CLES' work - Blog

A great leveller

This article originally appeared in the Municipal Journal.

Despite its clear flaws, the Levelling Up Fund is one of the few funding mechanisms councils can access to provide much needed investment in their places.

Launching this week, a new report from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and the Centre for Local Economic Studies (CLES) provides a guide for how councils can avoid falling into the trap of developing regeneration initiatives that extract wealth and deliver poor outcomes for people, place and planet, with a toolkit for projects to maximise their positive impacts locally.

Owning the workplace, securing the future

At the heart of the debate on community wealth building is a fundamental question about ownership and who or what holds the keys to wealth in our society.

In the midst of record inflation and a crisis where too few people earn enough to be able to feed their children and put a roof over their heads, tackling the unequal distribution of wealth ownership will be fundamental in helping to build a better economic model longer term.

The 51%

What if gender equality was at the heart of local plans for a more inclusive economy?

Efforts to rebuild and recover economic prosperity in a time of crisis often fall back on morale boosting images of – generally male – executives, gathered around a building site with hard hats. Economic partnerships and task forces assembled to help areas develop new plans for the future, too, can struggle with diverse representation, not only from women but from marginalised communities of all forms. Even the way in which we evaluate economic progress – in assuming that it will emerge automatically from economic growth – underestimates the importance of prioritising economic equality and diversity as a foundation to a more inclusive economy.

The brave

Four lessons from Scotland in delivering community wealth

At the close of the 2021 Community Wealth Building Summit, we reflect on remarks by our opening keynote speaker Tom Arthur MSP and the work that CLES has undertaken with the Scottish government over the last 12 months. The lessons learned should resonate with governments of all scales in Scotland and the wider community wealth building movement.

In his opening remarks to this week’s Community Wealth Building Summit, Tom Arthur MSP argued that community wealth building provided an “opportunity to approach economic development in a new way” in order to help create “common prosperity”. As the Scottish Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, Mr Arthur has put community wealth building at the forefront of his agenda arguing that it needs to sit across government, providing a “whole system approach” to an inclusive economy. He also confirmed the Scottish government’s intention to introduce a Community Wealth Building Bill during this parliament, to consolidate changes in practice and enable local anchor organisations to use their economic leverage to deliver more for local people and communities.

Re-think power to build inclusive local economies

This article originally appeared in the LGC.

Today CLES announces a new programme of work, exploring the powerful resonance between the international movement to “feminise” politics and the work we are doing to create more just local economies. Frances Jones and Eleanor Radcliffe explain the journey so far.

Thirteen years ago, the global financial crisis prompted human suffering across the world. In the wake of this, community wealth building emerged as an alternative approach to local economic development. In community wealth building, local authorities along with other public sector anchor institutions and social and private sector partners, work to disrupt the structures which enabled the crisis, building in their place local economies where people have far greater levels of control and ownership of wealth. At the same time, activists responding to the same inequality and suffering on their doorsteps, began to reshape the political landscape in their cities and communities, this time animated by feminist principles. Their work to “feminise politics” has become a global movement.

Community wealth building: a history

Today, CLES releases Community wealth building: a history, a transcript of our recent podcast, and the first publication under the banner of the recently-refreshed Community Wealth Building Centre of Excellence (CfX). Here, Tom Lloyd Goodwin explains why we felt that now was the time to delve deeper into the provenance of the approach.

Community wealth building reorganises local economies to ensure they are best placed to tackle the inequalities and disadvantages that are now, more than ever, so acutely felt by people across the UK. Over the course of the last decade, the movement has advanced from being a marginal sport. It has blossomed into a widely-adopted corrective to an economic model that has left too many people worse off, enriched the already wealthy few and propelled us further down the road to ecological disaster.
“this wider historical context contains a series of important lessons”
To celebrate this ever-flourishing movement, CLES recently released a podcast, looking at the provenance of the approach and, in this, we felt there was an important story to tell. A lot of people have heard about the “Preston model” but few are clear about its history, and how that relates to the movement we see now. Yet this wider historical context contains a series of important lessons.

Our Land 

Today we launch the final report of the Liverpool City Region Land Commission: Our Land. Reflecting the findings of England’s first Commission to review the use of land for community wealth building, the report argues that a new approach to land should put communities, not profit, at its heart. Below, CLES’s Isaac Stanley reflects on the Commission’s nimble approach and the radical recommendations found in the report. 

The Liverpool City Region Land Commission was launched in September 2020, at the initiative of Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. Facilitated by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), the Commission gathered together thirteen experts on democratic land reform, ranging from activists involved in community land trusts, makerspaces and social enterprise incubation to academics and national planning policy reformers and international campaigners for the commons.
“make this the fairest and most socially inclusive city region in the country”
They were invited to “think imaginatively and come back…with radical recommendations for how we can make the best use of publicly-owned land to make this the fairest and most socially inclusive city region in the country”. This report, prepared by CLES, is based on the deliberations and contributions of the Commissioners and presents their key findings and recommendations.  

