Vibrant Economy Index

VE Index: why measuring health and happiness matters

Measuring the health and happiness of a region is the key to creating thriving local communities, argues Sacha Romanovitch.

This is turning out to be a volatile year creating huge uncertainty.  

Global, seemingly intractable, conflicts and shock results in elections feature largely in our news. The EU Referendum in June and Donald Trump’s recent victorious election campaign perhaps highlight a feeling of economic division in both these societies; one where many have expressed disillusionment at how the system works.

In the UK, frustrations may be borne out of a number of factors, from stagnant wages to a lack of trust in our leaders and business. It is my belief if we want a society that works, a truly vibrant economy, then we must work together to create an environment with opportunities for everyone to thrive. Rather than wring our hands, we need to focus on what we can do. It is our combined actions that determine the kind of society we live in.

That vibrant economy in local communities means environments where dynamic businesses can invest and grow, people feel the opportunity to connect with and benefit from that growth, and where we see trust in local businesses and local government. Businesses create wealth and jobs and have the ability to make a positive social impact on their communities.

And yet often success is measured in only pounds and pence.  We need to look beyond simple financial measures of performance – such as GDP, GVA or employment –  especially at a time when these traditional measures of the health of the economy can seem so conflicting.  

Measuring a wealthy, healthy and happy population

For an accurate picture of what is happening on the ground we need to assess to what extent a region or city has, along with a wealthy, a healthy and happy population. We must adopt a more reflective definition of ‘performance’ that’s fit for the society that we all want to live in; one that captures all aspects of what it means to flourish and be part of a vibrant economy.

We have published the first findings of a research project, the Vibrant Economy Index, which  measures the comparative economic and social performance of towns and cities in England on a range of factors from economic prosperity, through health, wellbeing and happiness, to inclusion and equality.

Vibrant Economy Index: some surprising findings

The results have yielded some surprises. Take Manchester, which is widely recognised as one of the largest contributing regions to the UK economy.  Our research found that while the city’s strong levels of economic prosperity, sustainability and sense of community were evident, its health score was found to be significantly weaker with lower life expectancy and higher rates of childhood obesity than the national average.

When we look at economic and social measures side by side, we can get a sense of where the opportunity for a place lies – where businesses, local government and communities can come together to effect positive change.

That is why last week we convened 200 people in Manchester to consider how Greater Manchester can pioneer world class healthcare. Manchester already has great examples of businesses creating cutting-edge technology that will save lives, of local government projects that are improving the daily lives of individuals, and of community projects that are helping the most vulnerable.

The inquiry focused on these great stories, sharing and learning from one another. By bringing these people and organisations together, there is potential to mobilise Greater Manchester for the good of its population.

Why we all have a stake in creating thriving environments

If we want to create places that provide opportunity for all to thrive, we need to focus on more than headlines about economic prosperity. It’s increasingly clear that while government has a role we all need to step up in a collective and collaborative effort with businesses, communities and individuals coming together. 

We need to rebuild trust in the societal value of business so that higher employment levels and strong business growth can be purposeful,  translating into the creation of communities where there is the opportunity for all to thrive which means they are more inclusive and equal, more healthy and happy. That's a vibrant economy.

This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on Newsweek.