Duncan Thorp on the vast potential of Community Wealth Building
Climate change, the cost of living, unemployment and the mental health pandemic are all directly driven by the nature of our economy.
This is an economy that prioritises endless consumerism and huge wealth inequality and poverty, as well as harm to our natural environment.
It’s a system founded on scarcity, with too many people living from one pay cheque to another and where foodbanks are now accepted as normal.
The old economic measures like GDP don’t measure the reality of our lives and solutions like top-down regeneration have failed to deliver genuine prosperity in many parts of Scotland.
Community Wealth Building (CWB) is being promoted as an alternative approach that can build real economic prosperity for many more people.
But what exactly is Community Wealth Building?
Effectively it’s a practical roadmap to build a better, wellbeing economy, where human need and the environment come first.
The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) a charity with expertise in local economies, says that Community Wealth Building is:
“A new people-centred approach to local economic development, which redirects wealth back into the local economy, and places control and benefits into the hands of local people”.
Community Wealth Building has a number of key parts to it. This includes more democratic, shared ownership of the economy by local people. This means support for the development of local, small businesses, social enterprises, employee ownership, cooperatives, local council enterprise and community enterprises.
Fairer workplaces that include and benefit all of us and meaningful, satisfying work are vital components too. Alongside local procurement of goods and services that uses spending by key organisations to support more diverse and resilient local businesses.
It’s also about making financial power work for local communities, investing locally and encouraging national bodies to invest locally too. Plus it’s about maximising the productive use of land and property for social good and community benefit.
The initiative has been taking hold in Scotland, with a number of local pilot projects and a policy focus by national and local government, such as in North Ayrshire and South-West Edinburgh.
As well as the many potential rewards for individuals and families there’s also much in CWB that will interest and benefit social entrepreneurs and their businesses.
The Scottish Government recently opened a consultation on a Community Wealth Building Bill. Social Enterprise Scotland has been involved with the stakeholder group and will be consulting all social enterprises and submitting a response.
We must ensure that CWB is not just another current policy trend or temporary fix that will be forgotten about in a couple of years.
There are countless policy initiatives that come and go but approaches like CWB can certainly be transformative and drive a better, more democratic economy, if it’s done right.
There’s still a great deal of work to do in order to raise the profile of CWB to a wider audience and increase understanding – and crucially direct involvement – by the public.
Only with genuine local community leadership can CWB be successful.
There’s also an urgency, in the face of many big economic challenges, both national and global, to do things differently with our economy.
Community Wealth Building can be a really positive, key part of the solution and now is the ideal time to take it forward.
Duncan Thorp is policy and public affairs manager for Social Enterprise Scotland.