The Co-operative Party has always argued that decisions are best made by those closest to them, whether that’s shoppers having a say over their local high street to fans having a stake in their local football club. Those who believe as we do in community power have long known that local people have the ideas and ambition to transform their own areas – they just need the money and decision-making ability to put those ideas into action. 

In a parallel universe, the Government would have seized upon and rocket boosted co-operative principles and community power within a genuine ‘levelling up’ agenda. Instead, today’s long awaited Levelling Up White Paper doesn’t do enough to put power back in the hands of people who need it most.

The challenges that the slogan of ‘levelling up’ seeks to address are varied and multiple. We are moving towards a hideous cost of living crisis: a crisis which looms on a system and people ill equipped to cope. We have had an over-reliance on extractive and fickle private investment which has left communities seen as unworthy of investment tread water – a situation which has led to many with our instincts to look to new approaches such as community wealth building in its many guises and applications.  

We in the co-operative movement are clear about the benefits of genuine community wealth and community power. It is what our movement is founded on. Over the last number of years, I think that the needs of our town centres have gone from something few in Westminster really thought was important to being better understood and focussed on, but the answers to the problems diagnosed have not been met with concrete action or more than a sprinkling of politically driven grant funding.   

In my view these actions would include enlarged and crucially devolved funding, so that communities can decide how regeneration money is spent. That must be partnered with new powers for communities to own a stake in their future success, from a community right to buy and strengthening community assets protections, to community-first approaches to empty units. All too often, communities that revive their areas through their own efforts and talents see that value extracted for private profit. Promotion of diverse business forms and community ownership must be the first step to ensuring that communities which do “level up” actually see the benefits in their own wallets, rather than on a developer’s bottom line. 

Most of all, we need an approach to levelling up that is co-operative in spirit as well as action. It’s time to treat communities as partners, not problems to be solved. I know that if our system stopped relying on communities taking their begging bowls to Westminster and instead gave them the tools required, we would see coastal and industrial communities rise again and provide economic power which would serve our country as a whole. They would also become the envy of many around the world. No longer would we look to parts of Europe and elsewhere and wonder what true decentralised regional and local economic prowess could look like. We could have it right here, if the Government’s ambition only matched the ambition of our movement.