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Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance

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Many austerity accounts focus on the shrinkage of city governments, with less emphasis on state-building responses. Utilising the Cultural Political Economy approach, this article examines the 'selection' of pro-growth 'economic imaginaries' that seek to mediate austerity. These issues are examined by way of a case study analysis of the city government of Coventry, UK. The article finds that a pro-growth/market imaginary dominates through sedimentation and discursive and governmental depoliticisation, resulting in the marginalisation of social regeneration priorities. Critical to this is the role of historically constituted discourses and nation-state 'selectivity' that legitimises this particular economic imaginary.
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Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 2018, 11, 565–585
doi:10.1093/cjres/rsy023
Advance Access publication 29 September 2018
© Crown copyright2018.
Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic
governance
CrispianFuller
School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff
CF10 3WA, UK, fullerc2@cardiff.ac.uk
Received on January 3, 2018; editorial decision on August 3, 2018; accepted on August 21, 2018
Many austerity accounts focus on the shrinkage of city governments, with less emphasis
on state-building responses. Utilising the Cultural Political Economy approach, this article
examines the ‘selection’ of pro-growth ‘economic imaginaries’ that seek to mediate auster-
ity. These issues are examined by way of a case study analysis of the city government of
Coventry, UK. The article nds that a pro-growth/market imaginary dominates through
sedimentation and discursive and governmental depoliticisation, resulting in the marginali-
sation of social regeneration priorities. Critical to this is the role of historically constituted
discourses and nation-state ‘selectivity’ that legitimises this particular economic imaginary.
Keywords: austerity, city government, economic imaginaries, pro-growth
JEL Classications: O10, O43, R58
Introduction
Austerity in the post-2008 nancial crisis period
has been displaced to subnational sites, involv-
ing performative enactment and mediation by a
range of actors working through heterogeneous
subnational institutional spaces (Fuller, 2017;
Pike etal., 2018). There have been various stud-
ies on the shrinkage of city governments and
the negative implications for urban governance
arising from austerity (for example, Hastings
etal., 2017; Kennett et al., 2015), but very few
accounts of the state-building responses to these
processes, in effect how city governments are
seeking to mediate the adverse consequences of
austerity through pro-growth strategies (LGA,
2012; Nurse and Fulton, 2017). This takes place
at a time when economic development and
related services, such as planning, have been
disproportionally inuenced by budget cuts
since 2010, with fears raised of the actual abil-
ity of cities to foster economic development
(LGA, 2012). The impact of austerity and the
importance of pro-growth strategies are there-
fore critical issues. In essence, it is not enough
to simply analyse and describe the restructuring
and shrinking of the state. We must know what
is developing in its place and through what aims
and means, which involves understanding why
and how politicians and city bureaucrats select,
legitimise and perform particularaims.
This article examines these issues by way of
a case study analysis of the city government
of Coventry in the West Midlands of the UK.
The city was chosen because it represents a
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mid-range city of 352,900 (2016) that is pres-
ently experiencing economic rejuvenation and
growth, but with high levels of social deprivation
and substantial state austerity taking place. The
city continues to have a manufacturing pres-
ence, based largely on the automotive sector
and the global expansion of Jaguar Land Rover,
with employment in this sector totalling 12.35%
(2016). The majority of people are employed
in private services (41%) and public services
(30%) in 2016, with the movement to a more
service-based economy producing a relatively
low unemployment claimant rate of 1.95 (2018).
Social deprivation remains widespread, as 18%
of neighbourhoods are within the 10% most
deprived in UK, and with no relative improve-
ments to deprivation levels between 2010 and
2015 (IMD, 2015). Coventry City Council has
experienced considerable austerity since 2010,
with the net expenditure budget falling from
£380m (2010) to £233m in 2017 (Hastings etal.,
20 17). Such shrinkage has had a substantial
effect on economic development activities,
with the budget of the Economy and Jobs ser-
vice being reduced (Table1) at the same time
as it has incorporated other shrinking services
within the City Centre Development Services
Directorate, such as city marketing, leaving
it with an operational budget of £10,677,000
but spread across a number of activities. The
department has gone from being 60% funded
by the Council and 40% from external sources
in 2010, to now being 70% sourced from exter-
nal funding or income, such as ERDF funding,
and 30% from the Council. Correspondingly,
there has been an overall reduction in the size
of the economic development team from 35 in
2010, to 14 ofcers presently employed.
The empirical analysis centres on those state
personnel, politicians and broader governing
organisations concerned with economic devel-
opment/regeneration in the case study. This
involves examining the selection and construc-
tion of discursive economic imaginaries by city
government state personnel and politicians as
they seek to reduce complexity, but within the
context of a dialectic relationship with mater-
ial arrangements. As such, the article utilises
Fairclough’s (2009) ‘dialectical-relational
approach, with its onus on dialectically exam-
ining the discursive in relation to the material
context, and focussing on ‘discursive practices’
and ‘social practices’. Of principal concern in
the semiotic meaning making and narration
of contemporary economic issues and their
prioritisation as the ‘economy’. Such discur-
sive practices have to be situated as histor-
ical social constructs (for example, embedded
Table1. Gross expenditure budget for economic development (£ 00 0s).
Service area
title
2009/2010a2010/2011b2011/2012c2012/20 13d2013/2014d2014/2015e2015/2016e2016/2017e2017/2018e
City
development
8777 9284 5699 6347 4001
Business,
Enterprise &
Employment
11,766 15,254 12,552 10,677
aRegeneration Strategy & Resources, Development Projects, Employment & Community Regeneration, and Local
Enterprise Growth Initiative.
bRegeneration Strategy & Resources, Employment and enterprise, and Development services.
cRegeneration Strategy & Resources, Employment and enterprise, and Development services
dEconomy and community, and Development services.
eEconomic Development, City Centre, International Trade and Inward Investment, Commercial and Operational Property,
Urban Regeneration, Transportation, Tourism and Marketing, Climate Change Strategy and Development, Energy Policy,
Conservation and Renewables, Sustainability and Digital Strategy. This represents the restructuring of the service with a
number of additional responsibilities. Specic budgets for these services are unavailable.
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567
Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance
within particular values) dialectically related to
social practices and material conditions, includ-
ing institutional arrangements and prevailing
power relations. These concepts are operation-
alised into analytical categories that inform the
coding of interviews and documents. Analysis
of selection and ‘sedimentation’ involves the
recording of ‘events’ but within the context of
social practices, with the analysis of change and
differing opinions involving comparison of dis-
courses (documents and discourses) and state-
ments (interviews). This includes a longitudinal
analysis of city government strategies since
1993. The NVIVO programme was deployed as
means of categorising statements in accordance
to the analytical categories.
A total of 20 interviews were conducted fol-
lowing the Council’s budget announcement in
April 2017. Interviews were undertaken with
ofcers and managers from the Council, total-
ling 13 interviews. This included the Director of
Place, and Assistant Director of Development
Services; the managers for business support,
employment and skills, and external support
and bidding; and eight ofcers fullling vari-
ous economic development tasks. A further
four interviews were conducted with politi-
cians from both the ruling and opposition pol-
itical parties, and one ex-senior manager. An
anonymised business association and a volun-
tary sector representative organisation were
also interviewed. Various documents are ana-
lysed, including media reports from 2010/2011
until present, annual Council plans, the strate-
gies of the Council, and the minutes of Cabinet
and Scrutiny Board meetings. In conclusion,
the article nds that the response by the city
government to austerity has been a pro-growth
imaginary, requiring legitimisation and natural-
isation. Such legitimisation works through both
the ‘selectivity’ of state strategies and particu-
lar historically constituted discourses, which
are based on certain value and norms about
the ‘economy’ and how to govern economic
development.
