Community Wealth Building 2020: an urgent imperative

Quite apart from its traditional historical significance, Thursday 5th November represents a milestone for the UK in the country’s fight against Covid-19. Aa second lockdown looks set to compound economic and social hardship, we are again reminded of the distressed state of our local economies and the weakened condition of the local public sector in parts of the country, following decades of austerity and underinvestment. The imperative to deliver an alternative future is now more urgent than ever.

This Thursday, CLES will host our annual Community Wealth Building Summit and, ahead of the Summit, we are today releasing Owning the Economy: Community Wealth Building 2020.

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CLES’s annual summary publication of community wealth building policy change and practice captures the state of community wealth building in the UK in 2020. It presents in detail the progressive activity taking place – particularly as it relates to addressing the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic – and outlines the conditions that are required for community wealth building to flourish.  

What is community wealth building? 

Community wealth building is a people-centred approach to local economic development that aims to reorganise local economies so that wealth is redirected back to the people and places who both create it and need it. 

Central to this is the intention to replace large national or multinational businesses  which focus on maximising profits to distant shareholders – with locally productive forms of businessin which the wealth created is shared broadly between owners, workers and consumers. This approach also focusses on the economic power of local institutions. The way in which organisations such as local councils, hospitals, universities and colleges spend their money, employ people and use their land, property and financial assets can make a huge difference to a local area.  

The movement in 2020 

In 2020, community wealth building has continued to rise to prominence. In Scotland and Wales we are seeing a national approach to community wealth building. In Birmingham, a whole place approach to community wealth building continues to flourish under the auspices of the Birmingham Anchor Network, with a particular focus on utilising this approach to rescue, recover and reform.  In Newham, we’ve seen the appointment of a director of community wealth building to ensure that it is embedded into the borough’s economic development and regeneration planning. 

In July, we published Own the Future – an achievable vision for Covid-19 recovery which encompasses social, democratic and economic reform, based on community wealth building principles. Already areas, such as Wigan, Lewes the Wirral and North Ayrshire, are starting to apply these ideas.  

With Covid-19, we have seen an amazing response from communities. This power needs to be harnessed. With the economic crisis unfolding at pace, we now have private equity firms waiting in the wings to snap-up distressed business assets and take even greater ownership of our local economies. The stakes are highwe must seek to animate the power of the community within the commercial economy, lest we face even more wealth extraction and, with it, more hardship 

“a new kind of municipalist role for local government”

Here then, councils must forge a new kind of municipalist role for local government, one which uses the levers of the local state to advance economic, social and environmental justice. 

Ithe continued fight against Covid-19, we see a particularly important role for networks of anchor institutions and we have developed a package of support for localities interested in developing this approach, accompanied by a webinar and publication later this year. 

We are in an unprecedented crisis which will change our lives, our society and our economies forever. If we are to build an economy that works for communities, that works to address climate change and creates resilience where there is risk and precarity, then this is the approach we must take. With community wealth building, we have a pathway through an uncertain future and the promise of an economy which truly works for all people and the planet.