Opinion Piece - Blog

How to Help ‘Left Behind’ Places

A boy born in Blackpool can expect to live nine years less than one born in Chelsea. I found out this startling fact when visiting Blackpool for a piece of work CLES is working on – evaluating the ‘Transience Project’, a pioneering new approach to public service delivery.

Whilst visiting, I could not help but feel that the town – which at one point was a holiday destination for one in five Britons – is an area that has been ‘left behind’ in terms of its economic and social opportunity.  The explosion of cheap flights to Europe has led Blackpool’s (and other seaside towns across the country) tourist industry – and the economy that relied upon it – to crumble. The ensuing poverty breeds and attracts a range of social problems – from drugs to crime among others.

Community Wealth Building

What is Community Wealth Building, why is it important, and what has CLES been doing about it?

Over the past 10 years, CLES has amassed a body of work around Community Wealth Building and Anchor Organisations in Greater Manchester, Preston, Birmingham and 11 cities across Europe. This pioneering work is focused on building an economy where wealth – including the spend of local anchor organisations – is recirculated locally for the benefit of local communities.

Industrial Strategy: foundations in the right place?


“Place is not just one of the five foundations, ‘place’ is where you dig the foundations!” – Stuart MacDonald

The new industrial strategy represents a welcome step change in policy direction, but will the first industrial strategy in a generation really shape a stronger, fairer economy?

What’s looking good

The new strategy starts to go beyond sector deals which have driven our approach to industry over the past few decades, setting out a framework of 5 foundations and 4 grand challenges from which a new approach to industry can be developed. The inclusion of ageing as one of the Grand Challenges is extremely positive, while ‘places’ are considered one of the 5 key foundations and the idea of Town Deals is hugely welcome. Although light on details, the strategy starts to set out mechanisms for addressing the country’s challenges (National Productivity Fund and the Shared Prosperity Fund) and deliver ‘a stronger, fairer economy.’

An uneasy budget for a country ill at ease with itself

These are perilous times for UK economy. Our public services face rising demand alongside declining budgets. Our labour market is haunted by sluggish productivity and the threat of automation. A whole generation has been priced out of the housing market. And that’s even before we get to the all-consuming Behemoth that is Brexit, which will continue to pose both political and economic challenges for years (if not decades) to come.

This budget is for you, if…


“If you’re a wealthy, healthy Londoner, own your own business and are looking to purchase your first home at about £500k, this budget is the one for you. If you’re anybody else, or genuinely in need, the budget doesn’t have much to offer.” – Victoria Bettany

This budget has failed to make any real commitment to the people missing out in the places that are missing out. National government needs to work in equal partnership with our regions to shape fair budgets that work towards social justice for everyone everywhere.

While any steps taken to make getting on the housing ladder a little easier are welcome, the abolition of Stamp Duty on homes up to £300k (and a discount on those up to £500k) by the Chancellor looks set to have very little impact outside London. The average cost of a home purchased by a First Time Buyer outside the capital and the South East is £153k, the average Stamp Duty paid is £568. Whilst I’m sure this saving would be welcome it is unlikely to cause a significant delay to a purchase.

Beyond industrial strategy


As the government moves towards publishing the Industrial Strategy white paper (due by the end of November) they have the findings of the Industrial Strategy Commission to digest, but will its key messages get lost?

Beyond Industrial Strategy

The final report of the Industrial Strategy Commission recognises that the challenges facing the UK economy go far beyond the need for an industrial strategy, even if it is the first for a generation. The independent commission provides a subtle, yet damning indictment of the UK’s approach to stewarding the economy, and makes a number of broad positive suggestions for a way forward. However, given the fundamental nature and the current frame around industrial strategy, the points are likely to be lost. We need to move the messages of the commission beyond industrial strategy if we are to create a more socially just, locally led approach to the economy.

Local government & the commons: the time has come

From Barcelona to Cleveland, from Paris to Belo Horizonte, cities are increasingly questioning the growth machine urbanism of the past 30 years. This new municipalist movement is not about adding social and environmental concerns to a traditional urban agenda; this is a change of the political and economic model.  A model that seeks to redress the failings of liberal economics, by building a more economically and socially just alternative.

In June 2017 the new municipalist movement gathered in Barcelona – a city at the forefront of progressive urban policy – for Fearless Cities, the first international municipalist summit.  Community organisations, city-mayors, councillors and citizens from six continents met to discuss the potential of cities to ‘spur democratic transformation across the world’. The dense three day programme included sessions ranging from remunicipalisation to developing feminist economies, through to bringing radical democracy into the city council.