Austerity, entrepreneurialism, and the
urbanstate
Austerity and urban state governments
There has developed an extensive number
of studies on urban austerity, but many focus
on the mediation of austerity in urban areas
through changing collaborative governance,
or its imbrication within broader institutional
changes and metagovernance (for example,
Davies and Blanco, 2017; Pill and Guarneros-
Meza, 2018). Studies such as Davies and
Thompson (2016) are important in expli-
cating a governing landscape of ‘austerian
realists’ (see also Lowndes and McCaughie
(2016) on ‘pragmatic politics’), characterised
by local government reluctantly implement-
ing rather than resisting austerity. However,
these accounts are far less concerned with the
multi-dimensional agency of city government,
since they tend to interpret their composition,
strategies and practices by way of broader
governance trends. This includes a lack of
attention towards their motives and actions
as they articulate and mediate state austerity
programmes, whilst having to adhere to polit-
ico-bureaucratic rules and regulations from
the nation state that undermine local political
agency (Chorianopoulas and Tselepi, 2017).
Indeed, Lowndes and McCaughie (2016) have
importantly argued that greater sensitivity to
the agency of local government is critical in
understanding the nature of change arising
from austerity. They argue that while there has
been no ideational institutional impetus or
change, creative responses by actors through
practices have occurred, centring on novel
institutional arrangements developed from
existing alternatives, resources and capabili-
ties (‘bricolage’). Nonetheless, such accounts
interpret strategies and practices in terms
of particular institutional conceptions of
change (for example, bricolage) and stasis
(for example, path dependency), rather than
placing the complex and uneven motives
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Fuller
(for example, imaginaries) and practices (for
example, legitimisation) of city governments
at the forefront of analysis.
Other studies adopt an interpretivist perspec-
tive as a means by which to place the agency
of local government at the heart of their ana-
lysis. Gardner and Lowndes (2016) argue that
actors are negotiating a path through auster-
ity by utilising ‘traditions’ and local knowledge
to develop new hybrid narratives and practices
(for example, ‘municipal enterprise’), but that
negotiations and narratives are partial and con-
tested. While they demonstrate the importance
of examining the creativity of ‘situated agency’
and locally specic knowledge, such an approach
internalises broader deciencies within interpre-
tivist analysis, underplaying the interaction and
power relations between related and competing
narratives, as well as placing the discursive at the
forefront of analysis (Orr, 2005).
Further studies, including Fuller and West
(2017) and Griggs et al. (2016), are concerned
with the discursive ‘fantasmatic’ logics deployed
by actors within the local state to justify the
‘necessity’ of austerity. Nevertheless, such dis-
course perspectives tend to downplay the
role of institutionalised economic power and
instrumental forms of state power, and lack a
framework in which to be able to explain and
critique both the semiotic and material (Jessop,
2010; Varro, 2015). What all these studies do
emphasis, however, is that urban state retrench-
ment through austerity is a complex process,
which is not just regressive in the sense of an
absolute reduction in the scope and scale of the
state. Austerity is accompanied by the uncon-
tested and contested ‘lling-in’ of state (space),
suggesting a greater onus on the ‘agency’ of city
government as a site of mediation and invention
(Gardner and Lowndes, 2016; Jones etal., 2005).
Responding to the shrinking state: urban
entrepreneurialism and pro-growth
strategies
Faced with declining resources and capabilities,
local government has increasingly turned to the
generation of income as a means by which to
ll the budgetary gap for public services left by
decreasing central government funding trans-
fers (Donald et al., 2014; Warner and Clifton,
2014). This has involved promoting economic
development as a means of increasing tax
incomes and prosperity, and reducing poverty
and public service requirements (Fuller and
West, 2017; LGA, 2012; Meegan et al., 2014;
Oosterlynck and Gonzalez, 2013; Peck, 2012;
Pike etal., 2018; Warner and Clifton, 2014). This
can be broadly encompassed within arguments
around ‘urban entrepreneurialism’, dened in
terms of urban governing actors adopting pro-
growth/business policies (Lauermann, 2018).
Place-based interventions rather than spatial
equalisation across territories is the main policy
impetus, with the belief that this will produce
trickle-down benets (Peck, 2014). It typic-
ally involves collaborative efforts with market
actors and engaging global markets and agen-
das, and the use of state powers to promote
and protect municipal investments (Allen and
Cochrane, 2010; Laurermann, 2016).
Within the UK such practices now occur
within, rst, a strict austerity landscape where
city governments have far less resources and
fewer capabilities by which to act (Fuller and
West, 2017; LGA, 2012). Faced with budget
reductions for social services and community
regeneration, economic development policies
have gained greater importance as a means of
promoting growth and reducing deprivation
(Donald etal., 2014). Integral to this is the fur-
ther embedding of market values and priorities
within city government strategies, the spatial
consequence of which is to focus predomin-
antly on those sectors and economic spaces that
present the greatest opportunities for inward
investment and economic growth (Doucet,
2013). Second, despite the UK government
increasingly devolving responsibility for eco-
nomic development to subnational areas, this
does not fully translate into greater discretion
for cities (Clarke and Cochrane, 2013). Many
priorities and actions have to adhere to UK
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Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance
central government pro-growth policies, typic-
ally as a means in which to acquire funds, result-
ing in the subordination of social regeneration
as a major policy priority, with a renewed focus
on creating ‘efcient and dynamic markets’ and
removing barriers to growth (CLG, 2011; HM
Government, 2010; Pugalis and McGuiness,
2013). Understanding how city governments
are mediating these issues is therefore critical.
Economic imaginaries, sedimentation and
depoliticisation
Understanding the motives and actions of
city governments as they mediate austerity
and state shrinkage requires attention to why
and how they select and legitimise particular
actions. Through the development of a cultural
political economy (CPE) approach, Jessop
(2004) argues that the convoluted nature of
economic and social life leads to actors seek-
ing to reduce this complexity (‘variation’)
through semiotic means, although recognising
that social practices cannot be entirely reduced
to semiosis (Sum and Jessop, 2013). Discourses
involve the exclusion of many aspects of cha-
otic economic and social life, with the aim of
producing coherence by ‘selecting’ particu-
lar aspects to be representative of a complex
world, and manageable/calculable (Jessop and
Oosterlynck, 2008).
Selection occurs by way of ‘imagined econo-
mies’ where there is a semiotic selecting, fram-
ing and privileging of a particular social relation
as an object of intervention (Jessop, 2013).
Imaginaries are constituted by various semiotic
mediums which frame a subject’s lived experi-
ences and interpretations, and which therefore
seeks to structure their lives through vari-
ous ‘retained’ institutionalised arrangements
which represent the enactment of structured
lived experiences (for example, through norms
and routines) (Jessop and Oosterlynck, 2008).
Actors construct economic (spatial) imagi-
naries in relation to underlying hegemonic
projects linking economic growth to various
popular social interests, with the actual selec-
tion of imaginaries dependent on the balance
of power within society (Jessop, 2013, Varro,
2015). Intrinsic to this are narratives which
seek to support political motives through the
construction of ‘causal stories’, which include
blame avoidance, accusations and new courses
of action (Blyth, 2002, 39). Past modes of
thinking, behaviours and courses of action all
inuence contemporary options through their
utilisation within such narratives, but where
they are embedded within historically con-
stituted (structurally selective) institutional
norms and values of behaviour deriving from
previously ‘selected’ imaginaries (Sum and
Jessop, 2013).
