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City partners help to shape future approach to community wealth building

Published: Friday, 10th May 2024

Leading figures from Stoke-on-Trent’s public, voluntary and commercial sectors have been involved in helping to design a brand new strategy to tackle deprivation and promote inclusive economic growth.

More than 30 delegates representing local businesses, community groups and institutions gathered at Stoke Town Hall last week (TUE) for the Community Wealth Building Workshop event.

The workshop, which was chaired by Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Councillor Jane Ashworth, provided delegates with an overview of the community wealth building concept as a first step towards developing a strategy for the city.

Community wealth building is an approach aimed at creating inclusive economic growth in less affluent places, but making sure that communities can benefit directly from local economic prosperity.

Attendees also heard from Councillor Matthew Brown, the Leader of Preston City Council, and Senior Fellow with The Democracy Collaborative, about the Lancashire authority’s ongoing community wealth building programme, which is regarded as being the most successful and established example in the UK.

Staffordshire University’s Visiting Professor of Business Economics, former EY Chief Economist Mark Gregory, also provided a contextual overview of Stoke-on-Trent’s economy and the potential opportunities to implement elements of community wealth building to help improve outcomes for residents, businesses and communities.

Councillor Ashworth told delegates that, although Stoke-on-Trent had been among the fastest growing local economies in the UK in recent years, the majority of city residents and communities had not felt the benefit of increased growth and productivity.

She said: “The aim of the event was to come together to work out how we could work to improve the economic future of our city, and what changes we need to make in order to make life better for people in Stoke-on-Trent.

“We need to consider what approaches might work here and understand what would need to happen in order to deliver community wealth building in the city.”

Councillor Brown said that Preston City Council had begun implementing its approach to community wealth building in 2013 after economic instability had led to the abandonment of a £700 million city centre masterplan.

He said that Preston had benefited from a £75 million increase in procurement spending within the city in 2016/17, compared to 2012/13, and collaborated with the public sector pension fund they are part of to invest up to £100m locally. It is currently exploring options around setting up a community bank to boost lending to local SMEs, making Preston a Living Wage City and working with public sector partners to target more of their recruitment at deprived neighbourhoods.

Councillor Brown said: “The conventional ways of doing things just weren’t working for us, so we thought: ‘let’s look at the wealth that we already have in the city’. We found that within communities there is actually quite a lot of wealth in institutions, but we needed to redirect that wealth back into the local economy.

“We knew that no one else was going to save us, and community wealth building was a way to take back control in a really positive way for our communities, and to work with partners in a really pragmatic and practical way.”