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.