A blueprint for a new local economic development

The function of local economic development needs to evolve. Understanding and working with the wealth of local anchor institutions is one way forward, says Matthew Jackson

The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) recently published ‘Community Wealth Building through Anchor Institutions’.

Reflecting on our work over four years, this publication is effectively the blueprint for any locality wishing to understand, realise and harness the potential of anchor institutions.

Indeed, the concepts and principles presented should not be confined to anchor institution strategy, but are core components for any place wishing to progress the way it does local economic development.

The function of local economic development needs to evolve. Long gone are the days of centrally-resourced special initiatives, orthodox economic development strategies, and a focus on inward investment as the core driver of growth.

Instead, places need to think about the wealth already at their disposal and develop strategies with a social and environmental as well as an economic narrative.

CLES are pioneers of such progressive thinking and action. Central to our approach is working in collaboration with local authorities and other place-based institutions to help them realise the potential of their local economies. Our work on anchor institutions is just one aspect of this collaborative and co-operative approach to community wealth building.

As detailed in the publication, CLES has been undertaking work in Preston for the last three and a half years to really progress the way in which anchor institutions operate. This has included an array of work around understanding and maximising the procurement processes and practices of eight anchor institutions including Preston Council and Lancashire Constabulary, and helping them to spread local wealth through their budget spend.

While the process we have collectively gone through is important, so too are the key lessons learnt. Here are seven dos and don’ts for anchor institution activities:

  • Places and local authorities can benefit from external stimulus and vision from organisations like CLES. However, this external stimulus has to be undertaken in a co-operative way and should complement existing approaches. It also has to focus on doing and cannot be driven by theory and academic processes;
  • Places need to understand the types of outcomes they want to achieve: effectively a framework. Anchor institution activity has to be driven by evidence, with desired outcomes linked to local challenges. It cannot be out of a random desire to make change or for the kudos of undertaking such a piece of work
  • Places need to have the buy-in and vision of senior leadership within place, with both chief officers and politicians signed up to community wealth building principles. This is required to drive and disseminate the importance of community wealth and ensure that others within institutions cooperate. It cannot be driven by middle management.
  • Places need to understand the existing scale of activity, whether that be the impact of procurement spend, the impact of suppliers and business, and the scale and potential of initiatives. There has to be a robust evidence base which explores the direct existing impact of the institutions. It cannot be driven by institutions telling you how impactful they are.
  • Places need to have governance structures which include considerations about both strategy and delivery. Anchor institution work needs to be strategic and focused on delivery.
  • Places need to be reflective that wealth building initiatives will work differently depending on the place. For some, the emphasis might be on procurement; whereas for others it might be on human resources or the effective utilisation of assets. It cannot be assumed that procurement is the only area in which change can be made.
  • Places need to continuously monitor the impact and behaviour change of community wealth building activities lead to and amend accordingly. Anchor institution activities are long term in their nature and take patience. It cannot be assumed that engagement, cooperation and outcomes will happen quickly and in the short term.

CLES continues to undertake work in Preston to progress the potential of anchor institutions and wider local economic development. We are also up-scaling this work in Birmingham and in 11 other cities across Europe.

  • Read Community Wealth Building through Anchor Institutions here.

The original article can be read on the NewStart website here.