For a particular imaginary to be selected
through such processes, it has to be enunci-
ated with existing semiotic and extra-semiotic
(material) processes, requiring mediation
through prevailing (structurally selective)
institutions and the logics they work towards.
This includes, for instance, imaginaries hav-
ing to resonate with the interests and strategic
selectivities of particular social groups, such as
organised business interests, as well as broader
institutional arrangements (for example, norms
and values) (Jessop, 2004). Moreover, the
nature of agency is critical, as actors have dif-
ferential access to the (semiotic and material)
capabilities for having economic imaginar-
ies realised, such as in having membership of
important social groups within polity (Sum and
Jessop, 2013). Utilising Foucault, imaginaries
are understood to be performative in nature
as they come to inuence and are enacted by
actors through the everyday. One element
of this is ‘styles’, which relates to the role of
imaginaries in producing identities and ‘ways
of being’ (for example, providing behavioural
meanings) that correspond to particular semi-
otic congurations (Jessop and Oosterlynck,
2008; Watkins, 2015). Construction and regu-
lation of such subjectivities through meaning-
making, and thus retention of imaginaries,
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Fuller
takes place through various ‘technologies’, as
conceived by Foucault, such as performance
management systems.
Despite the prominence placed on such semi-
otic means, CPE is criticised for reducing the
explanatory power of the semiotic to the extra-
semiotic conditions of capital accumulation
and state regulation, and that the regulationist
underpinnings of the approach means agency
is subsumed by structures (van Heur, 2010).
In response, Sum and Jessop (2013) argue that
such criticism tends to downplay the centrality
of semiosis within CPE, and that the material is
viewed in dialectical terms. The role of agency
is central to such an endeavour, as meaning-
making is considered more important than
abstract structures, since the latter are not pre-
constituted but constructed by agents as objects
of governance as part of the strategic-relational
approach (Jessop, 2004). Actors possess the
causality in which to construct particular imagi-
naries that produce meanings, but at the same
time are constituents of broader social relations
as they can be Foucaldian ‘subjects’ or agents
contesting imaginaries through various pol-
itical means (Jessop, 2010). Further criticism
relates to the belief that CPE presents a sim-
plistic understandings of the economic-political
nexus and the nature of political action, while
González (2006) argues that there is insuf-
cient consideration of how economic imagi-
naries are constructed (Varro, 2015). What this
requires is the utilisation of González’s (2006)
approach of focussing on the actual ‘how’ and
‘why’ practices of selecting imaginaries (in
relation to the material), but where there is a
need for further conceptual clarication of how
retention occurs.
Sedimentation and depoliticisation
While the concept of economic (spatial) imagi-
naries provides a framework for examining
the selection of particular economic strate-
gies, what is critical is the discursive framing
and justication for why certain elements of
the economic are viewed as governable and
retained. Jessop (2013, 20 14) terms this ‘sedi-
mentation’, the semantic process by which
‘selected’ discourses are semantically legiti-
mised, routinised and performed as an objec-
tive reality by actors with the resources to enact
such action. Sedimentation works through vari-
ous forms and practices (for example, ‘styles’
and ‘ways of being’), but one important aspect
is that of depoliticisation. The latter relates to
the attempt to remove imaginaries and their
performativity from political deliberation and
contention by placing them within the realm of
‘policy’, and can involve both ‘discursive’ and
‘governmental’ depoliticisation. In relation to
the former, critical to this is the ‘forgetting of
the contested origins of political discourses,
structures and processes’, and thus retention
of imaginaries relies upon overlooking and
disremembering alternative strategic options
and past forms of intervention, and emphasis-
ing how the selected imaginary, which itself is
historically constituted, can bring about struc-
tural xity (Jessop, 2014, 214). For Flinders and
Wood (2014), this ‘discursive depoliticisation
involves only limited choices being framed as
possible and legitimate. Complex policy issues
are presented in a simplied and biased manner
to ensure widespread support, the most impor-
tant of which is to highlight them as a ‘common
sense’ solution.
Sedimentation also stretches beyond the
purely discursive, with Flinders and Wood
(2014) arguing that there is ‘governmental
depoliticisation’ relating to actors and institu-
tions. This includes bureaucratic actors ensur-
ing there is no political interference, and both
state ofcials and politicians blaming others
for issues. Moreover, it relates to ‘structurally-
selective institutions’ associated with particular
political and social forms of organisation and
their institutionalised patterns of social inter-
action (Jessop, 2013). One key agent in this
sense is the nation state, which acts through
‘state strategies’ that are strategically selective
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Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance
towards particular social groups and geogra-
phies (Brenner, 2004). In the case of the UK,
central government control and direction of
local authorities remains an enduring feature
of centre–local relations (Ward etal., 2015).
For Burnham (2014), depoliticisation is not
the loss of politics, but a displaced and sub-
merged politics taking place in alternative
realms, often beyond scrutiny by non-partici-
pants. Depoliticisation is therefore not the loss
of politics and contestation, with sedimenta-
tion and depoliticisation being practices rather
than a static end state (Hay, 2014). Governing
spaces are constituted by actors making legit-
imacy claims as they seek to convey particular
economic development strategies and priori-
ties, which are used to legitimise their ability to
address previous policy failures (Etherington
and Jones, 2017). This understands that sedi-
mentation can be subject to critique by way
of ‘politicisation, a process that denaturalises
sedimented semiotic and material elements,
and which is partly contingent on ‘structurally-
selective institutions’, and where action and
change are viewed as possible through individ-
ual agency (see also Hay, 2007). Politicisation
involves the upsurge of unstructured com-
plexity, encompassing both the semiotic and
increasing importance of the extra-semiotic
(Jessop, 2014). Only through such an approach
is it possible to examine the shrinking state not
in absolute terms of decline, but rather encom-
passing discursive and material efforts by the
agency of city government to mediate austerity
and shrinkage.
Austerity, economic development and
city government
Selecting pro-growth strategies in an
austerityregime
Many of the New Labour Government’s
(1997–2010) social deprivation programmes,
which had been a central element of Coventry
City Council’s regeneration activities, were
discontinued following the initiation of substan-
tial austerity by the Coalition government in
2010, or had reduced budgets for the remainder
of their lives. This included the loss of £127m of
funding through the Neighbourhood Renewal
Fund, Working Neighbourhood Fund, and New
Deal Communities programme (which was a
10-year programme) in the period 2001–2011.
This was coupled with a reduction in the gen-
eral budgetallocation from central government
for the Council, based on the narrative of an
indebted state, and representing a reduction
of £95m per year in government grant fund-
ing from 2010/2011 to 2017/2018. For Council
managers and the Labour Party administration,
these broader austerity narratives and material
actions from central government justify, legit-
imise and depoliticise the selection of an eco-
nomic imaginary that has moved away from
‘discretionary’ funding of social regeneration
targeted at deprived communities, towards pro-
growth aims and material actions (see Pearson,
2013; see also Ponzini and Rossi, 2010). As
highlighted in a recent strategic statement: ‘The
Council’s key priorities incorporate a need for
the city to become more prosperous and for the
Council to lead the drive for economic growth
(CCC, 2016b,11).
Through ‘discursive depoliticisation’, the
reductions in discretionary services have been
partly framed in terms of the Council being
forced to do so by central government, follow-
ing the forms of ‘austerian realism’ outlined by
Davies and Thompson (2016), and with little
contestation by both Labour and opposition
Conservative politicians, as ‘We have had no
choice about developing proposals that will
affect the services we know Coventry people
value’ (Cllr Maton, quoted in Bannister, 2017).
