Labour National Policy Forum Consultation 2019
Response from Newbury CLP (ratified at 17 June 2019 All Members Meeting)
(The questions posed by the Policy Forum Consultation 2019 Local Economic Development document are listed with our answers below and can be found at: https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/consultation2019)
How can councils use insourcing to support their local economy?
- As far as possible councils should insource all delivery services and ensure all staff are paid at least the living wage and offered union representation. Restoration of in-house services run by professional, committed and well trained staff in key areas is a priority.
- Maybe not everything has to be in-house, but all profit driven alternatives should be avoided. Not for profit charities, community owned businesses and networks should be used instead. All Council funded service providers should be based in the local area, and where possible be those who benefit local people and the local economy.
- Insourcing would also give the council far more influence in trialling initiatives such as a 4 day week across a larger group of the population.
What role can Community Wealth Building techniques play in the development of local economies?
- Councils should lead on bringing together other anchor institutions (colleges, universities, police forces, fire services, NHS Trusts and CCGs etc. as well as where possible large private sector employers) to adopt a commitment to buying local products and services wherever possible as per the Preston Model.
- Councils and other anchor institutions (particularly colleges and universities), should encourage the development of the local social enterprise and co-operative economy by providing designated incubator spaces for such start-ups.
- Universities and Colleges make excellent regional development hubs. They should be supported in their education, research and innovation work and provide high quality and affordable training support to businesses, and lifelong free educational opportunities for all citizens. We face rapidly changing employment sectors, there must be no bar to reskilling and upskilling.
- Invest in culture and other heritage attractions to draw visitors to areas. Examples in Newbury would include support for the Corn Exchange theatre productions, and money to develop Shaw House and Greenham Common as nationally famous museums. Shaw House might become a base for a museum dedicated to the work of local famous children’s authors, and to its English Civil War heritage. Greenham Common as a Cold War Museum.
- Spend Council money locally, using local suppliers where possible. Encourage all employers to pay the Real Living Wage to put money into people’s pockets to spend in the local economy in a virtuous circle.
- Councils should encourage social business models located in places like shopping centres to provide provision for social renting.
How can councils use the planning system and other instruments to support local high streets, for example, by bringing empty commercial properties back into use?
- Councils, which are increasingly growing their property portfolios, should focus on buying up commercial property in their own town centres to give local democratic control over the development of the local economy with the ability to lower rents for certain units in order to better support start-ups, reduce over-supply of retail space and lead sensible redevelopment to new purposes such as leisure, public services or housing and develop affordable housing above retail space instead of ‘luxury’ apartments often bought up by landlords.
- Transformation of struggling high streets through redeveloping some vacant commercial premises as housing, aim to create diverse communities of housing and services such as cafes, gyms, shops. Aim for integrated community/village type cultures. Include something in each high street that will be a draw to visitors, e.g. museums, art galleries.
- Tackle business rates to favour small businesses, especially reduce the burden on pubs and provide support and encouragement for them to act as community hubs e.g. taking on Post Offices etc. End the capitalist money grabbing of the Pubcos, who charge tenant landlords vast rents and force them to buy overpriced beer. Pubs to be subject to strict rent affordability controls, be able to buy their alcohol on the open market, and Pubcos not allowed to e.g. sell them off for housing.
- Business rates revenue should be used to improve infrastructure for roads, communications and attracting complimentary business, whether start up or well established business.
How can Labour councils in different parts of the country work together to build mutually-beneficial economic ties?
- Councils in Labour strongholds should be partnered with more marginal Labour councils, or potential Labour councils, to share best practice and provide practical ideas which can form the basis of a radical Labour manifesto for the next set of local elections.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) – Should Labour retain LEPs as a key body for defining local priorities and directing local economic development? – If yes, how could they be reformed? – If no, what should replace them?
Devolution – Is the current deal-based approach to devolution working? How could it be improved or replaced?
What role is there for regionally-based institutions in local economic development? What should such institutions look like?
- Answering all three of the above. Combined Authorities on LEP boundaries (adjusted in some cases) seem the most sensible form for regional government. This could subsume the LEP role as has happened in Cambridge and Peterborough and London under their elected Mayors. This offers democratic control. Whether each region should have a directly elected Mayor model is controversial, but does seem an effective model for getting things done, though greater thought should be given to supporting female candidates for what are currently male dominated Mayoral roles across England.
- The City Deal model is positive in devolved administrations because it brings together UK Government, Welsh/Scottish/NI governments and local leaders in a collaborative way which has led to success in many cases so far. This would only improve if the UK Government was a Labour one but there are challenges for the governance of the deals which need to be addressed. It may be the case that the National Audit Office should be given a statutory role in overseeing their work.
- The City Deal / Growth Deal model in England is less proven and has been usurped by combined authorities. As addressed above the combined authority model could be a driver for more inclusive local growth, but the recent Grimsby ‘Town Deal’ might be an intelligent way for an incoming Labour government to more quickly allocate investment into ‘held back’ towns themselves (in collaboration with finance from the combined authority where one exists) rather than directing funding to a city region or LEP to distribute.
- Labour’s regional public banks should be set up on the Combined authority boundaries (meaning around 32-35 such institutions). This will provide a far greater spread of investment and higher level of expertise as to priorities within the region/understanding of the local economy, than if they were to operate on a wider region say ‘South West’ which encompasses the very different economies of Cornwall, Swindon, Bristol and Bournemouth.
