Rescaling employment support accountability : from negative national neoliberalism to positively integrated city-region ecosystems

Whitworth, Adam and Carter, Eleanor (2017) Rescaling employment support accountability : from negative national neoliberalism to positively integrated city-region ecosystems. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 36 (2). pp. 274-289. ISSN 1472-3425 (

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Waves of successive Devolution Deals are transforming England’s landscape of spatial governance and transferring new powers to city-regions, facilitating fundamental qualitative policy reconfigurations and opening up new opportunities as well as new risks for citizens and local areas. Focused on city-region’s recently emerging roles around employment support policies the article advances in four ways what are currently conceptually and geographically underdeveloped literatures on employment support accountability levers. Firstly, the paper dissects weaknesses in the accountability framework of Great Britain’s key national contracted-out employment support programme and identifies the potential for city-regions to respond to these weaknesses. Secondly, the article highlights the centrality of the nationally neglected network accountability lever in supporting these unemployed individuals and advances this discussion further by introducing to the literature for the first time a conceptual distinction between what we term ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ forms of these accountably levers that currently remain homogenised within the literature. Crucially, the argument sets out for the first time in the literature why analytically it is the positive version of network accountability that is the key – and currently missing at national-level – ingredient to the design of effective employment support for the priority group of ‘harder-to-help’ unemployed people who have more complex and/or severe barriers to employment. Thirdly, the paper argues from a geographical perspective that it is city-regions that are uniquely positioned in the English context to create the type of positively networked integrated employment support ‘ecosystem’ that ‘harder-to-help’ individuals in particular require. Finally, the discussion situates these city-region schemes within their broader socio-economic and political context and connects with broader debates around the lurching development of neoliberalism. In doing so it argues that whilst these emerging city-region ecosystem models offer much progressive potential their relationship to the problematic neoliberal employment support paradigm remains uncertain given that they refine, embed and indeed buttress that same neoliberal employment policy paradigm rather than fundamentally challenging or stepping beyond it.