Hartlepool has been hit hard by austerity; in 2017 it was one of ten local authorities with the highest unemployment rate and life expectancy rates have declined. Spending levels were slashed by 33% from 2010-17and government funding is expected to fall by 45% by 2020.

Journalist Anoosh Chakelian was told by a Hartlepool Borough Council spokesperson that the Council and Hartlepool’s Health and Wellbeing Board is now working with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies – the think tank that helped to develop the Preston Model. They hope to develop ways in which public sector spending can be used to invest in the local economy.

Preston was named “most improved urban area” last November, after The Economist  (paywall) labelled it “Jeremy Corbyn’s model town” and an “unlikely laboratory for Corbynomics”. The approach is community wealth building – keeping money in the area by using local procurement, rather than chasing inward investment from multinationals, which leads to money leaking from a local area.

Preston city council’s achievements include:

  • becoming the first living wage employer in the north,
  • founding a not-for-profit energy firm,
  • establishing a credit union,
  • encouraging local businesses to become co-operatives and public bodies to deal with more co-operatives
  • and making plans for a Lancashire-wide community bank

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has aligned himself with Preston’s innovation, establishing a Community Wealth Building Unit to export the Preston Model, announcing a proposal for worker “ownership funds” in private companies at the last Labour conference, and featuring Preston’s story in a pamphlet entitled “Alternative Models of Ownership”.

Chakelian reports that with no money forthcoming from central government, Hartlepool wants an alternative to austerity. Local English teacher Gary Wootton said “Austerity politics and London-centric economic policy is shortening lives in places like Hartlepool. They must be afforded the opportunity to attempt innovative economic models, premised on cooperative models of ownership and socially responsible corporate behaviour.” Wootton hopes the council will pursue the plans after new councillors are elected in May.

Like many seaside towns, Hartlepool has economic problems

Hartlepool Fabians have consulted Preston’s Matthew Brown and produced a document entitled “The Hartlepool Model of Community Wealth Creation”, which asserts that residents’ prospects will be improved by “inward-facing” investment and procurement – building a future in which they will benefit from as much of the town’s economic activity as possible.

Although it will be a gradual shift, the document’s authors conclude that real and rapid gains can be made and that, with no additional expense or expenditure, money can be injected into Hartlepool’s economy.

The paper proposes using Hartlepool’s “heritage and identity” as a unique selling point to attract entrepreneurs, partly by shifting more investment into arts and culture in the town, partly by promoting other positives: “Low rents, cheap costs of living, the inherent benefits of coastal life: all could be well-marketed to attract a new breed of skilled professional.”

Private “anchor institutions” will be asked to alter their procurement practices and smaller firms will be grouped together into “purchasing blocks”. More worker-owned firms will be encouraged with favourable business rates and a town-wide credit union and a community bank are planned..

Anoosh Chakelian reflects that,(I)t looks as if in-sourcing, competitive co-operatives and democratising local economies are gaining traction as a response to inequality and decline.