How could the capacity of local government to support economic development be improved?
- There’s a strong case for a review of local councils with strengthened powers and resources for Town Councils in collaboration with BIDs where they exist. This would bring economic development to a far more local level than in some cases, where District Councils have a focus on the central economy within their remit rather than the different towns and communities that make up the district.
- These Town Councils could be supported directly by officials in the Cities and Local Growth Unit in central Government, and ‘town deals’ developed for each which would provide a mutually agreed plan for development and sufficient public finance where required.
(a) How can each of the following be used to support local economic development? (b) How can each of the following be reformed to strengthen the role they can play in local economic development?
- A moratorium on out of town retail developments requiring the signature of the regional Mayor or where there isn’t one the Secretary of State. Areas should focus on developing their town centres first and foremost.
- Public procurement
- Support the Preston model as discussed earlier.
- Enterprise Zones
- Transport links to Enterprise Zones should be improved.
- Enterprise Zones should receive central Government, ring-fenced finance to advertise for inward investment at global trade fairs.
- Housing provision in the public and private sector
- Extensive investment in social housing, owned by the public sector, is a huge priority. Getting low income and all disadvantaged people (including the young and old) decently housed is a first step in enabling people to be safe, healthy and economically productive. Housing first! Housing costs are currently too high a proportion of people’s incomes. Make this cheap and they will have more money to spend on other things. We need a dramatic change of approach, ramping up provision. It can’t be left to private developers who frequently renege on their promises in planning applications to build certain levels of social and affordable housing. In particular the giving away of Council owned land to private developers in return for this promised housing , which then doesn’t materialise, is a national scandal and should be made illegal.
- All opportunities to build adequate levels of social housing should be seized. For example Labour might consider compulsory purchase of land banks held by private developers to build 100% social housing. Other creative thinking is needed too, for example space above town centre retail could, as far as possible, be developed for social and affordable housing. All developments should prioritise the building of supportive and sustainable communities.
- Labour also needs to change the narrative around housing. The term “social housing” should perhaps be dropped as it now has many negative associations, perhaps consider re-instating terminology such as “Council housing” or “public sector housing” This would fit with describing other types of rented accommodation as “private sector” and give more dignity to tenants. Narratives around “affordable housing” need particular challenge as the current definitions are laughably unaffordable for the majority of people.
- The energy system and low carbon economy
- Labour’s plans for an Energiewende-inspired set of local energy networks will reduce energy costs for local households and businesses. Each local authority / combined authority must be held accountable for driving forward the development of their local energy networks, and should look at aspiring to develop a local energy company and to invest in energy storage (as per the Nottingham City Council Business Case).
- Grants to enable all homes, regardless of income or whether rented or privately owned, to be fully insulated with solar panels and heat pumps. This will not only help us meet climate change objectives, but a high amount of people’s income is spent on energy. Make this cheap and renewable, and they will have more money to spend on other things.
- Local bank branches
- The restoration of traditional business banking – with face-to-face support and advice for start-ups and scale-ups is vital. Labour’s Post Office Bank proposals could deliver this.
- Cash is still important to many lower income people, the elderly and disadvantaged groups, and an important economic driver in local spending. The closure of free cash points should be resisted.
- Our commitment to extending free bus travel from over 65s to under 25s is welcome but it should be extended further, as Scottish Labour has set out its intentions to do, to the entire population. This would boost spending power of low income families, improve ability of people to afford to commute if cost of commuting is a barrier to a higher paying job, and also improve local tourism and town centre retail.
- An incoming Labour government should rapidly expand the use of light rail and restore previously closed rail lines for the purpose of heavy or tram-train light rail services.
- Mulhouse, a town in France which has seen a rapid economic turnaround, has a population of 110,000. The introduction of trams is seen as central to its success therefore the consideration of trams/light rail should not be constrained to larger urban conurbations, Wycombe, Thanet, Crawley, Mansfield, Basingstoke and Worcester are target seats with a similar or higher population which could benefit from the promise of a tram network; Blackburn, Burnley, Blackpool, Grimsby, Doncaster are areas of deprivation where the promise of a tram network could underline our commitment to investing in ‘held back’ communities and we could then extend the role of trams further to smaller conurbations – albeit perhaps in a smaller ‘street car’ format.
- All car parks in small towns should have a free period of at least 3 hours to encourage people to stay, shop and eat.
- Invest in integrated, well connected, low carbon affordable public transport and Park and Rides to enable people to get around, access vital services and be economically active, both in spending and employment.
- Devolution reform and strategy
- Further to previous comments on regional structures policing, fire and health services as well as a regional element to the new National Education Service and a regionalisation of the Environment Agency, the BBC and similar bodies could be aligned on these new combined authority boundaries which would cover all of England so as to provide clear democratic oversight and coordination on these boundaries.
- Once such alignment has been achieved the delivery of an anchor-institution/Preston-style strategy for regional growth would be far easier to achieve.
(c) How should Britain use state aid to support local economic development? How should state aid rules be reformed if greater flexibility is introduced on Britain’s exit from the European Union? (d) What should replace EU Structural Funds? On what basis and for what purposes should any replacement funds be distributed?