Co-operative Party to work with Labour to rebuild local economies across the UK

In a speech in Preston today, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has announced the formation of a Community Wealth Building Unit which will promote co-operatives and mutuals as a means of driving local economic growth across the country.

Co-operative Party


Courtesy of Cllr Sharon Taylor @SharonStevenage

The Co-operative Party will work with Labour, trade unions and thinktanks to promote its innovative community wealth building model to communities across the UK, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell announced today.

The Shadow Chancellor was speaking at a conference in Preston, where the Labour & Co-operative City Council's groundbreaking approach has received widespread attention.

Under the so-called 'Preston Model' - inspired by successful examples America's Rust Belt - Preston City Council has worked with local anchor institutions such as universities and hospitals, as well as through its own procurement practices, to ensure a greater share of the money they spend stays in the local economy. Simultaneously, the Council has worked to support the growth of local worker-owned co-operatives, the development of a not-for-profit community savings bank, and other initiatives that will maximise the wider social benefit of spending locally. 

So far, the approach has seen more than £200 million returned to the local economy, and supported more than 1,600 jobs.

Over the past two years, the Co-operative Party has worked closely with the Shadow Chancellor and councillors leading the initiative in Preston including Matt Brown to investigate how lessons from the City might might be and used to transform communities across the country that have been hit hard by austerity.

This resulted last April in the publication of our Report 'Six Steps to Build Community Wealth', which sets out a practical guide that Labour & Co-operative councils can use to bring these principles to their own area.

That work has culminated in today's announcement by the Shadow Chancellor of the formation of a new Community Wealth Building Unit, which will work with Labour councils to learn the lessons from Preston, and to provide councils with knowledge, advice, and practical support. The Co-operative Party will join with trade unions, think tanks and other organisations with expertise in this area to advise the new unit and to drive the work forward.

In his speech, the Shadow Chancellor said:

“The next Labour government will end austerity and properly fund local authorities, instead of cutting back and passing the buck like the Conservatives are doing. But we cannot afford to wait until we are in power nationally.

“There are many creative solutions being used already, like in Preston, and we need to spread this inspiring work around other Labour councils now, so we can bring services back in house, stimulate the economy and provide decent jobs, extend ownership and control, and strengthen local democracy.

“By working together to share these principles where Labour is already in power locally, we can sow the seeds of a country that works for the many, not the few.”

Responding to the announcement, Co-operative Party General Secretary Claire McCarthy said:

“The inspiring work of innovative councils such as Preston is proof that we don’t need to wait for Whitehall to begin building an alternative based on our values.

The Co-operative Party has been delighted to work with the Labour Party, both locally and nationally over the past 18 months to develop the community wealth model. Today’s announcement of the formation of a Community Wealth Building Unit is an exciting next step, and we look forward to playing our party in building stronger, fairer communities across the country”

Preston at a glance

  • Preston council have adopted a local economic development strategy that includes:
  • Becoming the first Living Wage employer in the North of England (in 2012);
  • Setting up a credit union to compete with payday loans companies;
  • Persuading six large local public bodies (also known as “anchor institutions”) to commit to buying goods or services locally wherever possible;
  • Helping to set up worker cooperatives to provide goods and services to public bodies.

In 2013, the six local public bodies spent £38m in Preston and £292m in all of Lancashire. By 2017 these had increased to £111m and £485m respectively, despite an overall reduction in the council’s budget.