Perhaps in the light of tonight’s alignment at the District Council, we should not be speaking about ‘municipal socialism’ – as reported by the East Devon Watch blog:
However, trying to keep things ‘unpolitical’, what’s been going on in Preston might be of interest:
The New Statesman reports on a model for local government finance:
The UK’s local authorities are at breaking point. But municipal socialism could save them
Preston shows that the damage done by cuts and outsourcing can be undone.
3 May 2019
Private developers have been tasked with “regenerating” local areas, but many opt for quick profits over meeting local needs. When these companies can no longer make money, they simply leave.
Such a situation befell Preston in 2011, when John Lewis pulled out of a planned shopping centre development, leaving the council severely short of cash and without a plan. Matthew Brown, now the council’s leader, stepped in and, with the help of the think tank CLES, developed an innovative new model to challenge the dominance of free market thinking in local government.
Brown, borrowing from a similar experiment undertaken in Cleveland, Ohio, opted to turn Preston into a model for municipal socialism. His plan was to use community wealth building – a term coined by the US think tank the Democracy Collaboartive, which supported Cleveland’s transformation – to revive his ailing city.
Preston council worked with the city’s “anchor institutions” – universities, hospitals and other institutions that are anchored to a particular place – to retain wealth in the local area. Rather than paying outsourcing companies to deliver services, they have used their collective procurement budgets to provide contracts to local companies that pay the living wage. Preston has also sought to encourage the development of local co-operatives, and Brown even wants to build a local bank.
The achievements of the model have been substantial. Between 2013 and 2017, the council managed to increase the amount being spent in the local area by £73m, even as their spending power fell. Last year, Preston was named the UK’s “most improved council”.
After decades of marginalisation, local government is once again a key ideological battleground. We face a choice between governing our spaces in the interests of private investors, or ordinary people. The fate of our local authorities may just pre-figure what comes next for the nation as a whole.