John McCarthy helpfully provides SURF’s CWB Practice Network 4 challenges and makes 5 clear points on the opportunities arises for CWB.Dr John McCarthy is an Associate Professor at Heriot-Watt University’s Urban Institute, and he has had several roles in spatial planning practice. His teaching and research interests include aspects of urban regeneration globally including linkages to tourism, including applying comparative cross-national approaches.
The SURF Annual Conference 2022 ‘From Slogans to Sound Strategy’ in August focused on Community Wealth Building (CWB). This idea has come forward in many different contexts as a progressive way forward for regenerating local communities via inclusive growth, of clear relevance in the light of current attempts at ‘levelling up’. CWP aims to enshrine principles of fair employment, local supply chains, shared ownership and social justice, by linking together previously separate initiatives and approaches into a coherent ‘locally-first’ approach to economic development. It needs careful design of policy support, but allows the prospect of an ecosystem of economic activity that delivers clear outcomes for local people.
Indeed, CWB has already delivered in many areas – the so-called ‘Preston model’, for instance, shows how this can be done, and many other communities throughout the UK and elsewhere are following suit. For instance, North Ayrshire Council has set up a Community Wealth Building Commission of local and regional anchor institutions, and an CWB Expert Advisory Panel, leading to series of specific initiatives. Significant progress in CWB has also been made in Dunoon. Other areas are also progressing CWB initiatives.
But there remain many key challenges/questions for CWB in Scotland, as well as opportunities, which SURF’s Community Wealth Building Network could usefully explore. Some of these are set out below.
- How can CWB be mainstreamed to allow more widespread adoption? This leads to the issue of how it could link more effectively with current regeneration funding mechanisms, since there is the risk that it might simply add to the congested array of regeneration policy approaches and initiatives applied in Scotland in recent decades.
- CWB needs more productive relations between organizations, including central and local government, so that benefits of initiatives can be maximized, for instance by ensuring that employment opportunities are available for local people with training provided where needed, and better use is made of land and property to assist local economic development. So how can more productive relations be best achieved, particularly where there is limited history or culture of effective partnership working?
- How can outcomes for CWB be achieved speedily, given that many elements such as community development and partnership working need time to develop, and also that commitment to CWB principles might not be universally accepted by all the stakeholders who need to be involved?
- While progress has been in partnership-building in many communities, many contest that regeneration processes (particularly linked to unlocking funding streams) remain essentially ‘top-down’, with local authorities for instance often playing a lead role and community organisations less so. So how might the power balance between participants be rebalanced to enable CWB to work more effectively?
- Related to the mainstreaming issue above, the fragmentation of public funding (particularly for ‘regeneration’) has long been a contentious issue in Scotland and elsewhere, and it might be argued that limited progress has been made in consolidation/streamlining to ensure more clarity and focused delivery. So one option might be for a clearer focus for CWB on poverty in Scotland.
- Public procurement would seem to present a particular opportunity for ‘quick wins’ for CWB, via maximizing the value of public investment. What seem to be needed are effective methods to ensure that procurement benefits cover social and environmental outcomes, and effectively make use of land and property.
- Innovative use of more appropriate metrics might assist in terms of measuring the achievement of CWB. Much work has been done in terms of going beyond more traditional methods of assessing economic (including local and regional) economic growth and its benefits, but more seems needed to effectively include a wider range of social and environmental factors.
- Recent experience, linked to the Covid-19 epidemic, has brought forward many innovative means of community engagement, including for instance open-source data tools. These have potential to assist in achieving CWB objectives in terms of more democratic working, but work needs to be done to ensure that engagement using such tools can be truly inclusive.
- Linked to the issue of improving democratic working for CWB, the mechanism of participatory budgeting – to enable clearer democratic spending of public funds – would seem to offer potential in the context of CWB. But progress is needed for this to be more widely applied.
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