Own the Future – In practice


While the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown accelerates, a yawning gap is opening where we urgently need a national plan for economic rebuilding.

There can be no substitute for this – the crisis has shown it will take government action on a scale unprecedented in modern times to safeguard the wellbeing of millions and drive the economic transformation the pandemic has shown to be so critical. But below the radar of UK national policy debates a truly progressive economic response is being forged which foreshadows the approach we so urgently need.

Below the radar of National Policy

Across the UK a movement is growing of local leaders committed to leaving behind the failed models of trickle-down economics and ready not just to recover, but to embrace progressive reform through community wealth building (CWB). Last week, we published Own the Future – a guide for new local economies, which set out how these ideas can and must be mobilised to build genuinely inclusive local economies in the wake of the pandemic. Importantly, this was not an abstract prescription for what local government should be doing, it was a description of what pioneering local government is doing. In this blog we describe five places where CLES is working – spanning local and national government – to apply the ideas we set out in Own the Future.

All these places we describe below were committed to community wealth building before the pandemic hit, recognising the profound dysfunctions in their local economies and committing to intervene to address them. In collaborating with them to develop plans for economic recovery and reform we are building on these diagnoses, recognising that the present crisis makes the case for community wealth building all the stronger.

Wigan – Reimaging how local economies can work

In Wigan, CLES is working with the Council to put the five principles of community wealth building at the heart of Covid-19 recovery plans. In this the Council is developing a bold economic approach which builds on the underlying conviction of the much-celebrated Wigan Deal – that power should be shared with citizens and solutions codesigned. To apply this ethos to the economy, using all the firepower of the local state to advance it and underpinning this with a commitment to return economic power to citizens represents a reimagining of how we can make local economies work.

Councillor Keith Cunliffe, Wigan Council’s deputy leader, said:

“The impact of the Coronavirus crisis has brought the importance of Community Wealth Building into an even sharper focus.  The principles of CWB will form the basis of our future recovery plans here in Wigan Borough. Our collaboration with CLES is helping us establish Wigan’s own unique version of CWB. It will be the catalyst to put more economic control in the hands of local people and in so doing create an inclusive economy which nurtures and sustains all citizens.”

Lewes – Mobilising council assets for a sustainable local economy

In Lewes, the Council put the twin goals of community wealth building and sustainable transition from fossil fuels at the heart of its Corporate Plan in 2019. Here again, the pandemic has given renewed impetus to this work with the council collaborating with CLES and local partners to seize the moment to build back a socially and environmentally sustainable local economy.  These plans are heavily focused on mobilising council assets – including land, property and council housing investment – to shape and grow businesses and organisations which will create economic opportunities and lifelines to the people of Lewes.

Zoe Nicholson, leader of Lewes District Council said:

“We can emerge from the adversity of the pandemic by seizing the opportunity to change course and create something better than before. Working with CLES to bring about a profound reset of the Lewes economy is at the heart of how we will go about this – utilising Community Wealth Building ideas and practice to build a greener economy and address the inbuilt inequalities in our existing economic systems.”

Wirral – Embedding Own the Future ideas into a turbocharged community wealth building agenda

In Wirral, which hosted the 2019 CWB Summit, community wealth building has been the defining characteristic of the local economic approach for several years. Three years into the relationship with Wirral, CLES is now supporting the council to explore how to embed Own the Future ideas into their Covid-19 recovery planning. Wirral Council published a Community Wealth Building Strategy in early 2020, which included plans to develop anchor procurement; repurpose local business support resources to focus on community wealth building; and to participate in a North West Community Bank. The challenge is now to turbocharge these ideas in the new economic context and ensure that CWB principles are at the heart of building a more generative and sustainable economy.

Janette Williamson, Cabinet member for Finance on Wirral Council said:

“Covid has devastated our communities and local businesses.  It has laid bare the fault-lines in traditional, liberal economics. Wirral has already begun its Community Wealth Building journey with the launch of our strategy in February 2020, and with our Community Bank.  We will focus on progressive procurement, partnership working and the best use of assets to benefit the community. My vision for the Borough is that we embed the values and vision of CWB to underpin our local economic recovery strategy. We must put the community at the heart of our post-Covid regeneration and work with local independent businesses and social and creative enterprises to ensure we keep wealth within Wirral. CWB will help us build an ethical, healthy and resilient local economy going forward.”

Scotland and Wales – shifting national economic development policy

In Own the Future we described how the existing UK-wide policy frame and emerging recovery approach acts to inhibit rather than enable community wealth building. We also recognised the varied policy picture across the UK. It is therefore particularly encouraging to see both the Welsh and the Scottish governments embrace these ideas over recent months and both begin work with us to shift the frame of national economic development policy.

Scotland is the first national government to adopt community wealth building and it is seen as an important plank of how Scotland can deliver on its wellbeing economy aspirations. Community wealth building is highlighted in the Higgins report; produced by an independent advisory group established by the Scottish government to advise on Scotland’s economic recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. With a pilot project underway in North Ayrshire and a number of other areas expected to get on stream within the next few months, the mobilisation of community wealth building is happening fast, assisted by the part time secondment of CLES CEO to Scottish government.  The focus straddles all 5 pillars of community wealth building and it is set to affect change to how mainstream infrastructural investment, business and community development policy and practice is delivered in coming months.

In Wales the procurement pillar of CWB is seen as an important aspect to the protecting and rebuilding of the Welsh economy. Work is underway by CLES and Welsh colleagues to understand where all public spending on goods and services in Wales goes, and how that presently aligns with vulnerable economic sectors and businesses within the welsh economy, in light of the Covid-19 crisis. Moving forward, CLES are working with Public Service Boards to assess that spending, and how it could be potentially repurposed to vulnerable enterprises and local economic sectors.

A growing movement

The actions of the organisations described above demonstrate that a profound reimagining of ten years of mainstream economic development practice is well underway. Through our Centre of Excellence for Community Wealth Building CLES is working with these and many other organisations – spanning local government, the NHS, the social and housing sectors – to accelerate and scale up the mobilisation of this practice. If you want to join this movement and build an economy that works for communities, addresses the climate emergency and creates resilience where there is risk and precarity, we would love to hear from you.