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Community wealth building in North Ayrshire

Earlier this year, North Ayrshire Council launched its Community Wealth Building Strategy, as it became the first Council in Scotland to adopt this bold and radical economic approach. Months of preparation and engagement had gone into the Strategy, written pre Covid-19 as the Council looked to lay down a marker and deliver real change to an economy that has suffered serious decline over a number of decades. Councillor Joe Cullinane, Leader of North Ayrshire Council, tells us how Community Wealth Building works and how he hopes it can make a real difference to communities across North Ayrshire.

These are difficult times for local government as we assess the financial impact of Covid-19 on our finances and face the impending economic recession.

This crisis has demonstrated the need for well-resourced and empowered local state. Councils across the UK have responded to the unprecedented challenges of this global pandemic brilliantly, showing that local government is the most responsive and effective sphere of government when it comes to addressing the emerging needs of their communities and business base.

We are trying to navigate a path out of this crisis, offering as much help as we can to citizens, communities and local businesses. But we are clear that as we emerge from this health and economic crisis, we cannot return to business as usual, and that is particularly the case with our economy where we must build back better, fairer and greener.

From day one as Council Leader, I made clear that our economy had to change. North Ayrshire, and Ayrshire as a region, has not recovered from the deindustrialisation of the 1980s, which saw the loss of many big employers in our area such as ICI.

Since then we’ve chartered the same economic course as the rest of the country, chasing inward investment and hoping that economic growth would trickle down and benefit people who live in communities like ours. All that happened was the economic divide between affluent cities like London and Edinburgh and areas like ours in the West Coast of Scotland, as well as areas across the North of England, only grew deeper. It’s an economic model that has left us with stubborn levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

The Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 and we are committed to taking action now to achieve net-zero by 2030.

So, before this pandemic, North Ayrshire Council was at the forefront of new economic thinking around a more inclusive economy. And that thinking is going to be even more important than ever post Covid-19.

Community Wealth Building (CWB) always had the potential to transform our local economy. Essentially CWB is about working in partnership with communities and businesses to build a more resilient economy that works for local people, which supports fair work, encourages local spend by public bodies, uses the land and property the public sector owns for the common good, and supports new ownership models such as co-operatives, all of which helps to keep the wealth generated locally.

CWB will now be the cornerstone of our economic recovery plan and we launched our CWB Strategy online in May. I was joined by Councillor Matthew Brown, Leader of Preston City Council, Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of the Centre of Local Economic Strategies (CLES), Sarah McKinley from the Democratic Collaborative and Donna Fitzpatrick a local community representative in North Ayrshire. We discussed our exciting agenda and took questions from members of the public. What came across during the session was the real appetite for change across our communities.

It’s great to have some well-established innovative economic thinkers in our corner and we will continue to lean on them as we develop our plans in the coming months.

Sarah McKinley and Neil McInroy have both joined our Community Wealth Building Expert Advisory Panel which is essentially a team of leading economic who will help act as a critical friend and sounding board as we put some of our ideas in action.

Chairing the Expert Panel – which met for the first time in June – will be Sarah Deas of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland.

We’ve also got Miriam Brett, Director of Research and Advocacy at Common Wealth think tank, Joe Guinan, Vice President of Theory, Research & Policy, The Democracy Collaborative,  Laurie Macfarlane Economics Editor at openDemocracy and fellow at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose,  Ian Mitchell Chief Executive, Community Enterprise in Scotland (CEIS), Jess Thomas, Senior Programme Leader for place-based economic development at  Co-operatives UK and  Roz Foyer, the General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Council (STUC).

This is one of the most progressive panels of economic experts that has been put together anywhere. I am absolutely thrilled that they have seen real value in what we are trying to achieve and are offering their support. The knowledge, perspectives and ideas they bring will be important and timely given the economic crisis we are currently facing, and the climate crisis we’ll face moving forward.

We have also created nine new ‘Community Wealth Building’ jobs, launched an £8.8m Investment Fund and are changing other roles within the Council to support the delivery of the new strategy and our ambitions to become a CWB Council and embed this truly transformative approach.

We’ve already made a lot of progress in recent months – independent reports have backed this up – and we will not let all that work slide. But we know this is going to be a long road ahead. Things might look bleak just now, but I am determined that we will come out of this with a fairer, more inclusive and greener North Ayrshire for all.

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