Beyond Preston: How local wealth building is taking the UK by storm

Preston Bus Station. Image: Getty.

The Preston Model, which has seen the Lancashire town rise from the bottom 20 per cent of the deprivation index to be named the UK’s most improved city, has become the poster child for an insurgent economic approach known as “local wealth building”. This uses the levers of the local state to reorganise the economy away from neoliberalism and towards local economies rooted in social, economic and environmental justice.

While the programme’s success in Preston is obvious from the widespread interest it has received among policy makers, politicians and commentators, local wealth building is also being explored elsewhere to confront economic failure, social hardship, wealth extraction and environmental degradation. 

In Manchester, the programme first began in 2008, pioneered by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and Manchester City Council. Together they grew the number of organisations based in the city that were competing and winning contracts from the city government by 50 per cent. 

From this early work on procurement, local wealth building initiatives began to focus on the idea of “predistribution”, a counterpoint to the redistributive policies, such as ”inclusive growth”, a current zeitgeist among policy makers that advocates a weak form of redistributing wealth through taxes and benefits after the fact of its creation. Local wealth building instead aims to construct an inclusive economy where wealth is generated by and for all citizens. In doing so, it slays the neoliberal dragon of trickle-down economics and rebuilds wealth from the bottom-up rather than the top-down.

To achieve this, local wealth building follows a model based on “anchor institutions”, where local businesses and socially-focused enterprises outside the local area compete for commercial contracts from institutions such as housing organisations, universities, schools and hospitals. These institutions hold a unique position in the local economy, as they employ people, buy things, hold property and assets and are unlikely to relocate from the local area. 

The Preston Model is a welcome indication that this anchor approach can work. But in places beyond Preston, this agenda has taken diverse forms; what unites these places is five central principles. These are:

  • Plural ownership of the economy – deepening the relationship between the production of wealth and those who benefit from it. This means returning public services to direct democratic control by insourcing public goods and services. It’s also about developing cooperatives and locally owned or socially focussed enterprises in the public and commercial economy.
  • Making financial power work for local places – increasing flows of investment within local economies by, for example, directing the funds from local authority pensions away from global markets and towards local schemes and community-owned banks and credit unions.
  • Fair employment and just labour markets – working within large anchor institutions and their human resource departments to pay the living wage, adopt inclusive employment practices, recruit from lower income areas, build secure progression routes for workers and ensure union recognition.
  • Progressive procurement of goods and services – developing a dense local supply chain of local enterprises, employee-owned businesses, social enterprises, cooperatives and other forms of social ownership that can provide goods and services to large local anchor organisations.
  • Socially productive use of land and property – ensuring that local assets including those held by anchor organisations are owned, managed and developed equitably, so that local communities can harness any financial gain from these assets.

This movement is growing rapidly; CLES is working with Gateshead, Sunderland, Darlington, Hartlepool, Wakefield, Leeds, Calderdale, Kirklees, Oldham, Wigan, Salford, Birmingham, Lewisham, Wirral and Southampton to adopt local wealth building initiatives involving a range of anchors.


In London, Islington is deepening its progressive procurement practices and examining ways to tackle the rentier economy and speculative land and property ownership. In Gateshead, the council has a longstanding process of insourcing. In Wales the first Minister has made a commitment to ensure a programme of local wealth building, and in Scotland, local government is establishing a pilot linking local wealth building to a growth deal. Elsewhere, the NHS has adopted the anchor approach as part of its long term plan.

In the coming years as this movement becomes more embedded in regions across the UK, the “Gateshead model” or the “Wirral model” should achieve as much attention as the pioneers of Preston. The Labour Party has established a community wealth building unit and the ongoing work of the government’s inclusive economic partnership magnifies the local wealth building agenda. In the age of experiments, the lessons of Preston, Gateshead, Islington and elsewhere must become a new mainstream for all forms of local economic development.

Jonty Leibowitz is a researcher and Neil McInroy is the chief executive at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), the think and do tank working on progressive economics for people and places. 

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.