What Preston taught in New York
I am not a reliable narrator. I know the subject of this story well. Matthew Brown and I both attended the same provincial comprehensive program, coming away with less than impressive results, an irony that our respective fathers missed – both were teachers. Later, we would both go on to overwhelm an indifferent audience with a series of ramshackle punk bands, before returning to the educational mainstream.
I then worked as a foreign reporter. Matt did something bigger. He has helped turn around the situation in our hometown of Preston and improved the lives of countless people.
I remember coming back to Preston from overseas after the financial crash. Much of the main street had been boarded up, the plywood windows bearing witness to the jobs and lives of the people who had once worked there. A £700million redevelopment scheme had collapsed after its main tenant, John Lewis, had retired in 2011. The Tithebarn project, which was to be built by two of the largest development companies in the world, has been abandoned. Businesses across the city closed and unemployment for many became the norm.
That’s really where Matt comes in. He won a place on the labor council and a few years later was made chief, a post he used to show that local government can really make a difference. In 2018, PwC, the professional services firm, awarded Preston Most Improved Status, taking into account a range of measures including employment, environment and levels of social equality. On these criteria, the city had become a better place to live than the capital. A lot of work remains to be done – Matt will be the first to tell you. But what Preston has achieved is remarkable.
At its core, the Preston Model of Community Wealth Building (CWB) is a fairly straightforward proposition. It relies on employees with a vested interest in the companies and institutions that pay their salaries. Under the CWB, multinational corporations that rely on economies of scale to compete with local minnows on price are replaced by a network of local businesses and emerging cooperatives.
Placed here, it hardly seems radical. However, these ideas are being noticed across the UK and Europe.
“It’s not extractive,” Matt explained. “Everything he pays stays in the community,” he says of Preston’s own expenses. “However, we are not finished yet. It takes time. We need to extend the model, add more layers and make it more durable. »
Strange as it may seem, the ability of local government to make major changes has become almost entirely ignored. It doesn’t have to be like that. According to a study by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) 58% more money spent by communities with small local businesses stays in the local economy, compared to that spent with large businesses in the same area. Consider the immense value of local government spending at national level, or even across Europe, and you get an idea of the economic and social potential at the fingertips of local government.
In retrospect, none of us received a political education in school, where stressed teachers smelling of instant coffee and expired cigarettes hammered the basics of math and geography into chalk dust, spit and decibels. . If anything, our journey to what you might roughly call a kind of political awakening has come from the older generation, learned at the knees of Joe Strummer and The Clash, establishing in our porous teenage minds the founding principles of lives worth living.
It’s a vision that still shapes many of us. Matt and Preston Council would hardly claim to have invented the model. Its roots in the communities go back to the explosion of the cooperative movements in the 19th century and, mainly, to the town of Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain. Trapped with no future and condemned to the worst deprivations of the economic and social destruction that followed the Spanish Civil War, Mondragon was a city without direction or future. But then, in 1956, a young Catholic priest founded a technical college to develop the skills of the people and to help train and manage the workforce. Eventually, the residents created a cooperative society. Today it is the largest business group in the Basque Country.
In a second chance story, you can see why Mondragon’s might resonate with Matt. After languishing in the doldrums of DHSS and dead-end temporary jobs, Matt and I, although avowed non-believers, were able to gain admission to a college in Oxford, run by the Catholic Church and affiliated with the university. It’s hard to overstate how pivotal this change was, propelling us from the jobless queues of the north into a landscape that owed more to the erotic pre-war dreams of Evelyn Waugh than anything we had lived or imagined. Armed and educated, Matt returned to the local college and town where he had celebrated his coming of age at a local curry house, if memory serves.
Mondragon’s success provided a clear example to Preston advisers, who visited the co-op in the middle of the last decade. From there, they combined ideas about the potential of cooperatives with economic theories emerging from the American Rust Belt. Building on a buying model developed in Manchester, Preston established itself, not just as a means of redirecting spending back into the economy, but as a direct means of transferring the city’s wealth from distant shareholders to the people who make up a community.
Phil Thompson, the former deputy mayor of New York said The new European, “Community Wealth Building is a new term, but not a new concept. What attracted me is that it resonates with the more community-based and integrated approach to economic development. I was exposed to it at a young age during the civil rights movement,” he said. “Preston was useful as a proof of concept and some practical approaches that stimulated our thinking in New York. However, everything we did, and I think this is true everywhere, had to be rooted in our own political realities.
The liberal press, left-wing columnists and activists, like actor Michael Sheen, have all made their way to Preston’s doorstep, eager to see what a progressive response to regional disparity might look like. However, at Westminster his fortunes were mixed. Initially singled out by Jeremy Corbyn as an example of a labor council implementing real change, his successor, Keir Starmer, proved to be a half-hearted cheerleader. The current leader has put as much political water as possible between him and his predecessor.
Nevertheless, across Europe, the Preston model continues to gain traction. Dublin, Barcelona and Copenhagen are all drawing on the city’s example while in the UK, regional councils including London and North Ayrshire are exploring ways to put local authorities at the center of the areas they serve . Welshman Senedd was particularly enthusiastic about putting the power of devolved government to work for the community.
“Preston has demonstrated the ability of local government to do things that only existed in theory,” said Sarah Longlands, chief executive of the Center for Local Economic Strategies. “It gave people confidence in the potential of local communities across Europe. I know that right now Matt and others are getting calls from authorities in the UK and Europe asking how they can do what Preston did. Community Wealth Building benefits don’t have to belong to the left or the right, said Sarah, “It’s just a progressive response to local economic development. Local authorities should not just count pennies. They can do so much more than that,” she said.
I currently live in North Africa, a continent far from the streets and the people Matt and I grew up with. I texted him last night. It had nothing to do with it. I had discovered a few anecdotes about David Bowie that I wanted to share. However, the conversations came and went and eventually it turned to the Preston model and the work that still needs to be done. He told me about his plans for a new public cinema and a community-run bank that would serve the entire North West. He looked tired. The central government continues to reduce the powers of local authorities. A recent report by the Resolution Foundation has cast a dark shadow over growing regional disparities, with the gap between London and the North wider than ever. In Preston, the cost of living crisis is eating away at its community. There’s a lot of work ahead of him, but he’s still here and he still does it.
Matthew Brown from School, Make the World a Better Place.