Today, 22 June 2020, the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery published its report, ‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland’.

As an organisation whose purpose is to support the creation of a wellbeing economy in Scotland we are excited to see the prominence given to this goal in the report’s title.

Our initial sense is that there are parts to praise and unfortunately parts that fall short in recognising the type of transformation that could truly transform Scotland into a wellbeing economy.

We welcome the ‘four pillars’ approach laid out in the report, which gives business, people, community, and the environment balanced priority. This is an important step to designing a wellbeing economy, although a true wellbeing economy approach goes one step further to say that business and economic activity must be designed to serve people and planet, not thrive alongside them. After all, what is the benefit of an economy if it does not directly serve the people who sustain it?  We would also add that conflating business with the economy in the four pillars seems to miss the vital role of unpaid role of care and social reproduction in families and communities in supporting the market economy. This would be a serious blind spot for a country where the gender equality discussion is better than in other localities.

We are also concerned at the extent to which a desire for ‘growth’ still features prominently in the report’s language. What kind of growth? And for whom? Simply adding ‘inclusive’ and ‘sustainable’ modifiers to growth does not answer either of these vital questions.

Indeed, the answers are the crux of what separates a traditional, growth-driven system from a true wellbeing economy. A wellbeing economy is one that is purposed and designed explicitly for human and ecological wellbeing – economic activity in service of these higher order goals.

In the report’s foreword, Benny Higgins (who led the group tasked with compiling the report’s recommendations) states: ‘Scotland had the ambition to become a robust, wellbeing economy. That is one that generates strong economic growth… and that does so with an unequivocal focus on climate change, fair work, diversity, and equality’. We disagree that a wellbeing economy is about generating “strong economic growth” – a wellbeing economy would ask: ‘what sort of growth – and for whom – is needed for collective wellbeing?’ It is about the economy (and growth where necessary) being in service of delivering collective wellbeing.

For example, we welcome the emphasis on conditionality in business support and recommendations such as a jobs guarantee: the post-covid economy cannot be one where businesses get away with social and environmental harm while young people see their future ebbing away.

Recognition that a wellbeing economy attends to climate change, fair work, diversity, and equality is promising to hear. The report rightly gives prominent focus to green recovery tests, and to circular economy principles.

Again though – and crucially – to truly initiate a wellbeing economy, the restructure must be designed to enable people and planet to flourish while being agnostic to economic growth, not dependent on it.

The Advisory Group’s report is a good starting point, and we welcome the embrace of the ‘wellbeing economy’ concept. The conversation can’t end here – not least when creating a wellbeing economy requires substantial economic transformation. We look forward to continuing the conversation with Government, businesses, and the wider public as we all move into this new era of economic recovery. Scotland has an opportunity to lead the world in truly putting collective wellbeing at the heart of economic policy making and creating an economy that delivers for people and planet first time around.

4 replies
  1. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Might the SDGs be a useful definition of what a wellbeing economy would look like if we ever found one? If so, would progress toward them be a useful way to assess progress towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland?
    Further, if Scotland is already tracking how it is doing on the SDGs, perhaps those metrics could serve double-duty as metrics included in a Genuine Progress Indicator that is a more comprehensive indicator of progress.

  2. David Somervell
    David Somervell says:

    Thanks for the quick assessment of the “Economic Recovery Group’s report. Your concerns were echoed in George Kerevan’s analysis over at Bella Celedonia “Benny’s Blueprint for Scottish Capitalism”

    It all makes me wonder how a fundamentally “market-led” approach can be gilded with the magic Wellbeing words which they don’t appear to understand. No amount of sub-editing and sloganising of a few headlines will really bring the Fairer, Greener Low Carbon Economy into being without some really big changes.

    Lets hope the raft of other Commissions and Panels due to report later are a bit clearer on the fundamentals!

  3. Fiona Brooks
    Fiona Brooks says:

    Can we shift the discourse on growth from quantitative (GDP) to qualitative (measures of human and planetary wellbeing)? Perhaps that would be more digestible than dropping the idea of “growth” completely. Our current paradigm is strongly attached to the ideas of “progress” and “growth” and shifting that, should we come to see such as shift as desirable, may need to be a longer-term aim.

    I think humanity has an ongoing need to keep refining what wellbeing is, how we can measure it, and how we can nurture it. We’ll always be learning so this work would become a way of life rather than a project with an end-date. Aboriginal Elder Uncle Noel Nannup speaks of humans as the “Carers of Everything”…let’s step into that role.

  4. Andy Lippok
    Andy Lippok says:

    I agree with all your remarks about the Report, but then my frustration sets in when considering how do you and we get our views across to the Report Authors and the Scottish Government! How do we make sufficient ‘noise’ to enable them both the truly listen to what you propose as better options?

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