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. 

 
 
 
 

Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.


At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.