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Our Community Wealth Building activity started in Preston in 2011. The work was driven by the challenges facing the local economy and people as a result of the financial crises of the late 2000s. There was also a political drive to challenge the conventional approach to economic development and to address poverty and social exclusion.
We are committed to paying all of our staff at least the Living Wage. This is the minimum which independent academics calculate is needed to meet the real cost of living. It is higher than the government’s Minimum Wage, now called the national living wage.
We have encouraged other public and private sector organisations in and around Preston to follow suit. Already more than 45 local businesses and public sector bodies have committed to do this, including Lancashire County Council, the University of Central Lancashire and others.
We supported the development of Preston’s Credit Union called Clevr Money, through encouraging workplace saving by our employees and those of other organisations.
We have partnered with other Preston anchor institutions to redirect more of the money which we are all spending on goods and services back into the local economy, buying from local suppliers, investing in local supply chains and improving local economic competitiveness.
This work continues to evolve, but between 2012/13 and 2016/17 across 6 Preston anchor institutions alone we increased the amount of procurement spend retained within Preston by £74 million and within the wider Lancashire area by £200 million.
That means that over a three year period an additional £539 million was spent by us within the Preston and Lancashire area, which helped to support local businesses and local jobs. All contracts let were on a fully commercial basis and we did not pay any additional premium for buying local.
Measured in terms of the top 300 contracts for each anchor institution, over that period total locally retained spend went up within Preston from 5% to 18.2% and within Lancashire from 39% to 79.2%. This was at a time when overall procurement spend reduced by 15% across participating anchor institutions.
We have invested the value of the City Council’s city centre sites and property assets, along with those of Homes England and other partners in the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal helping lever in new investment to the area.
We have transferred ownership of Preston’s listed Bus Station to Lancashire County Council, securing substantial additional investment in the fabric and operation of the bus hub which will include the creation of new youth facilities and new public open space.
We have transferred ownership of the Guild Hall to the private sector, securing additional investment in new retail, leisure and business activities.
We have entered into an innovative partnership with Lancashire County Council for the joint management of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, which will now be run as a single entity with one staffing and management structure, providing arts, culture and library facilities in a seamless way.
We have developed a comprehensive asset transfer strategy which provides a way of passing council assets over to community groups where this will better meet the needs of Preston citizens. Transfers to community ownership have included community centres and green open spaces.
We are re-purposing disused buildings owned by the council to provide incubation accommodation for an artist’s collective, spun out of the University called The Birley.
We are working with a private developer to turn the Old Post Office Building into a Shankly hotel in the city centre.
We are planning to follow the refurbishment of the council’s Victorian outdoor market with a major development to turn the old indoor market and adjacent vacated council premises into a major cinema and leisure complex.
We have supported the approach by the Lancashire Pension Fund to invest £100 million in Preston as part of our City Deal and a further £100 million in the rest of Lancashire. This has already delivered new housing development in the city centre.
We are working with the Hampshire Community Bank, the Royal Society for the Arts and others to promote the concept of new regional “challenger” banks in Lancashire and the North West to make more investment money available to local businesses and to combat the withdrawal of banking services from areas of the city.
We established the Guild Co-operative Network to promote the ideas of co-operation, and more recently have created the Preston Co-operative Development Network (PCDN) which is based on the principles of the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain.
PCDN evolved out of discussion between the council, local co-operators and other partners following a piece of research carried out by the University of Central Lancashire looking at the way in which principles of co-operation were being applied at the community and neighbourhood level in Preston.
New worker co-operatives are now being formed, with more to come (digital and food) and a successful food distribution co-op has also been established.
We have partnered with Co-ops UK to promote the concept of succession planning, employee buy-outs of businesses whose owners may be thinking of closing the business on retirement, including the production of a detailed, how to guide.
We have established the first UK inner urban area Neighbourhood Council, handing over planning and other powers to the local level and helped the group secure significant implementation funding from the Big Lottery.
We are working with colleagues from the University of Central Lancashire on an RSA-linked programme called Connected Communities which aims to train community researchers to initiate and support neighbourhood activities without the need for public sector oversight.
We are working with Citizens UK to establish a local Preston and Lancashire franchise. Under the Citizens UK approach local authorities cannot be members or funders of local groups who take autonomous decisions on activities around which group activities are focussed.
As mentioned early we are working with the Hampshire Community Bank, the RSA and other partners to promote the concept of a new regional bank, either established on a community trust or a co-operative model. This is both to meet local citizen and business banking and investment needs and to develop alternative models of economic governance.
Budget reductions, due to austerity, have meant that the council is unable to directly oversee all the issues which elected members might wish to pursue. The council’s budget has just about halved since 2010 and is now smaller in total than it was in 2002.
Working with others is absolutely central to our community wealth building aspirations. These are examples of some of our local collaborations:
Some of this approach is about the council letting go of its controlling role, which is not always easy. But it does allow us to open up opportunities for other elements of civic society to have much more control over their own agendas, whether those be single issue or neighbourhood focused.
Our approach to community wealth building also arises from an understanding of the fact that the way in which the economic, financial and governance arrangements currently operate in the UK can mitigate against the interests of all too many of our citizens.
After the financial crisis, when the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth returned at the national level, this was solely due to the turnaround in the fortunes of Greater London and the South East – the figures for all the other UK regions were negative.
This pattern continues to be reflected, with deprivation and low quality employment particularly concentrated in the North of England.
We are working with other Lancashire authorities to secure a new devolution deal for Lancashire, but we are also getting on with working with other anchor institutions on supporting our local business base, improving productivity and jobs growth and localising spend and strengthening local supply chains.
Preston is a strategic transport hub, located at the lowest bridging point of the River Ribble and at the crossing point of the main north-south and east-west road and rail links in the North West.
In the 19th century it became a key pivot for much of the Lancashire textile trade and then, as that succumbed to competition from the far East, it reinvented itself by the 1990s as the predominant location for the UK jeans industry.
In the new millennium it has evolved again, as a regional services centre, a centre for administration, retail, higher education and a focus for advanced engineering.
We are making a real impact upon the Preston economy and its residents. More money is being spent through procurement with Preston based businesses contributing towards their sustainability and growth. More jobs are being created in the Preston economy leading to decreases in unemployment and increased spending power amongst our residents.
Deprivation, as detailed on Index of Multiple Deprivation is decreasing. More employers are paying the Living Wage and pay is increasing particularly for women and part time workers.
We are understanding our wealth, harnessing its potential, and ensuring it is shared.