The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA)has just published its findings from their citizens’ economic council – a two year review looking at how citizens can ‘have a say’ in national economic policy. A number of recommendations have been proposed, including the establishment of an expert resource centre similar to Sciencewise.
There is no doubt there has been a void in terms of public voice on previous conversations about the economy – such as the bailout of banks, deal on the broken east coast franchise and distribution of foreign aid. But isn’t economics for experts?
In the words of Winston Churchill – “experts should be on tap – not on top” – and this has never been so true for the money men. You see, the value of the pound has nothing to do with gold or accumulated wealth but everything to do with feelings such as ‘trust’ and ‘integrity’. And at the moment we have a crisis of confidence in our financial institutions, largely due to their inability to forecast the economic crisis but also due to their track record of behaviour such as PPI and Libor.
So, there is a powerful connection between public engagement and the ‘secret sauce’ which keeps the economy running – that a renewal of democracy in this area might just lead to a renewal in trust which might just keep the system afloat for a bit longer. The second deficit, of public understanding, will be targeted by a programme of education in schools.
It is on this principal that the Bank of England has announced that it will be setting up regional citizen panels to feed into a wider engagement piece on all aspects of the economy and economic policy.
The Institute took some practical ideas forward into the RSA work, such as better or standardised articulation of cost benefits when consulting, which made it through to the final report – but much could be done. For example, there is good argument for better consultation on significant spending decisions and citizen engagement in public interest companies.
For now we are chuffed with the work that has gone into our optioneering website which will allow Consultors to explore and compare the cost benefits of proposals in a much more transparent and systematic way. If citizen engagement can transform economic policy, just imagine what it might do for politics!