Archive for July, 2010

Super-diversity

July 29, 2010

Worries about multiculturalism go way back: in 883, fearing unrest, King Alfred banished the Danes from London. So when Leeds University researchers suggested that by 2051 a fifth of Britons would be from an ethnic minority, the reactions were predictable. The Daily Express’s full-page headline was ‘One in 5 Britons will be Ethnics’, complete with picture of women in burquas. Daily Mail readers also excelled themselves – ‘the only effective way to combat this situation is to vote BNP at every opportunity’ etc etc.

Let’s try and dig a little deeper. I’ve now read the (long and complex) report [pdf], so here’s a few thoughts. I’m not a demographer, so I’m focusing on the implications rather than the detailed modelling.

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Britain has a long, often hidden history of multiculturalism. And as the report makes clear, Britain is already getting more culturally diverse. Immigration is a major driver, as is ‘natural change’ – variations in birth/death rates across social and cultural groups. The first tends to feed the second, since a share of migrants tends to settle.

British diversity is also heavily urbanised. People mix is greatest in and around cities, especially major urban centres (with big labour markets and good transport links) and ex-industrial places (which had lots of jobs in the past).

In some urban neighbourhoods we’re seeing ‘super-diversity’ appearing – with dozens of new communities alongside established minority groups. Conversely, recent migration from Eastern Europe was less urban [pdf] – partly because many people were doing agricultural work.

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The researchers make three major predictions about Britain in 2051.

First, the UK will be both bigger and more diverse. Under their favoured model, the population grows to 77.1m, from around 60m today. Black and minority ethnic populations rise from 8% to 21%.

Second, diversity looks different. Essentially, super-diversity will be more common. The ‘other ethnic’ population will be 350% higher, with various mixed ethnic groups increasing by 148% to 249%. Chinese communities will over 200% larger, ‘Black African’ communities  179% larger, and the main South Asian groups 95-153% bigger. The model’s held back a bit here because UK Census categories are so crude.

Third, diversity will be more spread out. The researchers predict that people in minority groups will shift from more to less deprived areas, which (very roughly speaking) will take them from inner city to more suburban locations, and from larger cities to smaller towns and rural areas. That continues a long term historical trend – London neighbourhoods like Spitalfields have historically housed new migrants, who progressively shift to outer London suburbs as they become established in the UK.

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The bigger question is what the economic and social impacts of a bigger, more diverse Britain will be. There’s some evidence, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa, that fragmented countries are prone to conflict and poor governance. Conversely, diverse societies may be more inventive and productive. Given ‘where the diversity is’, a lot of the action will be happening in urban areas.

My academic work is looking at these questions in detail, focusing on British cities.  Here’s a recent working paper which fills two major gaps. First, with help from UCL’s Pablo Mateos, I’ve developed some new descriptive analysis, including a ‘Super-diversity Index’ which is more powerful than the categories used in the Leeds model.

Second, I’ve looked at the links between people mix, wages and employment in urban areas. I find some positive connections between super-diversity and my economic performance measures, suggesting higher diversity might be an economic good for British cities. Other papers and current research take a closer look at what’s behind this – more on those in the coming months.

Localism on crack

July 16, 2010

The terrifying prospect of Eric Pickles as Tom Cruise still lingers after his recent LGA speech. But amongst all the one-liners, the shape of localism is becoming clearer.

First it’s cash and rules-light – ‘less money, more freedom’, as Jon Rouse puts it. Second, as Julian Dobson says, it’s a bit centralist right now. That’s not surprising – the Minister has the tricky job of devolving via the machinery of central government.

Most importantly, localism points in several directions at once. Councils get more freedom, but so do community groups and local people. For me, this is the most radical bit – and the most radical idea isn’t big city Mayors, but direct votes on local taxes.

The Economist memorably referred to local referendums as ‘the crack cocaine of democracy’. So should we be worried about what Eric might (or might not) call ‘freebase localism’?

The referendum proposal focuses on council tax. At the moment Whitehall can cap council tax levels ‘to protect council taxpayers from excessive increases’. The Coalition wants to replace capping with local votes on whether taxes are too high.

Getting rid of capping is a good thing. It’s not transparent, and it’s verging on the undemocratic. It’s not obvious we need to replace capping with direct votes, however.

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In the jargon, local people already have choice (of parties), voice (in local elections) and exit (moving out). Of course local elections are every four years, voter turnout is often low, and many people don’t find it easy to move. Direct democracy seems to raise turnout, and plugs people straight into decision-making.

The big problem with Eric’s proposal is the loaded question issue. It’s effectively a massive nudge for lower taxes – although the Coalition is silent on what ‘low enough taxes’ means in practice. That will put an automatic, and potentially destabilising limit on council revenues. In turn, that makes it harder for Councils to provide effective services – especially in a ‘post-bureaucratic’ age of changing social structures and more demanding consumers.

California is an extreme example of where low-tax bias takes you. Under Proposition 13, the state has capped property taxes *and* requires a supermajority for any revenue-raising measures. Right now, recession-hit public finances are in a total mess, but it’s proving politically impossible to pass a budget. As a result, one small town is now disbanding its police force.

