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John Tizard: Community Wealth Building offers the hope of real progressive change

Monday November 11th, 2019

An increasing number of local authorities across the country are adopting a concept termed ‘Community Wealth Building’. This progressive idea, which has an

John Tizard

John Tizard

international genesis, is attracting a growing interest in this country. This is a clear sign that local government leaders, councillors, civil society and the communities they represent are seeking radical change. Specifically, they want an economy that is fair, and that works for local communities and those who live and work in them.

Community Wealth Building is often described as being all about local procurement, but this seriously misses its breadth and potential impact. It is based on a belief in fairness, equality and accountability. Consequently in practice it embraces a set of interlocking approaches, which together can change local economies and opportunities for communities. Specifically, it covers a mix of policies including:

  • promoting a plurality of ownership including public, social enterprise and other forms of social ownership across a local economy
  • using local spending (especially by local authorities and local anchor organisations such as universities, colleges, the NHS and large businesses) to encourage them to focus and work for the benefit of local places and their communities; and to maximise their local economic multiplier impact
  • using local public procurement to support the local economy and securing public value
  • democratising public services which are accountable and democratically controlled and which add local public value
  • promoting fair employment and good employment standards across every sector in the local place
  • putting locally publicly owned land and property to work for local outcomes
  • creating local or possibly regional mutually owned and accountable investment banks to support local investment in social enterprises, socially responsible start-up businesses and social infrastructure

That said, Community Wealth Building is much more than just a set of policies, however important and significant these may be. It is about doing things in local places differently. It is based on specific values and behaviours which include securing a fairer, more just and more equal society – aimed at building thriving local economies that benefit all local residents. This requires local authorities to be effective democratic place-shapers. It also requires local authorities to sign up ‘politically’ to the principles and values of Community Wealth Building, and to be judged by their every action against these principles and values.

It is widely recognised that public procurement can be a powerful driver for change. Therefore, it must be at the heart of Community Wealth Building.

This is about more than local authority procurement. Local authority leaders, acting as democratic leaders of place, should be encouraging all other public bodies and businesses in their area to adopt procurement practices that will benefit their local economy and residents.

Within a Community Wealth Building approach, there are wider and specific goals that public procurement should be focused on, including:

  • supporting local companies (especially social enterprises, co-ops and SMEs) to support the local voluntary and community sector wherever possible
  • requiring suppliers and their supply chain providers to be exemplar employers (for example: paying the real living wage; having diverse and local workforces)
  • supporting local development and skills strategies
  • developing high-quality services, which will add public value for individuals and communities

Such an approach to public procurement seeks to prevent money haemorrhaging out of local economies, especially to corporations based in tax havens.

Whilst Community Wealth Building generally assumes that public services are insourced, and publicly owned and managed, I would argue that the social and voluntary and community sectors can complement such services provided that they too are transparent, accountable and excellent employers but never substitutes for public sector provision.

The VCS should welcome this and also the consequential move away from competitive tendering for its services. Community Wealth Building though should primarily see the local voluntary and community sector as contributors to building sustainable communities and enabling those communities to have a voice that is heard and influential.

I am confident that Community Wealth Building is going to make an increasing contribution to building sustainable places and a fairer economy that works for the many and not a small wealthy elite.

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