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.

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.

Let’s democratise the insourcing revolution!

CLES welcomes the publication of the Labour Party’s report, Democratising Local Public Services. Its bold plan for a 21st century insourcing offers a powerful corrective to the last four decades of outsourcing, commercialisation and, more recently, unprecedented austerity. It appeals to all who have been working to combat the hollowing out, privatisation and undermining of our public services.

However, there are some changes in emphasis and direction required. CLES agrees that insourcing of local public services should be the default position, and that far too much outsourcing is delivered by those who seek profit and extract wealth at the expense of the public service. Nevertheless, we should be building a resurgence of a public service movement and offer a hand to the many organisations and individuals who, whilst not directly part of local government, are equally passionate about public values, public services and are at the forefront of a movement to develop new forms of democratic and citizen involvement. Democratic institutions such as cooperatives, and participatory democratic forms such as community businesses and social enterprises, offer different ways of realising social, economic and environmental value. These organisations are far removed from the rapacious greed of large outsourcers and as such should have some role in the democratisation, delivery and part ownership of service production.
“We should be building a resurgence of a public service movement and offer a hand to the many organisations and individuals who, whilst not directly part of local government, are equally passionate about public values, public services and are at the forefront of a movement to develop new forms of democratic and citizen involvement.”
So, whilst Labour’s paper provides an excellent correction to years of marketisation and privatisation, a deepening democratic and social revolution for our public services cannot solely begin and end at the town hall. Clearly, back door outsourcing – where small alternative forms of delivery are eventually acquired and gobbled up by big private outsourcers – must be guarded against. However, the democratisation of our local public services must make provision to include, where appropriate, other socially just forms of delivery. Consequently, the debate here is not solely public sector insourcing versus private sector outsourcing.

Celebrating eight years of community wealth building in Preston

Much has been said about the so-called “Preston model” – a new economic approach developed by the City Council, against the grain of much conventional thinking on economic development. In eight years, Preston has shown that a different model is possible. The deep, practice-focused work now stands as proof that community wealth building can drive real change.

That is why we’re proud to today be releasing How we built community wealth in Preston; achievements and lessons. This publication, jointly produced by CLES and Preston City Council, is the definitive telling of the story and the theory behind the ‘Preston model’, written by two organisations who have led on this work from the very beginning.

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.

Rebuilding the local economy in Britain’s Seaside Towns

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.

People’s Procurement: Report Launch

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) adopted its first Social Value Procurement policy in 2014, placing the city region at the leading edge of social value procurement. The Greater Manchester Social Value Network (GMSVN) was created in 2015 by a group of organisations seeking to influence and shape social value policy and practice across the public, commercial and social sectors and to embed social value as a way of working.

Poverty: It’s about wealth, stupid!

For decades, our economic system has been based on a hope that a general rising tide of economic wealth will benefit us all. With the release this week of the annual UK poverty report 2018 by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, we should now firmly reject this idea once and for all.  For all the description and seemingly endless talk of inclusive growth and other policy reforms, we often ignore the fundamental determinant of poverty in this country: the unequal allocation of wealth.

We must accept that the UK political economy, with its market liberal economic growth model, is intrinsically incapable of ensuring that wealth is fairly distributed.  We are the fifth largest economy in world, but fifty-two percent of our wealth is held by the top ten percent, and 20% by the top 1 per cent.

Social Value is not enough – It’s time to restore Public Values

Last week the government launched a series of new initiatives around ‘Social Value’, a much vaunted policy agenda which started with the passage of the Social Value Act in 2012. Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington has announced that by summer 2019, government procurements will be required to take social and economic benefits into account in certain priority areas, as well as new transparency rules for those bidding for public contracts.

The government’s attempt to get businesses to consider their social impact can be understood as an acknowledgement that something has gone awry in the state of commissioning public services. The dramatic collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion in January 2018 has prompted a new wave of governmental thinking about how goods and services are purchased. With public opinion increasingly moving against poor provision of public services (most noticeably the much criticised railway system), this extension of the Social Value Act represents the government’s response.