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< Ideas Bank, < Economic wellbeing
< Regeneration, < New Start editorial index page

Even I have been known to emerge from a shopping centre clutching a little green bag full of smelly things, though they haven’t usually been for me. But I can’t deny the pervasive influence of Anita Roddick.

The Body Shop showed that business could be done differently. It proved it was possible to use ethics as a selling point, and to appeal simultaneously to customers’ needs for self-indulgence and righteous protest.

So it’s right that national figures should mourn the passing of a genuine social entrepreneur. It’s appropriate that Gordon Brown, one of our foremost evangelists of enterprise, should be among the first to pay tribute.

Yet there are still corners of the UK where a branch of the Body Shop would be as alien as, say, a bookshop or a deli. There are estates I’ve visited in recent months where the only local shops are the traditional rows of bookies, takeaways and hairdressers, with the occasional post office. The enterprising people, by and large, are those who have left.

Gordon Brown told the TUC this week that the route to success is to improve skills. He announced measures to encourage workers to undertake training and take up job opportunities.

In doing so he was building on the welfare reform green paper, In work, better off, which sets out plans to achieve an 80% employment rate, expand the ‘pathways to work’ initiative and ratchet up the carrot-and-stick approach to economic activity.

On a macro level, this makes sense. There are 600,000 job vacancies every month, yet there are still ‘concentrations of worklessness’.

At street level, it’s different. Many of our deprived areas have been created through housing policies that have made social renting the tenure of last resort and have shoe-horned those with the greatest needs into the worst accommodation, and left them to it.

Local economic partnerships alone can’t tackle that legacy. That’s why neighbourhood action must continue to accompany action on skills.

Work is worthwhile if you’re coming home to a place you like and feel secure in; the neighbourhood improves if residents feel confident enough to improve their living standards.

The glue that holds this together is to have organisations that are rooted locally, have credibility with local people and can offer inspiration and support.

There are many that do that, often against the odds. Jobcentre Plus and the Body Shop, with the best will in the world, won’t.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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