At the same time, the ‘causal stories’ (Blyth,
2002) of declining scal and economic condi-
tions, following the national austerity narrative,
are further deployed as a means of justifying
and discursively depoliticising a pro-growth
imaginary, and producing new pro-growth
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‘styles’ of being for civil servants: ‘We had been
doing a hell of a lot of social regeneration for
many years, we could afford to do it because
the economy was moving rapidly, we could
afford to focus on those that were hard to reach,
but not anymore’ (Council Manager Interview,
2017). The consequence of this has been the
deselection and marginalisation of formal
arrangements and informal institutionalised
behaviours around neighbourhood working
and community regeneration, replaced by a
pro-growth imaginary, and without any politi-
cisation of this change due to the prevalence of
‘austerian realism’.
While a voluntary sector stakeholder
acknowledges far less central government
funding being available, they believe that
the Council’s strategic thinking and discre-
tionary resources are being targeted at the
city centre and capital funding objectives,
despite the negative impact of austerity on
deprived communities, as is evident in the
material actions of the Council presented in
Table2 and the budget funding statement for
2016–2017: Despite the nancial pressure
it faces the Council is maintaining an ambi-
tious approach to investing in the City’ (CCC,
2016a). In contrast, for senior managers it is
a case of pro-growth policies and related eco-
nomic spaces being selected because of the
‘structurally inscribed strategic selectivity’ of
the nation state, with their predominant focus
on economic development-based capital
spend in areas such infrastructure provision,
and representing ‘governmental depoliticisa-
tion’ (Jessop, 1990, 10; Pugalis, 2016). In this
sense, the materialities of the availability
of government funding inuences the eco-
nomic imaginaries of the Council, but at the
same time as the Council has very limited
resources for economic development; most
important of which includes only having 14
members of staff covering all functions and a
limited budget spread across a broad range of
economic development functions.
Senior management and the ruling adminis-
tration believe in, and construct an economic
imaginary based on, the ‘simple’ trickle-down of
economic prosperity from city centre property
redevelopment and particular important eco-
nomic sectors, such as advanced manufacturing
(for example, automotive), to the rest of the
city’s population (Council Manager Interview,
2017). Such a belief is based on the understand-
ing that in an age of austerity there are few
discretionary Council resources in which to
support communities in marginal areas, as well
as promote economic growth more broadly. For
instance, in the period 2018/2019–2022/2023,
there is only £115k of planned capital spend
on community development (CCC, 2018).
This thinking is embedded within the Jobs and
Growth Strategy (2014–2017), where objec-
tives around pursuing private sector capital
investment, central government funding for
infrastructure and physical redevelopment of
the city centre, provision of business support
programmes to businesses, and active relation-
ship building with rms that are dened as ‘key’
sectors (for example, automotive production),
are now priority (CCC, 2014)(see Table2 with
regards to capital spend). The purpose of this
is to therefore discursively create a specic
‘spatio-temporal x’ that demonstrates the city
government is positively impacting on the most
important sectors and areas in the city, but by
reducing a heterogeneous economy to city cen-
tre growth and the provision of business sup-
port to advanced manufacturing.
Senior managers and ruling Labour Party
politicians have sought to legitimise, discur-
sively depoliticise and sediment these new pro-
market strategies in positive terms by framing
them as a means of bringing ‘clarity’, and thus
a ‘cohesive strategy’, and prioritise what they
consider to be the most important issues and
needs; thus austerity is an ‘opportunity’ (Senior
Council Manager Interview, 2017; see also
Griggs et al., 2016). This makes the deploy-
ment and sedimentation of calculation and
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573
Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance
Table2. Major economic development/regeneration activities completed/planned since 2010/2011.
Major Projects
(Cost)
Activity Geographical
focus
Funding source Completed
City Centre South
(£200m)
Demolition of an ofce block New
retail centre and student/residential
accommodation
City centre West Midlands Combined
Authority Private sector
investment
2020 start
Friargate (£1.5b
proposed)
New bridge and boulevard City centre LEP Growth Fund
Council
Private sector
West Midlands Combined
Authority (£51m)
2014–2027
New Council building (£40m)
25 new ofces, housing and retail
Coventry Train sta-
tion (£82m)
Redevelopment of station
New tunnel
New platform
City centre LEP Growth Fund
West Midlands Combined
Authority (£39.4m)
Integrated Transport Block Fund
Network Rail
2019–2021
Gosford Street and
Coventry University
campus (£50m)
Public realm improvements
Pedestrian improvements
New ofces, shops and housing,
Creation of new creative industry
village
Student accommodation (280 rooms)
City centre European Regional
Development Fund
LEP Growth Fund
Coventry University
Growing Places fund
(infrastructure)
Private sector investment
2014–2017
Belgrade Plaza
(£113m +
£35m student
accommodation)
Pedestrianisation and road
improvements
City centre European Regional
Development Fund
Growth Deal
2012–2017
Hotel and restaurants Private sector investment
Student accommodation (597 rooms)
and retail
Private sector investment
Junction One and
pedestrian link to
the Canal Basin
(£7.5m)
Pedestrian crossing City centre European Regional
Development Fund
2015–2017
Broadgate/Hertford
Street (£2m)
Demolition of an ofce
New pedestrian links
City centre Growing Places funding
(infrastructure)
2011– present
Lidice Place (3m) Road improvements
Pedestrian improvements
City centre Growth Deal 2011–2014
Leisure Centre/
Waterpark (£37m)
Swimming pool/Waterpark City centre Coventry City Council 2017–2019
Bishopgate (75m) Student accommodation (1200
rooms)
City centre Private sector investment 2015–2017
London Road
(£73m)
Student accommodation (1400
rooms)
City centre Private sector investment 2017–2018
Lower Ford Street
(£43m)
Student accommodation (769 rooms) City centre Private sector investment 2015–2017
Cathedral Lanes
(£5–6m)
New restaurants City centre Private sector investment 2014–2015
Burges (£25m) Regeneration of buildings City centre Heritage Lottery bid Bidding
Jaguar Land Rover
expansion (£35m)
New bridge SE suburbs LEP Growth Fund 2018–2020
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574
Fuller
management of economic relations more pos-
sible. Acritical element of this narrative, and
its actual performativity through the ‘ways of
being’ of state personnel and organising (gov-
ernmental depoliticisation), is one in which:
‘You can’t do everything. It makes you think,
right what are my top three priorities? I’ll do
those, other things will have to go’ (Senior
Council Manager Interview, 2017). What we
see here therefore is a more market-based
approach, rationalisation of provision based on
demand by the market, and which is compar-
able to the more commercial perspective being
taken by city governments during austerity and
movement away from ‘collectivist’ traditions of
reducing inequalities (Lowndes and Gardner,
2016; Warner and Clifton,2014).
An important element of this pro-growth
imaginary is the politicisation of past eco-
nomic development/regeneration approach,
where there was an oversupply of funding from
various central government programmes for
regeneration activities, which produced and
sedimented particular performative ways of
being and styles. The identities and practices of
ofcers were based on nding projects for the
large amount of funding they had and with far
less attention on actual needs. This includes a
performance management regime focussed on
spend (based on successful project delivery),
and where there were many different siloed
programmes leading to a lot of time and effort
devoted to administrative and reporting tasks
(Ex-senior Council Manager Interview, 2017).
