Dormant assets should be redistributed to support community regeneration
On delivering my maiden speech to the House of Lords two years ago I spoke, as is traditional, about the community I represent.
I am a Bishop from Manchester as well as Bishop of Manchester. I feel this vibrant city, its rich culture, and its diverse communities in my fingertips.
The essence of Manchester cannot be found by standing in front of the John Rylands Library, Bridgewater Hall or even Manchester Cathedral, stunning feats of architecture though they are. To really know Manchester, one must look beyond the rapidly changing physicality of the city. Its emerging skyline is nothing without the people whose lives play out in the streets and houses below.
Decisions about how and where money is spent are often far removed from the communities who stand to benefit
Indeed, it is fitting that our city will forever be associated with the iconic image of the worker bee. Fitting because bees are not only hard-working – they work together. Self-interest is subservient to the wellbeing of the hive. It is this overwhelming commitment to the value of community that makes Manchester tick.
A fundamental part of my role is to ensure that churches are making significant contributions to their local communities. As the cost of living crisis deepens, many of my churches are joining the Warm Welcome Initiative. They will extend their opening hours through the winter to offer a place for local people to reduce their fuel bills by spending less time at home and enjoy a hot drink in good company. Every week, I find myself in awe of another new initiative that has left an indelible mark on a community in need.
But increasingly, I am encountering groups of local people with the very best intentions who feel powerless to effect change. Decisions about how and where money is spent are often far removed from the communities who stand to benefit. Resources are poorly targeted. Potentially vital projects are held up in committee meeting rooms or fall by the wayside entirely.
It is high time that we reimagined our approach to facilitating community action. A recent consultation proposed that the next wave of dormant assets – cash and other financial assets left untouched for years in bank accounts and building societies, that can be diverted towards good causes – could be channelled into a Community Wealth Fund, to do exactly that.
This would be a radical departure from the status quo, which has seen community-led regeneration become reliant on stop-start funding streams and the sheer, dogged determination of those pushing projects forward.
A Community Wealth Fund would instead put decision-making power and budgetary responsibility in the hands of communities, enabling them to exploit their local knowledge and expertise on how best to address the issues that matter most to them. It would, in short, give local people the means to create or rebuild their social infrastructure.
The evidence suggests that communities would wholeheartedly embrace this opportunity. Polling by Survation found that a clear majority of people believe local residents are best placed to make decisions about how money should be spent in their communities. Research has consistently found that a fund of this nature would boost community cohesion, resilience and elevate pride in the places and spaces that matter to people.
But civil society cannot be upheld by the kindness of strangers alone. The government is due to decide on the future of a Community Wealth Fund within weeks – and if it is serious about levelling up the country, it should act quickly to put a share of the significant funds available in dormant assets to this good use.
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