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On Tuesday 17 July the UK’s first Local Wealth Building Summit took place at the University of Birmingham to showcase and galvanise the growing movement of people and places taking back control of their local economies.

The summit was organised by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) in partnership with the University of Birmingham and Barrow Cadbury Trust, and took place in Birmingham where a significant programme of Local Wealth Building has been underway, since 2016.

A new CLES report, Local Wealth Building in Birmingham and Beyond: The New Economic Mainstreamdetailing this work was launched at the summit alongside plans to accelerate the scale of the Local Wealth Building movement through the formation of a new centre for excellence.

Neil McInroy at CLES said: “Local Wealth building is a new approach to economic development that addresses the failure of the current economic model to benefit local economies and people. Local Wealth Building was born out of a frustration with ‘development as usual’ approaches that fail to prioritise good employment, reductions in poverty and economic security.”

Local Wealth Building provides a practical framework for generating and spreading wealth within communities. The report charts a course for a future in which local wealth building becomes the mainstream approach to local economic development practice in the UK. It also outlines ten years of CLES’ work on Local Wealth Building and the fruits of this approach, which can now be seen in the growth of inclusive Living Wage jobs, invigorated local supply chains, greater concentrations of local business and increased local spending.

The report goes on to showcase the Local Wealth Building work taking place in Birmingham, Europe’s largest local authority area, where work with six Birmingham based ‘Anchor Institutions’ has demonstrated the potential for them to play a defining role in shaping the city’s economy.

Significantly, the report provides practical steps for local politicians, public sector organisations and people working in local economic development to grow Local Wealth Building across the UK.

To accelerate the adoption of Local Wealth Building (LWB) policy and practice in the UK, CLES has been awarded funding by Barrow Cadbury Trust to develop a centre of excellence and facilitate a new Birmingham Anchor Network.


Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies) chaired three fringe events for Barrow Cadbury Fund and Friends Provident Foundation at this year’s party conferences on building local economies.  Here he shares his thoughts on the experience and the need for ‘democratic devolution’ and ‘economic decency’.

 CLES joined forces with Friends Provident Foundation and Barrow Cadbury Fund to deliver fringe events at three party conferences this year.  CLES has a longstanding interest in this area, with a growing range of work across the UK and beyond. It seems as though in many places we are in the midst of a new energy, where local communities, local government and commercial players are seeking and developing antidotes to economic development, which all too often fails to deliver the social and environmental outcomes required.  Specifically, this includes work on ‘good local economies’ (with Friends Provident Foundation) and work on anchor institutions (with Barrow Cadbury Trust) in Birmingham.

Focussing on building local economies at these fringe events, the different political perspectives on the topic were always going to be interesting.  And participation from MPs and party members from all three parties told us a lot about how this theme is received, how high up it is on agendas, and its potential for being developed in any meaningful way.

Judging from the lively debate and discussion generated by around 170 people attending all three events (often in a packed Fringe Programme), the subject of local economies is clearly of some interest, despite the different slant and direction of parties and party members.   At the Liberal Democrat party conference the panel included Simon Bowkett (CEO of Exeter CVS), Baroness Janke and Cllr Gerald Vernon Jackson (Leader of Portsmouth Liberal Democrats).  This event focused on devolution, role of local government, and its relationship with the social sector.  The nature and number of questions from the floor and the ensuing discussion demonstrated clearly that local government has a key role to play in enabling a social dimension to the economy and promoting local supply chains.  However, there was also a sense that local government needed to be ‘set free’ from Whitehall, so that it has more of its own ‘financial control’, can be a more effective economic player, and play a role in investing in the local economy.  And as Chair of these events I sensed very clearly  that what was needed was a ‘democratic devolution’ with devolution going stronger and deeper, than is presently the case.

The Labour Party conference fringe event had contributions from Cllr Matthew Brown (Preston City Council and with whom CLES had worked closely on a previous piece of work on anchor institutions ‘Progressing Community Wealth Building through Anchor Institutions’  and Heather Wakefield (Head of Local Government, Unison, and who was also a member of the Fawcett Society commission on women and local government). There was a rich discussion around the definition and reality of ‘new local economics’.  Overall, there was a sense that there are many good things going on, but that we need to start small, experiment, and spread the good stories.  Matthew Brown described the pioneering work in Preston, highlighted a suite of activities, including opening up more of local procurement to local suppliers across six major city Anchor Institutions, facilitating municipal energy as well as the growth of cooperatives.  Heather Wakefield picked up the theme of greater social justice, and the role of ‘economic decency’ especially relating to women in employment, social care and the care economy more generally.  Discussion took us into infrastructure investment, including the need to see social investment as of equal importance to hard infrastructure.

The Conservative party conference fringe had contributions from Kirsty McHugh (Employment Related Services Association) and Andrew O’Brien (Charity Finance Group). Here there was a very different focus on vocational skills and the importance of a confluence between public, private and social economies.  Discussion was broad- ranging, but tellingly discussion kept returning to the importance of place, particularly the cross sector inter-dependencies which come together in place.  And there was a recognition that the voluntary and community sector had a key role to play within the supply chain.

At all the party conferences, there was more discussion than usual around the role of the state and the market than at previous Party Conferences I’ve been to. And across all the parties there was a palpable sense that the centrist liberal economic model frame was under greater scrutiny and/or being questioned than ever before.  What came out loud and clear from these fringes was that the local economy has a key role in this new questioning.  There is no doubt that many of the elements needed to grow this local economic agenda are in place and can be built upon.