This was notable during the New Labour social
exclusion agenda, with the Neighbourhood
Renewal Fund and New Deal Communities
(total funding of £127m, 2001–2011) focus-
sing on small geographical areas and popula-
tions (c.16,000) in the inner city (for example,
Hillelds and Foleshill) and suburban sites
in the northeast and southwest (for example,
Wood End, Henley Green and Canley). One
particular manager notes in regards to the
Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) that
‘it was very much driven by project outputs,
number of citizens on a training course, those
sorts of things, and spending the money, so that
drove the purpose of the organisation and you
(Council Manager Interview,2017).
‘Technologies of performance’ are import-
ant in the selection of pro-growth imaginar-
ies and underpin austerity-based change and
the performativity of imaginaries, since they
make the ‘economy’ manageable and calcul-
able. Judgements on which priorities and ser-
vices will be adopted are based on individual
project outputs and costs per head (that is,
beneciaries of interventions), and thus rmly
embedded within market conceptions and tech-
nologies of efciency and cost-benet thinking
(Dean,2010).
This translates into the performativity of
such imaginary economies through the ‘styles’
Major Projects
(Cost)
Activity Geographical
focus
Funding source Completed
Canley
Regeneration
Project (£13m)
Private and social housing Canley (SW
suburbs)
Private sector
Whitefriars
Coventry City Council
2009– present
Wood End,
Deedmore Road,
Henley Green,
Manor Farm
(£360m planned)
Private and social housing Wood End,
Deedmore
Road, Henley
Green, Manor
Farm
(NE suburbs)
Private sector
Whitefriars
Coventry City Council
2010– present
Table2. Continued
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575
Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance
(that is, identities) and ‘ways of being’ (that
is, meanings of behaviour) of state personnel,
with them being organisationally dened by
their ability to deliver individual project out-
puts. More broadly, this has major implications
for the breadth of economic development and
social regeneration projects, which has been
substantially narrowed under an austerity
regime, representing what Hastings etal. (2017)
terms ‘residualisation. The Council had other
priorities which were calculated as producing
marginal benets but not being cost-effective,
and so they are not included in the top three
priorities despite being critical to deprived
communities, producing particular ‘[un]cal-
culative spaces’ (Miller, 1994). This is justied
to other stakeholders and citizens in terms of
being the consequence of national austerity, as
is evident in the leader of the Council stating
that: ‘For a number of years now we have had
to nd savings and our options are becoming
far more limited’ (Cllr Mutton, quoted in CCC,
2016c).
Such a situation is not judged to be negative,
since the framework is increasingly monetary-
orientated in terms of the semantic, material
and performativity through ways of being and
styles of human agency. It is justied in terms of
a model based on how private economic actors
function in a competitive marketplace where
there are cost considerations stemming from
austerity, leaving a budget of only £10,677,000
across a number of economic development-
related activities (for example, tourism), and
the rationalisation of need and provision, as
one senior manager notes: ‘Personally, Idon’t
think that’s an unhealthy position to be in,
because you will grow exponentially if you
don’t have that force driving you. Every pri-
vate business will have that to overcome this’
(Council Manager Interview, 2017). Voluntary
sector actors and particular Labour politi-
cians note that this decision making frame-
work, with its onus on breadth of provision and
impact, rather than the targeting of those with
major needs through ‘collectivist’ local govern-
ment traditions (Gardner and Lowndes, 2016),
introduces a form of rationalisation that nega-
tively impacts on communities experiencing
deprivation in marginalised places, since they
are now judged to be beyond a semiotically
dened ‘economy’. It also represents a dimen-
sion of governmental depoliticisation, with pol-
itical deliberations and scrutiny focussed on
decision-making in and around technologies
of monetary modelling and cost-effectiveness,
but for the ruling Labour Party and managers
this is a consequence of the institutional spa-
tial selectivity of central government austerity
(Lowndes and Pratchett, 2012).
The semiotic and material constitution of
the pro-growth imaginary
A central element of the pro-growth imagin-
ary and strategy, with its strict parameters of
what constitutes the economy, is the commer-
cial redevelopment of the city centre. This
is embedded within historically-sedimented
semantic and institutionalised routines, involv-
ing values and norms around a commercial-
ised property view of economic development
and regeneration, which produce particular
‘styles’ of being for state personnel. An ex-
senior manager and existing managers argue
that Coventry has long specialised in commer-
cial property development, rather than people-
focussed regeneration within neighbourhoods,
despite the large amount of funding previously
acquired. This was evident in housing schemes
dominating large-scale regeneration projects
in the New Deal for Communities programme,
and the private sector-led Canley Regeneration
Project (Table 2) (author’s interview; see also
OECD, 2001). Such an imaginary stems from
entrenched beliefs and values in the persistent
need to mediate the negative consequences
of job losses in manufacturing since the 1970s,
with ‘like for like’ jobs, and diversication
into the service sector. Browneld redevel-
opment and infrastructure were viewed as a
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576
Fuller
critical intervention to replace such jobs since
the 1980s,as ‘municipal socialism’ gave way to
Thatcherite neoliberalism (Benington et al.,
1992; CCC, 1993, 2001; Healy and Clarke, 1984;
OECD, 2001). A long-term local politician,
presently in opposition but having held previ-
ous Cabinet posts, argues that these values and
norms developed into a ‘mentality’ and iden-
tity held by both local politicians and ofcers
at the Council. This led to the Council employ-
ing people that held similar values, beliefs and
identities, ensuring an institutionalised, sedi-
mented and congruent approach over time, and
the continuation of these particular subjectivi-
ties and ‘ways of being’ (Opposition politician
interview, 2017). Importantly, this corresponds
to Gardner and Lowndes’ (2016) argument that
it is those strategies that most adhere to histor-
ically constituted ‘traditions’ that are utilised
and uncontested.
The economic imaginary and its performa-
tivity through ways of being and ‘styles’ by
senior management and the ruling Labour
Party administration are therefore viewed as
an historical construct. This represents a set
of embedded values, beliefs and identities of
performing around commercial property-led
economic development and community regen-
eration, which has now been ‘converted’ to
pro-growth aims and material interventions in
particular economic spaces (OECD, 2001). This
has subsequently become institutionalised and
performed as values and norms which strongly
inform the appointment of certain civil serv-
ants, and guides the behaviours of managers
and ofcers; demonstrating that historically
constituted imaginaries, and their institution-
alisation in the every day, has a critical role in
‘agency selectivities’, which then ensures the
retention of the semantic and extra-semantic
(Sum and Jessop, 2013).
There is, however, a notable disjuncture with
past approaches in that the ruling Labour Party
administration and senior managers have also
sought to sediment, by way of politicisation, a
view that the city’s past ‘state spatial strategies’
have been incorrect. The purpose of this has
been to further justify a property-led approach
by ensuring that any criticism is focussed on
the approach within the imaginary, not of the
imaginary. By doing so they intend to further
sediment and discursively depoliticise this
approach, ensuring there is no overall critique.
The argument has been that past strategies
have had the material consequences of encour-
aging dispersion, involving the building of new
business and retail parks on the outskirts of the
city connected to key road arteries into and
beyond the city, and thus developing new eco-
nomic landscapes away from what were per-
ceived as being diseconomies of agglomeration
(CCC, 1993, 2001). The approach led to what
policymakers frame as having a detrimental
impact on keeping consumer spending within
the city centre, as well being located in sites that
were difcult for marginalised communities to
access. The consequence of this strategy leading
up to the austerity period was for the city cen-
tre to lack investment, leading to the Council
arguing that the city centre loses 56% of spend
to neighbouring urban areas as there had been
no major urban redevelopment since the 1960s
(Council Manager Interview,2017).
