communities

Digging Deep for Change

This piece originally appeared in the Municipal Journal.

We are optimists in local government. But that optimism is being stretched to breaking point: by this pandemic, by ongoing public service austerity, rising demand, insecure finances and stalled devolution. As the context worsens and our early hopes of ‘building back better’ dim, we’re going to have to dig deep.

In April, CLES – the national organisation for local economies – argued that we faced a moment of historic importance. Our argument then, as it is now, was that this pandemic will require unprecedented action to safeguard the wellbeing of millions, but that it also represents an unprecedented opportunity to drive a huge transformation and build a greener and fairer society. Yet, as the months have passed, these big changes have not materialised. If we are to live up to the necessity and opportunity that COVID-19 has afforded us, there are three key things we are going to have to confront.

Economic recovery and reform: the role of community power

This article originally appeared in the MJ

Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, our economy was failing many people and the planet. The imperative then was to create an economy that serves our needs, and shares wealth amongst as many people as possible. This imperative has only been amplified by the situation in which we now find ourselves. We believe the surge in community power in response to Covid-19 harbours the key to building back a better economy.

The recent upsurge in social solidary has been impressive with millions of acts of kindness taking place every day. Within days of the NHS volunteer scheme being announced, over 750,000 people had signed up. The Covid-19 Mutual Aid movement has mobilised 2.5 million people across the UK who are now working with community groups to deliver emergency food parcels.

Health institutions as “anchors”: unlocking the potential within the NHS

This article originally appeared in the Health Service Journal.

The NHS is not just a service that provides healthcare free at the point of need. It is a social contract with the British people to deliver well-being.

Across its wide range of services, the NHS’s mission extends beyond making us better when we are ill, it is also about making sure we do not fall ill in the first place – playing a key part in addressing the wider social, economic and environmental determinants of health.

We need to remake democracy

This post originally appeared on the website of  Compass – an organisation that fights for a more equal, democratic and sustainable society.

In 1934 the political historian RH Tawney said that the UK is ‘the oldest and toughest plutocracy in the world’.  Our democracy has been unjust for a very long time – too ready to doff its hat to privilege and wealth.

We have had years of scandals as regards cash for questions, the power of lobbyists, and dubious parliamentary expense claims. The recent Brexit debate and paralysis has further revealed the deep problems. Brexit has seeped into the rotten cracks of our democracy and parliamentary processes and made them chasms.  Our democracy and ‘mother of all’ parliaments is in bad shape, it has now been fully exposed:  arcane, archaic and addled.  Unable to represent properly and inchoate.  It sets the tone for our wider democracy and it is increasingly discordant.

On the front line of social change – the importance of community businesses in community wealth building

If you want to see community wealth building in action, come to Liverpool 8.

There you will find The Florence Institute – known to all around as The Florrie – a vibrant community hub housed in an imposing Grade II listed Victorian building. Since being restored by local activists in 2012, The Florrie has been a space of empowerment for local residents – building wealth by offering jobs and projects to support those most in need.
“Community businesses play a crucial role in community wealth building by enabling a more plural ownership of the economy”
It was therefore a fitting venue for last week’s launch of CLES’ latest research on behalf of the Power to Change Research Institute – Building an inclusive economy: the role of social capital and agency in community business in deprived communitiesThe report looked at how community businesses can support the development of more inclusive economies in deprived areas. Using three case studies (north Hull, west Smethwick, and south Liverpool), CLES has spent the last year seeking to understand how varying forms of social capital are needed to help seed a vibrant local community business scene.

Understanding Welsh Places

The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) worked with data provided by Cardiff University to develop interdependence modelling for the new Understanding Welsh Places website, which was launched in Cardiff today.

This follows on from our involvement in the development of the Understanding Scottish Places platform and CLES Senior Researchers David Burch and Matt Todd attended the launch of the site.

Understanding Welsh Places is a bilingual website coordinated by the Institute of Welsh Affairs that presents information on the economy, demographic make-up and local services of more than 300 places in Wales in a quick and easy format.

We need to talk about nightlife   

The creative sector represents a huge employer in the UK. It contributes billions to the economy, employs thousands, and is a key export of our economy. Yet the sector faces enormous challenges in UK cities. The cost of rent, poor connectivity, and licencing problems resulting from city centre residential developments are just some of the issues cultural operators face.

Back to the future? Thoughts on the first UK2070 Commission report

The UK2070 Commission has released its first report: fairer and stronger: rebalancing the UK economy. The first of three reports, it represents the latest in a long line of policy efforts which have sought to tackle the deep spatial inequality which has plagued the UK as far back as the Barlow Commission of 1940. Does this report – or the Commission as a whole – offer a genuine, much-needed step change?

The starting point for UK2070 should be an acknowledgement that we live in unprecedented times: profound social, economic and democratic crises continue to unfold with a terrifying backdrop of ongoing climate emergency. Spatial imbalances are framed by this, as such  we need a fundamental redress to the UK social contract – this is not a 1979, 1997 or 2010 moment, this is more like 1945.

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    In other news (from the same paper on the same day) we learn that an emergency food bank has been set up in the Whitehall offices of a government department, after cleaners and other support staff became the victims of a payroll blunder by one of Britain’s biggest outsourcing companies.[2] The human cost of this incident adds to the growing number of people in the UK who cannot afford basic needs such as food.[3]

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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.

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