Changing local economies to work for people who feel excluded

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A link has been received to a Guardian report about the ‘Preston model’ – for background information see Clifford Singer’s interesting article on the Next System Project’s website.

Councillor Matthew Brown, Preston city council cabinet member for social justice, inclusion and community engagement, devised this model. 12 of the city’s key employers were helped to reorganise their supply chains and identify where they could buy goods and services locally, stopping 61% of their procurement budget being spent outside the Lancashire economy. The employers included ‘anchor institutions’ such as:

  • the county constabulary,
  • a public sector housing association,
  • colleges
  • and hospitals

Since 2011, Lancashire council’s central government grant had been reduced from £30m to £18m, leading to cuts in everything from community engagement to parks and the leisure centre. “The intention was to devolve cuts and blame it on us,” Brown says. “But you can become more self-sufficient.”

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2013 now allows public bodies in England to take into account the social, environmental and economic impact of their commissioning. A key step was to redirect lucrative contracts, such as printing services for the police and food for council buildings, towards local business and the city council doubled its procurement spending with Preston companies from 14% in 2012-13 to 28% in 2014-15.

Brown and his colleagues want to build a city where workers are in control of wealth, improving people’s sense of citizenship. “We’ve got the public pension fund to invest in student housing, we’re looking at setting up a local bank to give business loans and for the local authority to become an energy provider,” he says. “You put all that together and you can see how we are developing the infrastructure for a new economy.”

The model was inspired by cooperatively run communities in Cleveland, Ohio and the world’s largest co-operative group, Mondragón, in the Basque region of Spain, and has been cited in speeches by the shadow chancellor John McDonnell and other councils, including Birmingham, Rochdale and Sheffield have taken an interest in the initiative.

Matthew Brown has worked with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, a Manchester-based think tank with considerable experience of working collaboratively with local authorities and other institutions to boost local economies.

CLES is  working in Birmingham with Localise West Midlands because for many years LWM has made the case for more inclusive, ‘locally grown’ economies – see its ground-breaking report, Mainstreaming Community Economic Development. The focus is on those ‘anchor institutions’ which have a major impact on the city.  As part of a separate initiative, LWM is working with the New Economics Foundation, CLES and New Start. They have brought together a group of local practitioners from the region which has suggested a focus on health and social care. Read on here.

Brown believes that as a result of the financial crisis and its aftermath people are ready to hear a radically different way of thinking about politics and that Corbyn can win a Labour party victory in 2020. Until then, Preston is backing the northern powerhouse initiative to secure devolution, allowing it to build what Brown believes are the foundations of a new economy away from the City and Westminster.

“The days of getting huge inward investments are over, so the sensible way is looking at how you can do that through your local area to make something new,” he says. “This is it.”