Opportunities for all: JRF chief executive Campbell Robb

Written by Kate Shannon on 18 September 2017 in Interviews

Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) chief executive Campbell Robb on the importance of inclusive growth in Scotland 

For Campbell Robb, the JRF event on inclusive growth which was held in Glasgow in June was something of a homecoming. Having been brought up in the city in the 1980s, he is well aware of the issues which have long affected the city and by extension, Scotland as a whole.

Robb was appointed as JRF chief executive in January 2017 but he is no stranger to many of the issues which the organisation aims to tackle. Prior to his appointment, he was chief executive of Shelter for seven years and in that role he led the organisation through one of the most challenging periods in its history. 


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This included building a sustainable, fundable model of integrated advice and support that is helping more clients than ever before, a growth in independent income and leading the organisation’s response to some of the biggest changes to housing and welfare policy in generations.

Prior to joining Shelter, Robb was the first Director General of the Office of the Third Sector, an adviser to the Treasury and was previously Director of Public Policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

Speaking to Holyrood, Robb explained why the concept of inclusive growth is so important.

He said: “When we as a foundation and others have looked at the past 30 or 40 years of economic growth, the orthodoxy of political economic thinking over that time was that all ships will rise on the tide.

“It’s not even that this is not true, it’s disingenuous, in the sense that people have actually gone backwards. The traditional measures of growth may have gone up from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s, but communities, individuals and places were falling further behind. Inequality was growing at a time when the economy was growing.

“At the same time, we’ve had huge investment by political parties, both north and south of the border and of all political stripes, into regeneration and inclusion and a whole range of agendas which again, haven’t shifted the dial on the levels of poverty and inequality. 

“We have the highest levels of employment for decades and yet people are struggling. 

“You put all that together and if you look at the evidence, we believe growth and inclusion should be thought about in a different way. 

“Without decent, proper thought through inclusion, you don’t get good growth and if you don’t get good growth, you don’t get decent inclusion.”

Robb acknowledges that this is not simple and that it is “easy to say but hard to do”, as with many policies. 

“What inclusive growth means to us is that in the places and communities which have been left behind, people now have the chance to share in the growth which takes place in the area. 

“It’s about making sure jobs are available but we should be giving people careers not jobs. If I could sum up what inclusive growth means, that’s the type of thinking we’re interested in.”

Robb believes it is an interesting and exciting time for the inclusive growth agenda in Scotland.

“Our conference showed how interested people are. We had people from all sectors and from all over Scotland. 

“People came because the economic conditions in Scotland and economic growth has not been as good as in the rest of the country and the levels of poverty are bad. 

“It seems to me there’s a recognition from all political parties and among the policy community that there needs to be a different approach. 

“That’s what we’re picking up when we’re talking to people. There is also interesting thinking coming from the business community and from NHS Health Scotland in terms of not just looking at the effects, say, of obesity and smoking, but actually the communities people live in.

“Put all that together and it seems like there’s a real appetite for change and for doing things a different way. Scotland has upcoming city deals, the child poverty bill and new rights on employability and skills development. Pull those together, and you’ve got a lot of levers at national, local and regional levels which can begin to make a difference.”

Scotland’s city deals have the opportunity to be very important for the inclusive growth agenda. North of the border, the deals involve a tripartite arrangement between the city region, the Scottish Government and the UK Government.

Robb said: “What everyone is now seeing is that city deals have the potential to be used to broaden out the inclusion agenda.

“The new deals which are about to be signed in Tayside and Ayrshire are already talking about how they include some of these measures. 

“The older ones are revaluating and working with the Scottish Government and others to do that too. 

“However, it is not just our cities. It’s also about what happens in rural and non-city areas. 

“Part of the challenge for all of us working on the inclusive growth agenda is it is much easier to see how you drive it in the city regions. They’ve got economic powerhouses, they’ve got the employment to do that but all of us have to work with rural areas and look at how best to drive up inclusive growth in those areas.”

Robb said governments and others have traditionally tried to box off different policies, for example, housing, health, communities and inclusion.

He continued: “Having worked in housing at Shelter for so many years, we battered our heads against the fact that housing wasn’t the problem, the communities people were living in were the problem, the transport to and from the housing was part of the problem. Inclusive growth is about much more radical thinking about how you join these things up. 

“For example, you need a long term, sustainable housing policy which offers good housing, affordable housing, near to the jobs people need. The right housing, in the right places, at the right time. 

“Looking at the economy, if you want to get more people, particularly women, into work, you need to provide decent, affordable childcare in the right places. 

“There are building blocks which governments at all levels need to pull together to understand and work with to make things happen. Businesses beginning to think about it will also make a big difference.

“We need all of the different agencies to recognise that economic growth needs to be at the heart of what we do and this economic growth has to be about more than tipping people into low quality jobs. It’s about people getting decent housing, decent chances, lifelong learning and suddenly you have a change.”

Robb said JRF has a vision for children going to school this year that when they leave in 15 years’ time, they will enter into a society where there are fewer people in poverty, for less time and nobody will experience destitution. 

“These are very big goals,” he acknowledges. 

“Inclusive growth isn’t the answer to all of them but it can help. Our goal is for less poverty in Scotland and far more people who live in a community where there are opportunities for them and their children to thrive. 

“In the short term, we hope to stimulate more partnerships across all agencies in Scotland and stimulate more thinking in the city deals. 

“We want to see this agenda at the heart of economic growth.” 

 

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