The materialities of city centre disuse are
dialectically embedded within the subsequent
property-based economic imaginary. Faced
with far fewer resources from austerity and
a changing national policy focussed on pro-
growth, from 2010 the strategy has been based
on re-imagining and redeveloping the city cen-
tre as critical to the overall city economy: ‘the
rst impression that you have of this City is
what you see when you rst arrive by car or
train, everything works around this’ (Senior
Council Manager Interview, 2017). This city
centre-based strategy is heavily inuenced by
the institutional selectivity of market demands
and aims of property developers, rather than by
city government (Strom, 2008), and with two
main elements to the strategy, both of which
represent efforts to create a new post-industrial
image (MacLeod, 2002). In effect, austerity and
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577
Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance
state shrinkage mean that the response by the
state is intrinsically related to and dependent
on the materialities of private sector property
capital and the economic geographies they seek
to produce, but legitimised by the materialities
of a disused city centre.
Creating new studentspaces
The rst part of the strategy involves legitimis-
ing and sedimenting a focus on student-led
economic development, which seeks to exploit
the growing student intake at Coventry and
Warwick universities as a means by which to
foster city centre regeneration, but represent-
ing the re-commodication of a space to be
consumed by what is a transient social group
(Hall and Hubbard, 1998). Critical to this is the
construction of an economic imaginary that
seeks to discursively depoliticises the agenda,
involving a narrative of student accommoda-
tion provision being poor in the city, but that
it produces substantial economic development
benets. Efforts at legitimising, sedimenting
and depoliticising such an economic strategy
involves a narrative of it being, rst, ‘dead easy
to fund’ for developers, with urban redevel-
opment considered relatively cost-free for the
Council (Council Manager Interview, 2017).
This is explicit within the planning application
for the 922-bed Paradise Street residence, which
states it ‘will enhance a previously run-down site
and provide a sustainable location for student
accommodation’ (cited in Mullen, 2017). Using
this as an example, the materialities of urban
redevelopment are being framed in terms of
simply replacing the previous usage of a garage
and large retail unit, with new buildings for stu-
dents who are considered central to economic
development, but with no new services, housing
or employment sites for local residents. Second,
student accommodation is framed as going to
sites that are cheap as there is a lack of compe-
tition for use because of their ‘obsolescence’ in
terms of exchange value (Weber, 2002). Their
new use as a space of student consumption is
narrated as producing strong economic multi-
plier effects as investment is considered to be
cumulative, since investing in student accom-
modation will bring in complementary invest-
ment in related social and cultural facilities that
will produce employment opportunities.
This strategy is thus indicative of a shrinking
city government fostering and depending on
the private nancialisation of urban redevel-
opment for particular ‘consumers’, with an
institutional apparatus geared towards valu-
ing pro-growth and pump-priming the market
(Harvey, 2006). In effect, the Council argues
that they do not possess the requisite resources
and capabilities required to undertake sub-
stantive regeneration across the city centre,
with only a small team of physical regener-
ation project specialists within the department
to undertake such tasks, and with a limited dis-
cretionary budget, meaning they are depend-
ent on the private sector. As highlighted in
Table2, developer investment in new student
accommodation totals around £339m, which
is an amount of money that the city council
does not have access to through central gov-
ernment (for example, Growth Fund and West
Midlands Combined Authority Growth Deal)
and ERDF funds, and with these focussed on
intrastructure and environmental improve-
ments. This adheres to Gardner and Lowndes’
(2016) argument that austerity is leading to
the further embedding of a local government
‘enabling’ role. For instance, in the case of the
‘Study Inn’ development, encompassing three
student residences, the Council provided a
loan to the developer through prudential bor-
rowing in 2013, but undertook no other action
with regards to regenerating the area. This was
because the Council believed that only the pri-
vate sector had the capabilities and risk-taking
abilities to successfully regenerate and operate
in the property market. It does mean that the
Council does not place any stringent demands
on developers for additional redevelopment
tasks that would increase developer risks and
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578
Fuller
reduce potential prots (Council Manager
Interview,2017).
There has been criticism of the approach
by residents in the local media and a signed
petition of around 200 residents for one pro-
posal, as they seek to politicise the imaginary.
Critique centres on the belief that it repre-
sents the construction of new physical spaces
for ‘external’ student ows, producing stu-
dent-focussed landscapes of consumption and
gentrication, and thus new forms of social
inequality (Moulaert etal., 2003). In contrast,
there has been very little disapproval conveyed
by both the ruling Labour Party, opposition
parties and business organisations such as the
Chambers of Commerce. The response by the
Council to criticism has been to discursively
depoliticise and re-image the materialities of
the city in the context of being both a university
city and a ‘global’ space, and which is used to
legitimise their much smaller role in economic
and social issues. In relation to the new £40m
Belgrade Plaza Student Village, which includes
a 20-storey block, one politician stated that:
‘We are a university town, we have one of the
top 50 universities in the world, and Coventry
University as well is a highly sought-after uni-
versity to come to, so there’s going to be incred-
ible demand for this type of accommodation
(Cllr McNicholas, quoted in Lillington, 2015).
The Head of Planning at the Council further
justied and dened the high-storey develop-
ment in terms of being part of a ‘global’ ubi-
quitous urban trend: ‘Tell me a city that doesn’t
have tower blocks’ (quoted in Lillington, 2015).
Importantly, this represents efforts to dis-
pel critique by re-emphasising the economic
imaginary, rather than by connecting it more
with the everyday life of citizens, suggesting a
lack of consideration of potential future crisis
tendencies.
Creating new city centre commercialspaces
This student-centred strategy has accompanied
efforts to redevelop the city centre since 2012
when Olympic football was held in the city, and
forms part of a £300m master plan to redevelop
the city centre, which is dependent on future
private capital investment, as well as central
government and EU funding to regenerate
the environment. Council managers utilised
this event as an ‘excuse to say that we need
to sort out the public realm of the city centre,
actually put a functioning spine back into the
city so that people could nd their way around’
(Council Manager Interview, 2017). For senior
managers it was a case of framing the football
event as a means in which Coventry would
be ‘showcased to the world’ (Senior Council
Manager Interview, 2017). Moreover, it was
used to legitimise a particular imaginary and
course of action, further institutionalising a
pro-growth city-centre rst approach which is
framed as producing achievable outputs (for
example, number of visitors) and outcomes (for
example, retail job growth); but requiring only
limited Council resources that are focussed on
acquiring grants for infrastructure provision
and environmental improvements (Council
Manager Interview, 2017). In so doing, the
Council is seeking to legitimise and sediment
the belief that a smaller city government still
equates to an ability to produce manageable/
calculable city centre regeneration and eco-
nomic development, but where the materiali-
ties of redevelopment depend on developers,
the property market and central government
and EU funding priorities. Efforts at natu-
ralising and depoliticising such an approach
have been based on presenting public realm
improvements as a space for all residents, but
many stakeholders note that citizens have such
a bad opinion of the city centre they are happy
with any efforts for change (author’s inter-
views). This is epitomised in the media framing
the master plan in terms of ‘The £300m plan to
“save” Coventry city centre’ (Bannister, 2017).
