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Sheffield: Where Real Economics Beats Neoliberalism

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The richness of the Guild Socialists debates in Yorkshire, the emergence of the Sheffield Settlement for workers education, and the Adult Education movement emerged from the working class’s thirst for knowledge, especially of the political economy. These were initiated by the towering figures of John Ruskin, Edward Carpenter and Alfred Orage in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Their intellectual leadership led to the great political economy debates that challenged both financial and government policies.

From these sprang new ideas of communitarianism, social credit and co-operative production to deal with wage slavery and exploitation. Today, this thinking is key to overcoming the deadening impact of neoliberal policies and economic inequality. We need to revive their method of constructive debate and apply their principles in our communities, including community banks, and to our choice of politicians.

The UK has suffered greatly by reckless government policies from Labour and Tories that have taken no account of the real needs of our people. Both parties have shrunk the state, putting Treasury diktats before the needs of our institutions. The destruction of Tory privatisations were matched by Labour's PFI insistence, interfering with operational demands and draining money from capital budgets. So-called efficiencies trumped citizens' needs.

Society cannot flourish under the current extreme centralisation regime. Precedence must be given back to local government and communities - subsidiarity in place of command and control. Politicians must represent their constituencies and not be slave to their Party. Every citizen should be given as much money as they need for a home, energy, food, and a secure family life. This was at the heart of Guild Socialism and we need to renew that demand.

Former Chair, Leadership Development Institute at Rhodes University, South Africa. Founder of the Sheffield firm, JCP, that worked worldwide on collaborative supply chains; author of Beyond Negotiation.


Alumnus of Sheffield University and Senior Fellow at The Institute for Strategy, Resilience & Security, University College London.

Founder of the Citizen Network Research, a Sheffield-based think tank which works globally. In 2020, the Centre launched the Neighbourhood Democracy Movement to advance grassroots democratic citizen action.

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How should our society overcome inequalities of race, gender, sexuality, income and disability?