Rebuilding the local economy in Britain’s Seaside Towns

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If ever there was an example that epitomises the misery imposed by market neo-liberalism, it’s the plight of Britain’s seaside towns.

Decades of agglomeration has led to the incubation of ‘superstar cities’ such as Manchester, leaving places like Blackpool and Rhyl deprived and depleted. As CLES reported on in 2017,  the last vestiges of their seaside heritage are now enveloped by a coil of ever-tightening social and economic decline.

The recent House of Lords Select Committee report on Regenerating Seaside Towns rightly acknowledges that there is no single solution to the economic and social challenges that towns such as Blackpool face. What is needed, the report says, is a package of strategic initiatives and interventions where national and local government work together to:

  • Improve digital and physical connectivity;
  • Address skills gaps by encouraging closer working between education and industry;
  • Make use of the shared prosperity fund to support business development;
  • Develop Enterprise Zones tailored to meet the specific needs of seaside towns.

All well and good, but how are such recommendations to be transformed into practice? What is lacking here are a set of guiding principles to mobilise action and set our coastal towns on a pathway to economic and social recovery.

First and foremost, seaside towns should focus on building inclusive economies – economies built on social goals, environmental sustainability and prosperity for all. As CLES has argued elsewhere, this calls for the adoption of an approach to economic development that we call Community Wealth Building.

Community Wealth Building aims to reorganise and control the local economy so that wealth is not extracted but is instead broadly held and generative, rooted locally, so that income is recirculated, communities are put first and people are provided with opportunity, dignity and well-being. Through this process, we see a democratic, social and economic movement, which seeks to provide resilience where there is risk and local economic security where there is precarity.

Unsurprisingly, Community Wealth Building has emerged as a powerful tool to democratise our economy and create wealth for all. From Barcelona and Bologna to Preston, Islington, and Kirklees, the movement is growing and helping communities take back control.

CLES’ approach is based on the role of ‘Anchor institutions’- large established organisations like local authorities, the NHS, schools and universities which are rooted to their local communities.

Our approach has been refined into five key strategies, which we encourage anchors to nourish:

  1. Plural Ownership of the Economy

At the heart of Community Wealth Building is the principle that wealth is broadly held. Cooperatives, mutually owned businesses, SMEs, municipally owned companies and local banks enable the wealth generated in a community to stay in that locality and play a vital role in counteracting the extraction of wealth. Anchors therefore have a key role to play in encouraging a diverse range of ownership models in their supply chains.

  1. Making financial power work for local places

Ensuring that financial investments and pension funds are directed towards local investment priorities, bringing transformative capital to locally rooted enterprises.

  1. Fair employment and just labour markets

Often the biggest employers in a place, the approach Anchors take to employment can have a defining effect on the employment prospects and incomes of local people. Recruitment from lower income areas, commitment to paying the living wage and building progression routes for workers are all examples of the actions Anchors can take to stimulate the local economy and bring social improvements to local communities.

  1. Anchor purchasing

By adopting robust social value frameworks, tailored to local priorities, Anchors can make the best use of public pound, generating wider social and economic value from the procurement and commissioning process.

  1. Socially productive use of land and property

By supporting equitable land development (through establishment of Community Land Trusts) and development of underutilised assets for community use.

Through the adoption of these principles CLES has worked with numerous localities to democratise local economies and create wealth for all. By working with the city council in Manchester to localise social value, our work in 2017/18 has helped the local economy to create and estimated 1302 jobs, 665 apprenticeship and 1788 employment opportunities for hard to reach groups. In Preston our work with anchor institutions has helped create an estimated 1600 jobs and has been linked to the city’s improvement in relation to the Index of Multiple Deprivation.

Community Wealth Building has become a way for communities to fight back and reclaim their localities from the extractive power of organised capital. Applied to our seaside town, its principles offer a practical route map to recovery, serving as a clarion call to anchor institutions to lead the way in rebuilding inclusive local economies.

Visit our Community Wealth Building Centre for Excellence to learn more.