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Councils might get round the loaded question if they had other means of raising money, besides council tax. Right now they don’t: over 80% of council finance comes direct from Whitehall.

The bigger issue here is the disconnect between local taxes, local votes and local services. Because the latter are largely grant-funded, it’s not properly clear to voters what they’re voting on, and how that vote might change local  services. Worse, Council tax hasn’t reflected real house values for years.

As Dermot suggests, councils should call the Coalition on localism. As well as proper incentives for housing growth, how about:

1) new money-raising tools – a green light for Accelerated Development Zones, and borrowing on the Housing Revenue Account;

2) a clearer link between local taxes and local services – the Review of Local Government Finance should push a revaluation of council tax, relocalising the business rate, and arguably a local income tax (as proposed by the Lib Dems).

With all this in place, I’m not sure local referendums are needed. Votes will really make a difference to services – and taxes. That should raise both turnout and political engagement. And if local taxes are too high, politicians will exit via the ballot box.

In other words, really show us the money. And just say no to crack.

So, farewell then …

July 9, 2010

… eco-towns, by the look of it. This is a good thing. Eco-towns are largely unloved, often in the middle of nowhere, and would have little impact on overall CO2 emissions.

Dermot (and Adam Marshall) have rightly criticised eco-towns for distracting from the much bigger task of greening Britain’s cities. As I’ve explored elsewhere, that’s a job which should have both a significant impact on the UK’s carbon footprint, but also much greater economic development potential.

Eco-towns have also failed dismally at being the kind of demonstration project the Government originally envisaged. There are much better examples abroad, both self-standing cities like Masdar in Abu Dhabi, and (more realistically) urban extensions like those in Vauban, Freiburg, or Hammarby Sjostan, Stockholm.

The latter also have the benefit of localist in design and delivery. In the coming months, let’s hope the Coalition can give British cities the financial flexibilities to try something similar.

Getting ahead in the countryside

July 7, 2010

The big city’s the place to find fame and fortune, wouldn’t you think? Not according to the Commission for Rural Communities, whose new report claims ‘rural areas have more entrepreneurs’. This seems odd – aren’t cities supposed to help ideas flow, with banks to lend money, and customers to sell to?

All the evidence suggests innovation is heavily urbanised, for example. So what on earth’s been going on in the British countryside? Is the fresh air good for the brain?

The report’s here. It’s nearly 200 pages long, so to save you reading it I’ve done some digging. The relevant findings are:

1) A survey of bank lending finds that in 2008 and 2009, rural areas had more start-ups per working-age population than urban areas (p131)

2) GEM survey data for 2004-2008 finds higher rates of ‘entrepreneurship activity’ in rural areas than urban areas. Strikingly, the survey suggests rural entrepreneurship rates are ‘as high as inner London’ (p133).

The report uses good definitions of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’, based on this DEFRA typology. But there are questions about which rural areas we’re talking about – more on that in a moment.

Let’s start with start-ups. First, there’s not much urban-rural difference in business birth rates – 13.9 per thousand people in rural areas, 12.7 in urban areas. Second, in absolute terms there are far more start-ups in cities than the countryside – hardly surprising since c.80% of the English population live in urban areas.

Third, there’s noise in the data – the survey in question covers 93% of all bank lending, which is pretty good, but doesn’t adjust for the rest. If 80% of those loans were to city firms, a reasonable assumption, the urban-rural difference is less than one percentage point.

‘Entrepreneurship’ is a slightly more nebulous concept, and it turns out the GEM data needs a big pinch of salt. For one thing, the survey is based on just 43,000 firms across the UK – which might risk sampling error if you’re looking at small rural areas.

More seriously, GEM actually measures something called ‘total early-stage entrepreneurial activity’ – which is a weighted index including ‘nascent business activity’. This could include things like writing a business plan, but not actually doing anything with it. (I’ve also no idea how the Index is built because GEM doesn’t say.)

In the CRC small print, GEM concedes it’s tracking ‘propensity to be entrepreneurial’, rather than *actual* entrepreneurs. It’s hardly convincing.

So, case not proven – on the basis of these numbers. However, let’s suspend disbelief and assume there is a new generation of rural whizz-kids. What might explain this?

It could be a lifecycle effect – people downsize or move their families out of the city, starting new businesses in the countryside. Migration data suggests there could be something in this – young single people move into cities, older people with partners and children move out. Other studies suggest people gain skills and learning in cities, taking these with them when they leave.

There could also be a technology effect. The CRC’s start-up figures suggests that most loans go to business services like accountancy and consulting, a lot of which can be done by phone or online (anecdata – my accountant operates out of deepest East Sussex).

That implies a third point – many of rural areas are actually around the edges of big urban areas. In the jargon, they’re ‘peri-urban’ – pleasant, leafy communities with decent schools and public services, and good links into the urban core. Not surprisingly, these neighbourhoods tend to come near the top of ‘best place to live’ surveys.

In turn, that suggests some final lessons. Don’t overspin your data. The city and country have more in common than you might imagine. And ultimately, enterprise is less about place than about people.

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