Writing in Spotlight for The New Statesman, the chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, Sarah Longlands, looks at ways the government's 'levelling up' strategy could be used imaginatively.
The idea at the heart of this policy is what she calls 'community wealth building':
"Community wealth building is about bringing wealth back home to local economies so that it can be put to good use to create generative economies with a diverse range of businesses and ownership. This growing movement works by unlocking the potential of economic assets and strengths that already exist in our communities. It’s about ensuring that new public and private investment leaves nothing to chance and instead works hard to grow local enterprises that share the wealth through employment, training and business support."
Crucially this needs to be nurtured locally, from the inside out not the outside in:
"As the Centre for Local Economic Strategies has long argued, real economic change comes not from the rhetoric of Whitehall, but from the activism and ideas of local councils, businesses and communities across the UK."
She cites the re-location of Whitehall departments out of London as one such opportunity:
"Take the government’s proposals for the relocation of the Treasury’s economic campus to Darlington. A community wealth building approach to procurement and employment would maximise the economic impact of this move by – for example – using it as an opportunity to stimulate local supply chains, thereby enabling local businesses to tender for the supply of services and products.
But ideas on community wealth should extend beyond the narrowly economic:
"A devolution settlement which put wellbeing and quality of life at the heart of our commitment to places and gave elected leaders the ability to flex their economic muscles differently could create good jobs, ensure a just transition and invest in local health and education.
An approach based on community wealth building principles would include enabling local and democratic forms of ownership, meaning that underused land and property assets were used productively to maximise local economic benefits – establishing alternative financial arrangements such as community enterprise, regional banks and worker co-operatives. It could also lead to the establishment of greater democratic participation through new models for deliberation such as citizens assemblies and juries, helping to broaden debate and strengthen local accountability."
We will return to the 'levelling up agenda' as it begins to take shape. For the sake of our regions which have been operating well below capacity for decades, it is vital the government gets this policy right. It could transform the nation's fortunes.
In the meantime the full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it: