England & Wales, Scotland Economy and regeneration, Finance

Community Wealth Building Summit 2019

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

CLES, the think-and-do tank, held their second annual Community Wealth Building Summit last month. LGiU Scotland’s Isla Whateley attended and blogs here about what she learned.

Community wealth building is all about keeping the wealth generated in the economy in the place it is created, championing local businesses and enterprise and investing in local places. I attended CLES’s (the Centre for Local Economic Strategies) second annual Community Wealth Building Summit that was held in June in Liverpool to learn more about the role that local government plays in community wealth building and how to build a more sustainable economy.

CLES have five principles of community wealth building, which was at the heart of the day’s proceedings:

  • Plural ownership of the economy: a more democratised economy not just owned by big business, encouraging co-operatives, and harnessing wealth in the place it is created
  • Making financial power work for local places: using mechanisms such as community banking and alternative local currencies etc.
  • Socially just use of land and property: fair use of land assets by so-called anchor institutions, making sure they use it for community purposes
  • Progressive procurement of goods and services: developing local supply chains of businesses that are likely to support local employment, retaining more wealth locally
  • Fair employment and just labour markets: recruiting from lower income areas, paying the living wage and building equal progression route

Preston City Council was often cited, since they have worked with CLES since 2012 to establish community wealth building. The breakout session was about building community wealth in local government, where we heard from the leader of Preston City Council, Matt Brown. He emphasised the growth Preston has gone through in recent years and how they have managed to bring democracy to their local economy. Local people are getting local jobs and as a result Preston’s economy has increased from £38m to £111m.

The new Mayor of North of Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, emphasised how devolution helps this kind of thing since local matters are much better dealt with locally than centrally from Westminster. He also discussed what Newcastle is doing around community wealth building, which includes establishing a Regional People’s Bank. Wirral Council has also worked on this project through the Merseyside & Lancashire Community Bank, which helps small businesses and encourages people to stay on the Wirral. Everyone in this session highlighted the importance of being a Living Wage council.

One of the keynote speakers at the summit was Oriol Estela Barnet, the Director of PEMB Barcelona (a local think tank), who spoke about Barcelona’s strategic plan based on three pillars: resilience, cohesion and development. This includes the municipalisation of both water and energy, to bring it back into public ownership, as well as the creation of a public-private metropolitan operator for affordable rent housing advances. This is not dissimilar to the Robin Hood Energy company by Nottingham City Council.

The second breakout session was about making financial power work for local places, which is most easily described by the term ‘sustainable finance’. The speakers were all leaders of  organisations and institutions that work for people rather than for profit. Tony Greenham from South West Mutual spoke about the UK’s highly concentrated banking system, which is much less diverse compared to other countries, and how we need more diversity of ownership. He emphasised the need for new financial institutions that work for people eg.  credit unions and regional stakeholder banks that will re-invest money into the community. Anna Laycock, from the Finance Innovation Lab said that the community responsible banking sector is small but it is there, and more work is needed to build a new system. The third speaker, Jonathan Bland from Social Business International, spoke about the importance of co-operatives and social enterprises in encouraging financial democracy and locking assets into the local area for reinvestment.

The event closed with a call to action, for everyone to return to local areas and spread the word of community wealth building. The importance of non-hierarchical and horizontal collaboration was emphasised, which was a continuing theme throughout the day. With specific reference to local government, we can see that community wealth building works from the example of Preston – what can we replicate in our own local authority areas?