With the success of these public realm
improvements, it was possible for councillors
to be convinced by ofcers to support efforts
at acquiring further investment in the city
centre, through bidding for Priority 3 ERDF
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579
Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance
funding (Sustainable Urban Development),
central government funding via the CWLEP
Growth Fund and West Midlands Combined
Authority Growth Deal, and small amounts of
Council investment (see Table2 on the various
initiatives). This includes the proposed £100m
‘Friargate’ development in the southern area
of the city centre which forms part of the mas-
ter plan, involving proposals for 13 ofce build-
ings, two hotels, 400 new private homes and
shops. As before, the Council seeks to legit-
imise its role as one of market ‘enabler’. The
approach they have taken is one of depend-
ence on the desired market outputs and prots
of developers, irrespective of the joint venture
with the developer (Cannon Kirk), but for
many stakeholders there is a lack of Council
intervention in what will be developed in the
area, with a bias towards pro-growth activities
(for example, ofces) (Gilbert, 2017). What we
see therefore is the ‘agency’ of the city coun-
cil being limited in regards to the materiality
of regeneration. Furthermore, the success of
the Council in acquiring public sector grants
has to be situated within a context where
programmes have to adhere to government
and EU economic development pro-growth
priorities. For instance, the West Midlands
Combined Authority’s (WMCA) (the city-
regional body which the Council forms part of)
Strategic Economic Plan is focussed on eight
economic development priorities. Acquiring
WMCA Regional Growth Fund money for
the Friargate development and redevelopment
of Coventry train station has meant adher-
ing to the pro-growth priorities of the Plan,
namely in terms of transport priorities (‘HS2
growth’ priority) and supporting the ‘places’
of city centres (‘exploiting the economic geog-
raphy’ priority). Similarly, the Coventry and
Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership
‘Growth Fund’ (which is a central government
economic development fund) has Friargate as
a ‘key investment site’ as part of its ‘Unlocking
Growth Potential’ priority.
The (semiotic and extra-semiotic) dialect
between a city government as only having a
limited market ‘enabler’ role under an auster-
ity regime, and the material realities of depend-
ence for urban redevelopment on property
developers, has become more complicated. The
Council has moved beyond the role of sim-
ply the semiotic leader of the master plan, to
encompassing a more material position. This
occurred as the Council had to provide a loan
to the developer (Cannon Kirk) in December
2017, as the Friargate land is security against
Irish government loans to the developer, and
without the loan the development could not
go ahead, including being able to acquire the
£51.2m of West Midlands Combined Authority
funding. At a time of austerity when service
reductions are publicly occurring, leading to
the possibility of the politicisation of the pro-
ject, the Council has sought to justify and dis-
cursively depoliticise the loan in terms of future
taxpayer returns through business rate revenue
increases, with the market framed as a potential
saviour of future service provision.
As stated above, actual public debate on the
nature of the master plan has been minor, with
Council managers and ruling politicians con-
veying a narrative that the poor state of the city
centre means that any redevelopment plans are
broadly welcomed by residents and stakehold-
ers, and that in reality there has been no exten-
sive public debate or opposition to the plans.
This is therefore not depoliticisation, but public
acquiescence to proposals which are ‘viewed as
better than not having anything in place… and
actually representing some sort of response
(Opposition party politician interview, 2017).
From this position it is possible for the Council
to undertake decisions beyond the scrutiny of
non-participants, and pursue a pro-growth city
centre rst strategy by way of governmental
depoliticisation. This can be conceptualised in
terms of the construction of citizens as pas-
sive subjects through semiotic ‘styles’, but this
does not take account of why and how such
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580
Fuller
acquiescence occurs. A post-structural dis-
course perspective would view this in terms
of the role of fantasmatic logics or narratives
gripping human agency. For Fuller and West
(2017), austerity has not been substantially
resisted because of various fantasies that ll a
discursive void, such as in policymakers argu-
ing that a particular route will ensure bene-
ts in the future. One can therefore interpret
acquiescence to this city centre-based property
development imaginary as a consequence of
‘having at least some sort of plan in place that
is enough to satisfy the public that we’ve got
an idea of what we’re doing’ (Council Manager
Interview,2017).
What is critical for the Friargate develop-
ment is the complete relocation of the Council
to a new £40m ofce block, demonstrating a
movement beyond the semiotic to a mater-
ial role. This is mainly funded by the Council
through prudential borrowing (of £31m), and
is being used to pump-prime further private
sector redevelopment that is not guaranteed:
‘This plan is value for money for Coventry
taxpayers and will send the clearest message
to developers for decades that the city is open
for business and prepared to do what it takes
to stimulate the local economy’ (Cllr Lucas,
quoted in Bagot, 2013). What is critical in this
statement and others by the Council is the dis-
cursive connection that is established between
direct monetary benets to citizens, framed as
‘the taxpayer’ rather than citizen, and a strat-
egy of being conductive to the private eco-
nomic aims of developers and inward investors,
rather than a major redevelopment that seeks
to benet citizens (Opposition party politician
interview, 2017; Anonymised stakeholder inter-
view, 2017). Correspondingly, this sensitivity
to private capital and the strategic priorities
more generally epitomises a situation where
city government is facing far less funding from
central government, with the resources that are
available restricted to pro-growth capital pro-
jects and, as a consequence, it has very limited
avenues for undertaking economic develop-
ment beyond such a high risk strategy. As one
ex-senior manager notes: ‘It’s quite a gamble…
it’s got to work because you can only do this
once in 40years’ (Ex-Senior Council Manager
Interview,2017).
There is tension in austerity-driven urban
entrepreneurship between a Council follow-
ing a pro-growth agenda that adheres to cen-
tral government priorities and developers,
and non-state bodies and the local population
experiencing the negative consequences of aus-
terity. Through its entrepreneurial actions the
city government is essentially ‘capital’ fund-
ing rich, but revenue funding poor. However,
there is little understanding of this by citizens
and non-state actors, but managers seek to dis-
cursively depoliticise this in terms of the inher-
ent and natural ignorance of citizens to central
government relations and requirements, rather
than because of the actual strategy and project:
‘While we might spend £40m on our new ofce
block, that’s money we can’t spend on staff and
services. Internally, that message is very clear.
Externally to the public, that message is far
from understood. Idon’t know whether you’ll
ever get over that position’ (Senior Council
Manager Interview,2017).
In response, the Council seeks to sediment
a semantic link between developer objectives,
which underpin the Friargate development,
and associated state funding for capital pro-
jects, with social and employment benets for
citizens but where they are dened in terms of
economic parameters. The Friargate develop-
ment, for instance, is framed in terms of ‘not
just for the Council but for the city’, and with
broader employment benets: ‘Friargate is set
to create over 15,000 new jobs’, and ‘We want to
be a top ten city once again and developments
like this, and the jobs and investment they cre-
ate, will help us get there’ (former Leader Cllr
Lucas, quoted in Eccleston, 2015). Such discur-
sive imaginaries have not been substantially
contested by other stakeholders or residents;
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581
Entrepreneurial urbanism, austerity and economic governance
while the Conservative opposition has sought
to politicise the development within the para-
digm of pro-growth and market values and
norms (for example, whether there is a ‘viable
business case), suggesting that ‘governmen-
tal depoliticisation’ of this imaginary remains
strong.
Efforts towards discursive and governmental
depoliticisation, involving the management of
tension and potential politicisation, is persistent
in a terrain of state shrinkage arising from aus-
terity, pro-growth change and dependence on
private capital. This follows the understanding
that economic imaginaries cannot encompass
all of the everyday, leaving interstitial spaces
of contestation and crisis tendencies (Sum and
Jessop, 2013). One prominent example in 2017
involves the city government secretly buying
out, for £11m, the joint ownership of a manor
house that is commercially used for events.
Conict arose because this was at the same
time as there were protests around a decision
to stop funding a transport service for disabled
children.
