green and orange trees during daytime
Photo by Craig Bradford on Unsplash

Last week I was delighted to take part in a members’ business debate brought forward by my Co-operative Party colleague Rhoda Grant to emphasise the importance of community wealth building. It is as important in urban areas as it is in rural areas because the exploitation that is experienced is common to both.

Across our country, we see widening inequality and increasing poverty among working-class communities, and an astronomical rise in the levels of wealth being hoarded by the super-rich. Against that backdrop, the premise of community wealth building is more important than ever before. It is a concept that brings a people-centred approach to local economic development, redirecting wealth back into local economies and putting control back in the hands of local people.

We know that it works. We can look at communities such as North Ayrshire, where the council’s Labour and Co-operative led administration, led by Joe Cullinane, puts the model of community wealth building at the heart of everything that the local authority does. That approach means that more social housing is built, publicly owned energy generating facilities are developed and democratic ownership models are prioritised—all to the benefit of the community.

That is in stark contrast to what we have seen across Scotland in recent years. Local authorities have been faced with significant financial distress as their budgets have been disproportionately cut, and they seek an easy capital receipt with land disposals.

The Scottish Government has indicated that it is exploring the idea of rolling out a nationwide community wealth building strategy. I would welcome that, but it must be done not as a mere sticking plaster to mask the continued local authority budget cuts that are handed down from the Scottish Government. Those cuts are compounded all the more by the insulting greenwashing that we see in Glasgow in the run-up to the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—with myriad corporate interests sponsoring pathetic interventions in the city’s built environment while there is broad decline and decay in its urban infrastructure as a result of decades of disproportionate budget cuts.

If we are to adopt the community wealth building model, that must be done alongside the creation of an industrial strategy that puts people and communities at its heart. I encourage the Scottish Government to revisit its proposed compulsory sale order policy, which it quietly dispensed with in the previous session of Parliament. There is an urgent requirement to bring that sort of power back to the forefront of our agenda to ensure that community wealth building is put back in the hands of communities. We must do that in order to take action in communities that have long been blighted by deindustrialisation and the disinvestment caused by budget cuts. I truly hope that the Scottish Government embraces the opportunities that community wealth building brings, and does not squander such opportunities as it has done so often in the past.