Opinion with Cllr Mark Hopkinson: Community wealth building in Thanet

Cllr Mark Hopkinson

Thanet will never be the same after the virus. We’re all rightly worried about the heavy economic impact on our local businesses. But there’s also positive talk of “building back better” and maybe a “new normal”. The public is in the mood for some genuine, meaningful changes, it seems.

We are rightly looking to central government to use our money wisely to support us through this. But this could also be a time to re-think the role that local government can play in our lives and local economy. As a new councillor elected last year, the remit of Thanet District Council was described to me as “dogs*#t and bins” (!) which of course are important… but there’s a growing feeling across the country that local government might have a bit more to offer.

In this context, Thanet District Council is launching an initiative that may have a part to play in building a better community and economy in Thanet: Community Wealth Building (CWB).

How does it work? It’s all about realising what wealth we already have communally and trying to re-direct it towards our own wellbeing rather than letting it leak out of the area. It’s a simple principle: direct all spending by the council, Thanet businesses and public services, wherever possible, to local suppliers. Why give our custom to businesses on the other side of the country (or even the world) when we can help businesses here in Thanet thrive?

Done properly, it can greatly increase the wealth that stays in the area and that of course means more employment – and there’s also a strong environmental case for it (by reducing distance goods have to travel).

The first UK council to try this was Preston, in 2012. Six years later the city was named as the “most improved city in the UK”. Thanet is a very different area, though, with a much smaller local authority budget. Here, CWB would need to engage as many of our small and medium sized businesses as well as big public and private sector players as possible to be successful. The more of these organisations that can come together round CWB principles, the bigger the effect it can have on our local economy and community.

I was inspired to run for TDC in the first place by going to a talk on CWB in Ramsgate in 2018 by Neil McInroy of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, invited down by our parliamentary candidate, Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt. So it’s great to see the initiative now being launched by a Labour run council. Council officers are working on the roll out plan at the moment – albeit under the pressure of stretched resources following so many cuts to local councils’ budgets. Cllr Rob Yates will be the cabinet member very competently heading this up.

CWB was on the TDC agenda before we’d even heard of the Coronavirus. But the emphasis on community resilience and economic well-being is needed now more than ever. It’s pretty undeniable that the UK’s handling of this crisis has been disastrous. One of the major changes to our national psyche that this crisis has brought about is a renewed understanding of just how much we all depend on each other. Thatcher’s famous “there’s no such thing as society… there are individual men and women and there are families” has now never seemed further from the truth.

When everyone has access to great standards of healthcare, regardless of ability to pay, we are all protected from public health disasters – as well as from the economic impacts when these aren’t contained. If our towns are full of thriving businesses, the community has more of a sense of belonging and positivity towards each other. If all kids get a great education and leave school full of ambition and optimism, if everyone is well off enough to spend in local businesses, if our public spaces are inspiring and well-looked after, then we all benefit.

To put it simply: I need you to be safe and well for me and family to be safe and well. Wealth isn’t just something we have (or not) as individuals: it’s also something we have together as a community. This is an ethos I think we could really do with getting back to.

So please look out for the Community Wealth Building initiative and help us build a better, more resilient and communal Thanet.

13 Comments

  1. As a Thanet business owner of 40 years I started to read this article with enthusiasm until Cllr.Hopkinson’s comments turned it into a platform for promoting Labour’s criticism of the Pandemic situation. No one can deny some action of the Government could have been done differently with possibly better outcomes but as we all know hindsight is something we all share and use in different ways. If you want the local business community to back your new initiatives then I suggest you take the political distraction out of your promotion and concentrate on the wider diversity of people and businesses who may be willing to help. Using the platform for criticising the people who have done their best to keep this country moving through the worst scenario anyone could have imagined, really does not add anything positive.
    I honestly wish you luck with your idea but please rethink your strategy and how you intend to get support from all

    • Thanks for this comment, Peter. Everything I said in the article was in good faith and I believe to be directly relevant to what I’m trying to convey about CWB. That said, I’m very happy to take into account what you say. I do agree that as a general principle that it’s better to focus on what we have in common as a community and on what we can positively build together, whatever our differences might be, rather than negative criticism. Best wishes.

    • Blindfolded politics over overt poverty,when will those people with power to rectify the difference actually do some thing ?.

      If buildings are left to decay (although council/business type tax is being paid,council happy). Its the broken window idea.
      Properties over inhabited with no waste/recycle on premises ,tenants fly tipping their daily trash/food waste into street bins or dog poop bins.
      TDC street bin empty staff do a tremendous job shovelling up the fly tips,hey thank you its appreciated.
      Hopefully all the tdc fly tips are reportable by the bin empty guys,heck there the operatives who have more gravitas over local council tax payers.

      So easy to make thanet better,at the end of the day we dont pay council tax to live in a slum,dump environment.

    • I don’t think it’s just Labour supporters that are criticizing the government’s actions regarding the current pandemic!

  2. Another first for Britain is having the highest Covid-19 death rate in Europe due to failing to take action sooner. We should have taken advice from Germany that has a population of over 80 million, yet the lowest death rate!

  3. This isn’t just about the money. When I spent a large grant with local food suppliers recently I was given the very best service, I met the nicest people and my own project was enhanced by my local suppliers’ positive attitudes . Hogman Butchers, Nash farm fruit and veg and Cannon’s fresh fish stall went the extra mile and offered that quality of service that local business excels in.

    • I agree Sharon, it’s not just for material economic benefits. Sense of community and looking out for each other is just as important.

  4. Mark Hopkinson

    Is this the same Mark that commented on an article a few weeks back saying that Uncle Buck was racist and would not be “calling in” the decision for TDC to commence a debate over the plaque?

    Typical leftie snowflake. Labour are so out of touch with the electorate. I trust that he will be rid of his seat, come the next election.

    • The problem with Mark, and many other councillors (Tory, Labour or WHOEVER, local or national) is that they stood and ultimately were elected on a mandate. A mandate to represent the views of their constituents. Not their own views, which Mark has done time and time again!

    • Yep that was me. Although what I actually said and think is that the practice of black face was racist (I have no interest in condemning Uncle Mack as an individual). I stand by that. Over 600 ThAnet residents have signed a petition in support of the decison to remove the plaque. And yes if you’re right residents disagree with that I don’t want to vote for me in the next council elections (if I stand) then absolutely fair enough. Just doing my best and what I think is right. Good day to you.

  5. Jack Gardener the first Thanet politician that brings the three townships into one powerful unit, will make a difference. TDC seem to promote inter town rivalry to cover their failings ( special measures). The circle of infighting gets us nowhere.

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