Critique of this action has been disparate,
and essentially alludes to the failure of a cohe-
sive political and societal response to auster-
ity (Davies and Blanco, 2017). The opposition
Conservative Party only contested the decision
in reference to the viability of the business,
and thus the critique conformed to the actual
institutional values and strategy underpinning
the action (Hainey, 2017). In contrast, protest-
ers discursively subverted the Council’s place-
marketing boosterism for its City of Culture
2021 bid, by relabelling it ‘City of culture? City
of cruelty’ during protests (Sandford, 2017).
Yet this gained no major political or civil soci-
ety traction, resulting in a lack of more sub-
stantial politicisation and collectivism by other
stakeholders experiencing austerity, following
broader trends within UK cities (Davies and
Blanco, 2017; Fuller, 2017). The reasons for
this are both material and semantic, with the
former including voluntary sector bodies being
distracted by the need to survive in the face of
fewer public sector service contracts, and the
substantial decline in funding support for com-
munity bodies, unable to mobilise local commu-
nities behind particular campaigns. At the same
time the Council successfully depoliticised the
episode by deploying ‘fantasmatic’ narratives
(Fuller and West, 2017), involving discourses
projecting future benets if all adhere to the
Council’s further marketisation: ‘Local govern-
ment is still at risk of losing funding so this is a
way that we can make our own revenue going
forward - we are investing in a prot-making
business’ (Cllr O’Boyle, Cabinet member for
Business, quoted in Hainey, 2017).
Conclusion
The culmination of the argument in this art-
icle is that examining the shrinking state is as
much about understanding state building as it is
retrenchment and retreat (Allen and Cochrane,
2010). Pro-growth imaginaries dominate the
case study city’s approach, representing the
marginalisation of social regeneration priori-
ties. This has arisen through the nation state-led
austerity instigated since the 2010 election of
the Coalition government, and the endogen-
ous decisions taken by city government of-
cials and politicians. What is critical regarding
the latter is the historically-constituted values,
norms and beliefs of ofcials and politicians
that are semiotically embedded within a new
economic imaginary of commercial property-
based development, which had previously been
dominant in community regeneration under
New Labour in the city. The city government
has attempted to reduce the complexity of the
‘economy’, and legitimise and depoliticise the
pro-growth agenda and sediment an imagin-
ary of the importance of the ‘city centre’ to the
whole city’s prosperity, and framed as there
being no alternative. Through such an imagin-
ary it has been possible for the city government
to legitimise the utilisation of public funds to
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582
Fuller
subsidise market development concentrated in
the city centre (Moulaert etal., 2003).
This suggests practices of depoliticisation
common to the post-political paradigm, but
through the utilisation of Jessop’s (2013, 20 14)
perspective it is possible to focus more fully
on the actual practices of sedimentation and
depoliticisation by the state, and how such pro-
cesses relate to broader institutional tendencies
and selectivities such as austerity. Important
in this process is the ‘structurally-selective
institutions’ produced by the Coalition and
Conservative governments as they favour pro-
growth interventions, relegating social regener-
ation priorities in marginalised inner and outer
city spaces, and which have provided the oppor-
tunities for the city government to pursue this
agenda (Pugalis, 2016). One critical aspect
of this structural selectivity is the role of cen-
tral government ‘austerity institutions’ (Fuller,
20 17) targeted at local government, which have
reduced the actual capacity of city govern-
ments to undertake community regeneration,
with one ex-senior manager suggesting that
community regeneration and working is now
the preserve of the Arm’s-length management
organisation (ALMO) for housing, Whitefriars
Housing Group, and certain charities (ex-Sen-
ior Council Manager interview, 2017). The con-
sequence of this is a very narrow form of social
regeneration, targeted at particular groups and
areas, nothing like the large-scale interventions
witnessed under New Labour, and is a signi-
cant representation of the materiality of the
shrinking state. More broadly, what we see in
the shrinking urban state, under a regime of
austerity, are signicantly changing state-mar-
ket-society relations, where a narrowly dened
‘economic’ typically subsumes the ‘social’ (and
West, 2017; Meegan etal., 2014; Peck, 2012).
The implications of this study for the CPE
approach, with its semiotic/extra-semiotic dia-
lect, is to take seriously Peck’s (2017) recent
call for greater recognition of the importance
of examining ‘local specicities’ within the
context of ‘conjunctural analysis’. This means
taking account of ‘the cumulative and com-
binatorial consequences of patterned processes
of restructuring, across sites and scales’ (Peck,
20 17, p.328). The semiotic and extra-semiotic
dialectical governing tendencies occurring
in cities should be examined within the con-
text of broader historically-congured insti-
tutionalised processes of neoliberalisation,
nancialisation and austerity that are integral
to state restructuring, but where the analysis
is not reduced to these broader trends, thus,
appreciating the importance of a ‘relational’
and ‘territorial’ understanding of urban state
arrangements (McCann and Ward, 2010).
Integral to such a perspective is the need to be
sensitive to actual practices that are embed-
ded within and constitute historically-contin-
gent institutionalised forms of behaviour (for
example, ‘styles’) and change, and which come
to inuence economic imaginaries, depoliticisa-
tion and sedimentation, and how actors seek to
re-politicise through de-naturalisation.
Acknowledgements
I would like to acknowledge the important com-
ments made by the referees and editors on an earlier
version of this article. This article was not supported
by funding from any research organisations.
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... What resources do they draw upon to confront the inevitable obstacles they encounter, and how do these shape the scope and ambition of policy makers? Despite continued urban austerity (Peck 2012;Theodore 2020), urban entrepreneurialism (Beswick and Penny 2018;Fuller 2018), and the deep failures of liberal urban policy (Imbroscio 2019), the possibilities of urban government have become the focus of renewed interest in urban studies (Tonkiss 2020;Joy and Vogel 2021). Notions such as "Progressive City" (Clavel 2010), "Radical Cities" (Baiocchi and Gies 2019), "Progressive Localism" (Featherstone et al. 2012), and the "New Municipalism" (Thompson 2021), capture diverse political projects around the world aimed at democratizing local government, contesting inequalities, and promoting citizenship. ...
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The progressive potential of urban politics is the subject of growing interest. However, debates have been largely focused on large cities with strong progressive constituencies of activists and Left-voting residents. We know little about the opportunities and challenges for progressive politics in smaller urban areas. This article addresses these shortcomings through a discussion of "progressive urbanism" in relation to small towns. In doing so, it makes three main contributions. First, it provides a definition of progressive urban-ism as political projects of social justice, citizenship and democracy exploring the contingent potential of "localism", "urban movements" and "municipal government". Second, the article provides empirical insights on small towns in the German state of Brandenburg governed by mayors of the Left Party. Third, the article outlines challenges and opportunities of progressive urbanism in small towns, providing points of reflection for future research.
... In some states, local authorities have taken a path of 'urban entrepreneurialism'emphasizing economic policy as an equal concern to public service delivery. This can lead to the privileging of market values, promoting 'collaborative efforts with market actors and engaging global markets and agendas, and the use of state powers to promote and protect municipal investments' (Deas et al., 2020;Fuller, 2018). Local authorities also face differing interpretations of the requirements of public accountability. ...
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... To build on such insights requires an engagement with local authorities in ways that privilege understandings of the 'geo-historical context of the actors, institutions and cultures' across authorities and recognise the dialogues 'already underway' (Wills and Lake 2020, 28). It also leads us to address how the everyday practices of individuals may 'scale up' to broader institutional responses; how, or why, they would inevitably 'add up' to progressive alternatives; and what alternative motives might bring these practices into being (Fuller 2018). Both of these challenges can, we argue, be met by further engaging with a pragmatic stance, which we label here 'municipal pragmatism'. ...
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