Both central and local governments have acknowledged the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and racially minoritised communities. But what is being done to address these inequalities and its economic impact on these communities?
We conducted research into regional post-COVID-19 economic recovery missions and UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) investment plans to get an idea of national and regional support programmes that target our communities. As part of this, we surveyed regional funding, investment opportunities and community wealth building initiatives to assess and build a national picture of available support for Black and racially minoritised community businesses and social enterprises. We examined recovery and investment plans for London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester, Leeds, Nottingham, and Bristol, as cities with sizable Black and racially minoritised communities.
While many recovery missions for each of these cities acknowledge the negative economic impact COVID-19 has had on our communities and their businesses, there have been few resulting support programmes that are specifically targeted at these communities. Targeted support has mostly addressed health inequalities, which, while certainly necessary, overlook the economic inequalities our communities have faced historically and that have been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. Business support programmes from local authorities often ‘encourage’ applications from our communities yet are open to a broad range of beneficiaries meaning access to local resources is competitive and does not provide a level playing field for Black and minority-led social enterprises.
On the other hand, London’s economic recovery framework gives attention to the structural inequalities Black and racially minoritised communities face in different areas, including business and employment. London’s recovery plan explains how their support programmes and actions contribute towards narrowing inequalities and target underrepresented groups. This includes a number of targeted support programmes as well as general programmes with quotas for Black and racially minoritised groups.
Likewise, regional UKSPF investment plans, often an extension of regional recovery missions, make reference to Black and racially minoritised communities, but few have investment priorities that are specifically targeted at these groups. For example, Birmingham has sizable Black and racially minoritised communities. However, the West Midlands’ UKSPF Investment Plan mentions them in vague terms as a diverse population, with no targeted interventions. On the other hand, while the Greater Manchester Combined Authority investment plan aims to ‘address inequalities’ and use investment to ‘support diverse communities appropriately’, their interventions are not targeted and remain broad. Similarly, Leicester’s investment plan calls for targeted business support for underrepresented groups, such as ethnic minorities. Yet their open call for the Business Growth Fund is not specifically targeted as they simply ‘encourage’ applications that support black and female business owners, alongside other groups and purposes.
The Greater London Authority’s (GLA) UKSPF Investment Plan links directly to its economic recovery framework and is informed by the London Recovery Board’s 2022 report, Building a Fairer City, which prioritises addressing inequities. As part of their investment plan, GLA have promised dedicated programmes for the growth of Black, Asian and ethnic minority led businesses. Their open call for UKSPF funding to support local businesses, sets out eight programmes, out of which three are targeted specifically at our communities.
Outside of London, local authorities are not doing enough to address the economic impact of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis on our communities. This is not to say that London should be used as the yardstick for regional economic recovery, and it is needless to say that London can and should do more. However, in the spirit of ‘levelling up’, local governments need to be doing more to address inequalities across people as well as place and ensure that no community gets ‘left-behind’. While many cities are implementing community wealth building initiatives as part of their local recovery strategies, the lack of targeted programmes means that Black and racially minoritised communities continue to face the same challenges and barriers in accessing support. Economic recovery needs to be equitable and growth needs to be even across different communities to ensure that local economic development is inclusive and benefits all.