over central government (13%);
  • “Left-behind” areas feel less influence, while people in London generally report more control over most institutions.  However, on local councils, the North East (42%) and Scotland (40%) feel they have more influence than Londoners (38%); and people in Yorkshire (41%) and the North East (41%) feel more influence over local businesses than those in the capital (38%). Meanwhile just 9% in the South West feel they have any influence over local high street banks.
  • Few people think they have any influence over Brexit, despite the vote to ‘take back control: 72% still feel that they have either not very much, or no, influence over how central government is handling Brexit. 73% feel the same about the Bank of England.

The report recommends that the Bank of England formalise its current efforts to engage with the public directly, such as through “citizens’ reference panels” of randomly-selected citizens to help the Bank connect directly with the concerns and experiences of citizens, especially in “left-behind” UK regions and nations.