Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies

Strengthening the Foundational Economy

Strengthening the Foundational Economy in North East England

Organised by CURDS & North of Tyne Combined Authority the seminar considered the challenges faced by the devolved institutions in the North of Tyne & the rest of the North East, learning from Wales' experience in using the foundational economy approach

Strengthening the Foundational Economy in the North East

Rising social and spatial inequalities, climate change, demographic shifts, and technological innovations have disturbed existing ideas of what ‘development’ means at the local, regional and urban scales. Conventional approaches prioritising the ‘business-as-usual’ of economic growth understood as productivity and GDP and agglomeration economies geographically concentrated in city-regions have been exposed and found wanting. The need to find fresh ways to address the wicked problems faced by places that better balance economic, social and environmental dimensions has been a priority for decades. This search has accelerated in the tumultuous years since the 2008 global financial crisis. It has been fuelled by the rise of discontent and feelings of insecurity and lack of opportunity especially for places characterised as ‘left behind’.

This quest for new approaches has become even more pressing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and search for economic and social recovery. International agendas articulated as ‘building back better’ share an emphasis on the need to build a more equal, fairer and sustainable economy, society and ecology. Making innovative interventions in this political and policy space is the work of the foundational economy collective with its ambitious vision for rethinking what we value and how we can safeguard and support the infrastructures and services that underpin civilised everyday life.

This event engaged with this agenda in the North East setting. It had several aims: 

  • to introduce the ideas and develop a geographical perspective on the foundational economy. 
  • to relate foundational economy ideas to North East England and its particular economic, social and environmental development challenges. 
  • to engage with and learn from the pioneering experiences of using foundational economy approaches to policy in Wales. A place from which the NE region has much to learn in grappling with the challenges of deindustrialisation and a changing economy, society and ecology in the post-Brexit and post-pandemic setting.
  • to discuss and debate the opportunities for sharing ideas and learning with partners from different sectors across the NE region.

The event had nearly 100 participants from across the public, private and civic sectors and from 10 countries. Further comment and feedback are available @CURDSNewcastle and #FoundationalEconomyNE.

Key points and challenges in shaping our further thinking and endeavour on the foundational economy agenda in the North East beyond were identified in the event: 

  • The need for a vision and ambition for alternatives for a more equal, fairer and sustainable economy, society and ecology that moves towards enabling the achievement of human potential. Foundational economy provides a coherent way of thinking and acting for people and places. 
  • It is crucial for actors to work with their available powers and resources and seek to innovate and advance them. 
  • Institutional diversity is key. Progressing the foundational economy cannot only be the responsibility or task of local or devolved government. Multiple public, private and civic actors need to work together and build alliances and coalitions at different geographical levels. Political and civic leaders are needed as well as a movement and wider mobilisation. 
  • Experimentation is essential since actors need to listen to what people in places want and accept that they do not know exactly what works. Experimentation is not just local and small scale but has to be thought about at bigger scales. 
  • Citizen and popular participation are key as a corrective to top-down, centralised provisioning. People need to be involved in identifying the aims as well as the design and delivery of services. 
  • Doing, demonstrating and practising the foundational economy on the ground is critical to making a difference for people and places and rebuilding trust.



12:30  Welcome
(Professor Jane Robinson, Newcastle University)

12:35 Introduction and aims of the seminar
(Professor Andy Pike, CURDS, Newcastle University, and TBC, NTCA)

Session 1: North of Tyne/North East England and the Foundational Economy
(Chair: Professor Andy Pike, CURDS, Newcastle University)

12:45 The Foundational Economy
(Professor Karel Williams, University of Manchester – co-author The Foundational Economy book)

13:15 Challenges and economic, social and environmental development strategy for the NTCA
(Jamie Driscoll, Mayor, North of Tyne)

13:30  Q&A and discussion

14:00 Break

Session 2: Learning from Wales
(Chair: Emma Ormerod, CURDS, Newcastle University)

14:15 The Foundational Economy in Wales
(Professor Kevin Morgan, Cardiff University – advisor to the Welsh Government)
(Professor Kevin Morgan, Values for Money (PDF: 159KB))

14:45 The Foundational Economy in Practice (PDF: 696KB)‌
(Adrian Roper, Cartrefi Cymru)

Session 3: Sharing Good Practice and Local Learning
(Chair: Professor Danny MacKinnon, CURDS, Newcastle University)

15:15 Panel discussion and Q&A

Charlotte Carpenter, Karbon Homes; Louise Kempton, CURDS, Newcastle University; Anja McCarthy, National Innovation Centre for Ageing; Jane Robinson, Newcastle University; Laura Seebohm, Changing Lives

16:15 Wrap-up, thanks and next steps (Professor Andy Pike, CURDS, Newcastle University)

Welcome and Introduction

North East and the Foundational Economy

Learning from Wales

Sharing Good Practice and Local Learning