Reshaping ownership within adult social care

Adult social care is broken. After years of marketisation and outsourcing we are left with a service where large market players dominate, particularly in areas such as nursing and residential care. Taxpayers’ money, and the savings of older people, are being extracted out of the system for shareholder gain. Today we release the new publication Reshaping ownership within adult social care. Here the report’s author, Tom Lloyd Goodwin, reflects on how ownership models must be shifted.

There is now widespread political support to challenge ownership models within social care and to bring care homes, for example, back under state control. However, reshaping ownership within the sector will require a major new funding settlement, as well as a substantive and wide-ranging vision for reform

Post-Covid recovery through culture

The cultural and night time economies provide a compelling route to economic recovery for town centres, but this approach is not without the risk of exacerbating inequalities. Working with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) culture team, CLES have been exploring an approach to developing sustainable business districts for creatives in Greater Manchester’s towns, that offer economic and social advantages to the people already living in those places.

As the UK’s towns and cities begin to move beyond the peaks of the Covid-19 crisis, discussions are turning towards the process for economic recovery and reform at the local level. The pre-pandemic trend towards lower occupancy rates of retail and leisure spaces evident in many places has intensified and local authorities are ever more receptive to ideas which have the ability to breathe life into high streets.

Powering social value through recovery

Yesterday we released our yearly analysis of the contribution that Manchester City Council’s procurement spend makes to the city’s economy and how it can support the achievement of wider social and environmental outcomes. Here, David Burch, lead analyst on the project discusses the findings and the broader implications of progressive procurement.

For the past 13 years, CLES have been working with Manchester City Council to harness its procurement spend and maximise the economic, social and environmental benefit generated for its people, place and the planet.

Anchor networks in practice: “why?” to “how?”

In the first of his series of blogs exploring the process of translating the principles that lie behind anchor institution networks into practice, Conrad Parke explores the mechanisms of turning buy in into action.

Getting buy in for a new anchor institution network is rarely a problem. After all, why would any institution’s chief executive turn down the offer to be a part of something that will help them to employ local people and support local businesses. The real difficulty is turning that buy in into action. To this end there are (at least) two main problems: 

No shortage of problems…anchor network solutions

Even before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the concept of a whole-place approach to community wealth building, driven by the collective will and resources of anchor institutions, was an idea whose time had very much arrived. In the coming weeks, ahead of our first webinar exploring the power and potential of anchor institution networks, Conrad Parke, Anchor Network Co-ordinator for the city of Birmingham and the UK’s first “community wealth builder in residence”, will be exploring the process of translating the principles that lie behind the approach into practice that meaningfully impacts the social, economic and environmental justice outcomes of localities.

From “why?” to “how?”
At the Community Wealth Building Summit earlier this month, and through our ongoing conversations with local governments and anchor institutions across multiple scales and sectors, we at CLES have seen the enthusiasm with which the ideas behind anchor institution networks have been greeted. This is a movement that is growing, as more and more institutions see the value of collectively working to ensure that their joined-up approaches to spending, employment and the use of their assets can affect the social determinants of health and wellbeing. Amidst that enthusiasm, now is the time to move the discussion on – from the “why” to the “how”.
Opening up the conversation
As the “man on the ground” in Birmingham, Conrad has been embedded in the practice of the anchor network there and in the emerging network in neighbouring Sandwell for nearly 12 months and is keen to share, not only the lessons learned and his reflections on how these can be applied in other places, but also to open up a conversation with other places on their experiences. “This is a new area” he said, “we can see that people have bought into the idea, that they really see the value that anchor networks can create. But what people really want to know is what that means in their place. I hope I can share some insights into how the theory actually translates into action but I want to hear from other people too – what’s worked for you? What hasn’t? And why? I want to open up a conversation that can help us all push forward the anchor network model so that it has the opportunity to improve the lives of more people in more communities.”
Close neighbours, different approaches
Reflecting on his experience working with Birmingham and Sandwell, and the discussion he hosted at the Community Wealth Building Summit, Conrad was keen to emphasise the important lessons he’d learned by exploring the differences between the two places which, while being geographic neighbours, have had very different approaches to developing their anchor institution networks.

Right here, right now – rescue and recovery through anchor institutions

Covid-19 is destabilising everything around us – jobs and livelihoods are being lost, businesses are collapsing and whole sectors are on the brink. As we now enter a new phase of local lockdowns, albeit with the national job retention scheme coming to an end and support for jobs and businesses ebbing away, economic and social hardship is set to worsen.

In order to urgently address this crisis, local government must act now by harnessing the collective power of local anchor institutions – such as hospitals, universities, colleges and housing associations – to tackle the unfolding economic and social crisis.

England’s First Land Commission Focused on Community Wealth Building

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, has today announced the establishment of England’s first Land Commission specifically established to review the use of public land for community wealth building, to be delivered in partnership with CLES.

Since the 1980s, land has come to be primarily treated as a financial asset, serving as a collateral against which banks create mortgage debt.   This has led to rising house prices and housing shortages, and has reduced overall productivity, with an increasing share of investment diverted to land from other more productive areas.

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.