Inclusive growth: what does it look like?

This paper seeks to illuminate tangible examples of inclusive growth in Scotland, with a view to translating successes even if small in scale and sharing learning to inform future improvements in delivery.

Key themes and conclusions

Measuring what matters

Measurement presented a number of dilemmas, from the specific to the fundamental. A clear theme that emerged was the challenge of attributing change to a particular place-based intervention. Setting a clear and appropriate baseline against which to measure the impact of a particular intervention, or to grasp what caused changes, was often a significant challenge. This was particularly pronounced in place-based approaches. As one participant asked, ‘what is the reference category place’?

Community benefit clauses, which pre-date the inclusive growth agenda, were often used as a reference point from which to discuss and grow inclusive growth ambitions. They provided a clear mechanism through which some inclusive growth activity had been embedded in projects, and had re-shaped ways of working. Through the development of the inclusive growth agenda, ambitions to deliver community benefits had expanded, and the approaches that delivered them had evolved.

We heard that while identifying and agreeing broad criteria for inclusive growth was relatively straightforward, the challenge often came in the ‘how’. There were clear tensions when it came to measuring progress towards agreed big-picture goals, and quantifying impact. Improving access to local data was a concern that cut across each of the case studies explored.

Tackling inequality and exclusion by lowering barriers

While the majority of case studies explored in this report take a place-based approach, realising inclusive growth will require attention not just to where economic growth is supported, but to who within those places has opportunity to contribute to and benefit from that growth. In practice, this means positive action to open up routes into new jobs, learning or training opportunities to people who are under-represented in particular sectors, or who face barriers to getting into or getting on in work. Through the Edinburgh University case study, we saw a strong example of how applying an inclusive growth lens to procurement practice can open up training opportunities to disadvantaged groups of people and strengthen the skills pipeline.

Community partnership

Relationships with local communities were critical to the success of the full range of projects explored. In procurement contexts, we heard that ambitions were often curtailed by a lack of organised and accessible information about local networks of suppliers. At times this presented practical obstacles to identifying strengths and weaknesses in local supply chains, undermining efforts to strengthen local supply chains. In regeneration contexts, strong and effective local partnerships were viewed as a critical component of success across the full range of activities undertaken.

These local relationships were often established through partnership working with established community organisations, who held invaluable local expertise and facilitate connections between local people and new work, learning and training opportunities. These are live and evolving relationships, which rely on sharing power and expertise. Handing power over to communities was a critical component of success where we found the most powerful examples of inclusive growth in action – such as in the case of Midsteeple Quarter, where a community group came together to decide on how space in the town centre should be best used.

Community leadership often challenged standard processes or approaches. We encountered tension between a desire for ‘oven-ready’ inclusive growth interventions and the recognition that transformative and sustainable change often relies on giving up power and handing it over to communities to shape their own agenda and to develop bespoke local initiatives. The case of Midsteeple Quarter, which cut against the grain of traditional funding routes in its cross-cutting ambitions, serves as an example of how relinquishing power leads to innovative new approaches.

Relationships with partners and suppliers

Building a shared vision with partners and suppliers was often key to successfully embedding inclusive growth across major projects. We heard that having partners who ‘got it’ and were bought in to an inclusive growth ‘mindset’ were often critical components of success – and that this had been made easier by government’s explicit public commitment to inclusive growth. In practice, this often meant larger-scale and longer-term projects were those that were able to develop innovative and effective approaches to delivering inclusive growth outcomes, as they had time and space to develop and deliver against well-articulated objectives.

Language and indicators

There is still some way to go to support practitioners to feel comfortable employing inclusive growth as a framework to shape economic development activity. While inclusive growth is in the process of translation from a theoretical approach to a tangible reality, a lack of shared language had proved a challenge to people working on the ground. This is clearest in a lack of confidence in setting clear and tangible outcomes against which to measure progress. This was made visible through tension between approaches that sought to deliver against clear and scalable outcomes; and those that sought to take a place-based approach that grappled with context-specific challenges.

