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Dormant assets can fund vital social infrastructure in 'left behind' communities

Dormant assets can fund vital social infrastructure in 'left behind' communities
3 min read

As anticipation builds ahead of the release of the government’s Levelling Up White Paper, it’s worth turning our attention to a piece of parliamentary business that has the potential to be a catalyst for lasting change in “left behind” communities across the country.

The future of dormant assets – unclaimed stocks, bonds, shares, and pensions worth approximately £880 million to be put towards good causes – is again under consideration as legislation enters report stage in the Commons today.

As it progresses, we are pleased to be joining colleagues from across the House in welcoming explicit consideration of community wealth funds in the forthcoming national consultation on how dormant assets will be spent.

We must target funding to the areas with the highest levels of need

For more than a decade, the existing dormant assets scheme has sought to tackle some of our most pressing social challenges. Yet despite its worthy focus on young people, financial inclusion, and social investment in England, we know many communities are still missing out.

To successfully level up over the long term, we must target funding to the areas with the highest levels of need, investing in the social infrastructure that underpins community confidence, capacity and social capital. A Community Wealth Fund would do just that. Without it, these neighbourhoods will continue to be overlooked and fall further behind.

Research conducted for the APPG for “left behind” neighbourhoods, which we co-chair, has shown there are almost three times fewer charities per 100,000 population in “left behind” neighbourhoods than the national average, and just over half that of other equally deprived neighbourhoods. These communities also receive fewer grants than other deprived areas and across England as a whole, despite heightened levels of need and deprivation. Funding opportunities which require formal applications and competitive processes are less likely to reach these places, as they seldom possess the organisations and local capacity needed to apply.

It is for this reason that the proposal for a Community Wealth Fund has garnered cross-party support in addition to endorsement by senior figures in the financial services industry and over 470 organisations from across the public, private, and civil society sectors. They are in support not because they believe their own organisation or cause will benefit, but because they want to see more equitable outcomes in the way charitable resources are allocated.

In addition, it is an approach underpinned by real life experiences and rigorous research. Throughout the APPG’s nine evidence sessions, we have heard from academics, leading experts and most importantly people living in these communities who have illustrated the urgent need for grassroots investment in the accessible, local social infrastructure that helps people and neighbourhoods to thrive.

This is true not only for the “left behind” neighbourhoods in our own constituencies, but for all disadvantaged communities with high levels of community need across the country. And it is a key reason why this proposal has built such strong bi-partisan support across Parliament, despite these politically febrile times.

The government and its ministers have thoughtfully engaged with the evidence base developed both within and outside Westminster, recognising the merits of long-term, resident-led funding. It is now time to build on this momentum and further the case for a Community Wealth Fund both during the consultation period and beyond, working together to do so.

We know a Community Wealth Fund funded from the next tranche of dormant assets would be transformative. Now we must embark on the next stage to ensure it becomes a reality.

 

Dame Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North. Paul Howell is the Conservative MP for Sedgefield. They are co-chairs of the APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.

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