Including the excluded to build a more inclusive society

“…we must think of the relationships between citizen and state before we think of the structures…realising a common language, shared values, empathy, respect and a way to work together is essential”. – Jenny Rouse

Earlier this month, CLES held an event to close the first phase of our ‘Elephants in the Room’ series. Funded by Lankelly Chase, the event reflected on a year’s worth of work undertaken in Greater Manchester, bringing together 15 decision makers and 15 people with lived experience of severe disadvantage to build an understanding of how they could work in partnership to tackle the causes of inequality in the region.

Elephants in the room

Within the public and voluntary sectors, the coming together of citizens and professionals to design, deliver and evaluate public services is often called ‘coproduction’ and is very of-the-moment. The idea is that citizen’s knowledge and first-hand experiences of disadvantage are just as valuable as the professional knowledge and budgets of people working in these sectors. If these two forms of knowledge come together effectively, the result should be services with a greater potential to change lives.

Improving the social efficiencies of local markets is not protectionism

Over the course of the last ten years, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) has undertaken work around, what we call, ‘Local Wealth Building’. This work has sought to challenge the orthodoxy of the UK’s approach to economic development.  In recent weeks, this work has been portrayed by national media as a core cog in reinvigorating our local economies and places. It has come with some critique, the more pertinent of which this piece seeks to address.

What is Local Wealth Building?

Local Wealth Building is a growing movement in Europe and the USA, and the ideas and practice of local wealth building are coming to the fore as a reaction against a liberal economic approach to ideas, and the extractive nature of return on local inward investment. The orthodox assumption that economic benefits will ‘trickle-down’ to the local economy and will benefit communities is being challenged, like never before.

A true Living Wage – 5 reasons it’s needed

The new real Living Wage was announced this week as part of the Living Wage Foundation’s ‘Living Wage Week’ and reveals the work still needed to ensure employees and families are paid what they need to live. As part of CLES’ belief in progressive economics for people and place, CLES has contributed to the Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign and our work around community wealth building through anchors has supported the proliferation of the Living Wage.

There has been progress in this agenda, but there is work to do to ensure that everyone is paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work. It is not enough to view job creation as success, we need good employment, which is secure, paid fairly, and provides opportunities for progression. This blog highlights why the advancement of a true Living Wage is important.

The impact of devolution upon frontline services

At the Labour Party Conference in Brighton last month, CLES and APSE launched their report looking into ‘The impact of devolution upon frontline services’. This report set out to look at why Frontline services have been absent in devolution rhetoric to date. A surprise given the ‘localise’ ethos is key to the devolution deals.

Gaps in the Greater Manchester Strategy

The new Greater Manchester Strategy ‘Our People, Our Place’ was launched last week with ten new priorities announced to make Greater Manchester one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old. With a compelling focus on people – described by Mayor Andy Burnham as Greater Manchester’s ‘greatest asset’ – and some whispers of alternative economics, the Strategy shows a marked shift towards new priorities for GM. However, its strength will be in its delivery, and there are some gaps that could be addressed to go further towards achieving the goals set out in the strategy.

People and Place

Collaboration between the public, private and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sectors to deliver place based growth which benefits local people is at the forefront of the new strategy; certainly in rhetoric terms.

Community Wealth Building: harnessing the potential of anchor institutions in Preston

Anchor institutions bring wealth in the form of jobs and supply chains; they are rooted in place and as such are vital to the functioning of our local economies. In Preston, anchor institutions have started to realise their potential and make significant contributions to wider local economic development, as our latest spend analysis illustrates.

Over the last six years, CLES and Preston City Council have been working together to harness the potential spending power of seven local anchor institutions: Preston City Council, Lancashire County Council, Preston’s College, the University of Central Lancashire, Cardinal Newman College, Lancashire Constabulary, and Community Gateway. In our work we have sought to collectively change cultures and behaviours so that greater economic, social and environmental benefit is derived for the Preston economy and its residents.

Barcelona: building a new local economics


‘We are living in extraordinary times, that need bravery and creative solutions.’ – Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona.

I recently visited Barcelona – invited to attend and speak at Municilab. The visit builds on ongoing activity that CLES is undertaking with organisations within the city. This two-day event was a fascinating and exciting exploration of municipalism, and how to build a more social and economically just Barcelona.

Wealth for all: an activist local government

Re-municipalisation? Not the catchiest term, but across Europe and the UK, local government is on the rise. Instead of succumbing to the inevitability of decline and being the last line in mopping up social pain, more people within local government are stepping in – making the economy work better for all.

For many years, economic growth hitched to public sector reform has been the mantra.  For some areas it is working, but growth is often meagre or fails to trickle down, and reform is often eroded by demand. The promise of a ‘devolution revolution’ turned into an evolution and is now largely stalled. Inclusive growth has opened doors to a questioning look at economic growth policy but it’s more geared toward national policy. Indeed, warm words around ‘unlocking the potential of growth’ offers nothing particularly new to what many local authorities have been doing for years in terms of adopting living wage policies, working with local business and local labour markets. However, alone this is no enough.