A new world in the making: community wealth building and the co-operative sector.

AuthorReynolds, Jonathan

Joe Guinan and Martin O'Neill, The Case for Community Wealth Building, Polity 2019

As a Labour & Co-operative MP, community wealth building has been on my radar for many years. In early 2017, I hosted a roundtable in Parliament with Ted Howard, Co-founder and President of The Democracy Collaborative and pioneer of the Cleveland Model, for co-operative MPs and local government representatives. The idea has snowballed since.

Many of the most exciting and innovative ideas in the Labour movement over the last few years have come from our local government base. The degree of interest in community wealth building within the Labour Party is testament to this. The efforts and successes of Preston, in particular, have given this issue a pedigree which means it should be taken seriously. It is at the core of why I am in politics: to make a tangible improvement to people's lives, to create a more equal society, and to shape an economy where wealth and power are shared. There is no doubt that what has happened in Preston has made a measurable difference to people's lives.

Guinan and O'Neill's book chronicles Cllr Matthew Brown's efforts in Preston. They show how the mindset of councillors and officers changed after the Tithebarn project, a major private sector investment in Preston's town centre, fell through in 2011. Rather than engaging in the race to the bottom against other towns and cities seeking external investment, Cllr Brown sought instead a model though which the people of the city could generate wealth themselves, using the resources available to the council through its procurement, its networks, and its 'anchors' in the city. These resources included the university, patient capital--coming, for example, from pension funds--and the council's relationships with the community. More was spent locally, wages increased, and there have been improvements in health, transport, youth and adult skills.

The authors say 'there is the glimpse of a new world in the making'--and this is true of Preston, but it has also been true in this current crisis. On the one hand, the crisis laid bare the destruction caused by austerity: it is our ghost of Christmas past, warning us of the perils of rebuilding the same, structurally unsound economy. On the other, it has taught us that we respond to crisis with co-operation. A new neighbourliness, mutual aid groups, community mindedness and co-operative spirit have all blossomed as communities have risen to the challenge.

I am particularly proud of the role that co-operatives have...

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