Preston used ‘Corbynomics’ to change its fortune. Now other cities are doing the same

Blue skies over Preston bus station. Image: Ilike/Flickr/creative commons.

I am sure they are an estimable bunch, but Preston Council are not the locomotive of the UK economy. We Conservatives know that it is only a strong private sector economy that can pay for superb public services.

When Boris Johnson scoffed at the idea of Preston being an example of economic success, at a fringe meeting during the most recent Conservative Party conference, he couldn’t have guessed that barely a month later PwC and Demos would independently assess Preston as being the most improved city in the UK in 2018.

Among other improvements, according to their report, “Preston has experienced a large reduction in its unemployment rate, measured at 3.1 per cent in 2017 compared to 6.5 per cent in 2014.”

In Preston, several factors fell onto place at once, leading to positive change that was part planned, part felicitous. Inspired by the Cleveland model, the council visited local “anchor institutions” – institutions that are rooted in Preston, such as the housing association, the university and so on – and persuaded them to spend more money locally. The results were spectacular: local procurement increased by £74m in under five years.

Then, inspired by Mondragon – an international business organisation established by a group of cooperatives, which began soon after the Spanish Civil War – the council set up a framework organisation called the Preston Cooperative Development Network (PCDN), of which I am the Chair. The PCDN encourages business people to create worker-owned co-operatives, and helps them to network. The Preston Model is work in progress, yet the council has achieved a lot in relatively little time. Here are four of the factors which led to its success.

1. Adversity

The collapse of major retail investment into Preston soon after the financial crash of 2008 left the city with nothing: no money, no faith in a failing system and no alternative regeneration scheme. New ideas sometimes emerge out of necessity, and this was one of them.

2. Leadership

At the same time, Preston City Council had the good fortune to enjoy the leadership of an energetic councillor, Matthew Brown. Brown has been a councillor since 2002. He then became Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Inclusion, and Policy, and now is leader of the council.

Frustrated by the dire economic and social prospects for Preston, Brown set about scouring the world for alternative solutions for Preston, while simultaneously improving the local area. For example, it’s because of Brown that Preston City Council was one of the first councils in the UK to introduce the living wage.

3. Corbyn’s Labour party

Councillor Brown’s ideas might never have seen the light of day without the interest and ultimately the backing of Corbyn’s Labour party. In particular, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell took a proactive interest, and was instrumental in setting up a Labour Party Community Wealth Building Unit, inspired by the Preston Model.

This has helped to develop ideas – such as generating and retaining local wealth through local procurement and employee ownership schemes – which have the potential to become Labour Party policy.

4. Research, advice and consultation

The council was forward thinking and creative in its approach, and so agreed to fund the Centre for Local Economic Strategy (CLES) and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to advise councillors and council officers on ways of executing their ideas. CLES and UCLan provided both practical advice and reports to support the council’s Community Wealth Building project.

Can it work elsewhere?

According to Councillor Matthew Brown, aspects of the Preston Model are already being applied elsewhere in the UK, partly as a result of media attention and partly as a Labour Party strategy for about 50 local authorities currently governed by Labour. After Preston, perhaps the most advanced in this kind of strategy is Birmingham.

At least eight London councils are actively pursuing some of the ideas arising from the Preston model, and there has been interest from the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Government.


There is often a certain scepticism about economic and social change, and the case of the Preston Model is no exception. There is talk of protectionism, a fear that perhaps the economy will become less efficient and concerns that localism will collapse, when faced with a need to expand beyond the borders of Preston.

Sometimes, people ask me what it is about Preston itself that accounts for its success (and possibly, therefore, for the difficulty of exporting the model elsewhere). This is the same question that is asked of the Mondragon co-operatives in the Basque Country, since the Mondragon experience has proven difficult to export to other countries.

But change is in the air, as popular economists such as Yanis Varoufakis and Thomas Piketty have forewarned. Journalists such as Paul Mason talk of a “post-capitalist” future. Meanwhile, academics Pickett and Wilkinson critique the social value of growth and Kate Raworth’s “doughnut economics” suggests that there’s a safe and just space for humanity, where no one falls short of life’s essentials and the ecology of the planet is not compromised by rampant consumerism.

The desire for change is part of the energy of the Preston Model. It’s not just about local money. It’s about participating in democracy as cooperative structures demand, it’s about citizenship and pride of place. Anchor institutions opt to spend more locally, in part because procurement officers and the institutions they represent feel all these things. And these things don’t belong to Preston alone.

The Conversation

Julian Manley, Research Fellow, University of Central Lancashire.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.