Scaling challenges

The challenge of establishing a baseline against which to measure progress was clear across each of our case studies. A lack of readily accessible local-level data on education and labour market indicators among other information provided recurring challenges for efforts to identify and understand local challenges and meet them with effective solutions. There was also strong feeling that each project was to some extent reinventing the wheel – beginning from scratch and creating a whole new set of processes, systems and ways of working. We found that, in practice, projects followed a similar process to that set out in the Inclusive Growth framework set out by Scottish Government, but that projects were often developing their own independent systems and approaches, sourcing their own data, and setting outcomes from scratch.

Careful and dedicated efforts to challenge economic exclusion and support people who were long-term unemployed back into the labour market, such as the NHS jobs scheme led by Clyde Gateway, or the paid work placement scheme operated at the Riverside Dalmarnock development, while encouraging, were small in scale. Scaling up successes and learning lessons to develop approaches that improve outcomes over the longer term will be critical to inclusive growth’s success.

Translating local successes into national outcomes was consistently viewed as a challenge, with those working on delivering inclusive growth unsure where their work fitted into a broader picture. Local transformation was the driving motivation across these case studies, but it was less clear whether or how this work might be driving a new economic model at the national level. This was clearest in the challenge some experienced in drawing links between local indicators and the National Performance Framework.


This research sought out a range of example activity that could illustrate the potential of inclusive growth in practice across Scotland and, critically, share learning for policymakers and practitioners. The case studies explored just a small range of the activity on offer across Scotland. We heard of many further projects, including a wide range that are still in planning stages or in their infancy. As a result, the examples explored skew towards large-scale activity, and large-scale investment. We anticipate that this will not, however, limit their usefulness as examples of what inclusive growth approaches can look like on the ground. They often point to key mechanisms or new ways of working that have delivered progress against inclusive growth outcomes. We often found that activity that pre-dates the inclusive growth agenda can offer important lessons for practitioners looking to realise an inclusive and sustainable economy for Scotland over the next decade.

More recently, inclusive growth has been reframed as part of wider ambitions to deliver a wellbeing economy – signalling another fundamental re-orientation of government priorities as they relate to our economic model. Wellbeing economy approaches underline the purpose of the economy as delivering wellbeing for people living in Scotland within our planetary boundaries, so as to protect the wellbeing of future generations too. Efforts to deliver a just transition to net-zero are accelerating, but decisive and transformative action will be required to deliver necessary progress over this parliament.

The examples this research explores underline a significant shift towards place-based policymaking in Scotland. These now look to be enhanced by growing interest in community wealth building models at the local level. We found evidence of organic links being made between overlapping approaches to inclusive economic development. In a regeneration context, for example, key concepts that underpin community wealth building approaches were alive in practice – as exemplified by Clyde Gateway’s work with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and Police Scotland as anchor institutions, with large-scale potential to drive inclusive growth through jobs provision, procurement spend practices, and their land and assets.

Prioritisation challenges persist, however. As the activity spotlighted through these case studies highlights, place-based economic development activity has proliferated across parts of Scotland, expanding beyond the realm of regeneration work, which has had elements of inclusive growth activity at its core for decades. What is less evident, however, is how an understanding of inequalities between groups of people are being proactively tackled through inclusive growth activity – and particularly how this is being scaled up across activity in Scotland. While detailed action plans on the gender pay gap, racial equality and disabled people’s employment have been developed over the last five years, there is a risk that vital work to narrow inequalities is siloed and seen as separate to economic policy decisions taken across the country. Here, we find that city region deals offer important potential where, for example, an inclusive growth approach can recognise the value of prioritising routes into new education and training opportunities for economically disadvantaged groups. To do this effectively, it will be critical that policymakers and practitioners take a holistic approach to understanding disadvantage, and designing solutions that can lower the barriers particular groups of people face across Scotland.



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