How we start levelling up our left behind communities post Covid-19
We need to find a way to stimulate community champions in these [left behind] areas, writes Paul Howell. | PA Images
Developing community resilience in left-behind areas is a critical place to start. A 'community wealth fund' would allow these communities to use their resources in the best way when responding to adverse situations - like Covid-19.
As the co-chair of the APPG for left behind communities I would like to offer some thoughts on what needs to be done to level up our left behind communities. People need to see the importance and potential that levelling up can have on these communities especially as we look to recover and come out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Left Behind Communities that I refer to are the bottom 10% of wards in England according to Local Trusts research for the APPG. Local trust looked at multiple societal, economic and deprivation factors from crime to academic attainment rates to identify these areas.
The APPG was formed and underway before most of us knew what covid-19 was. The APPG is creating a platform from which we hope to inspire government commitment and policy to levelling up these left behind communities. We also are recommending that these policies are funded in a sustainable manner through patient finance. Not surprisingly this work sits in a very similar space to the report Danny Kruger MP wrote on levelling up and indeed proposes the same financing model through the creation of an endowment fund created from the next release of dormant assets.
We consider that the work to level up has many facets and has short, medium and long term components. It is important that this agenda is seen as a journey and has a start that is clear and demonstrable along with identifiable progress and a vision of where we are heading to.
We have had a session on social infrastructure and the forward plan includes consideration of Employment skills and education; Communities in control; Barriers to community enterprise and Boosting connectivity but our first data dive was into the impact of coronavirus on these communities.
The results gave a clear steer into a primary area for concern. Whilst a good portion of these communities saw tremendous community spirit and had volunteers who stood up and led the way to source grants and coordinate support, there was a cohort who did not. These are communities worthy of particular concern. For whatever reason the community infrastructure has dissolved to such an extent that there was not the fabric from which to start. We need to find a way to stimulate community champions in these areas and provide the places from which they can deliver.
While major infrastructure agendas are crucially important for the long term vision, there is also a real need for immediate impovments
As referred above there are short, medium and long-term needs for all the dimensions. However, it is important that whatever is done is done from the perspective of local communities and that they can see progression.
There is little point promising a new rail connection if it will take years to physically deliver, when the community is close to crisis. While major physical infrastructure agendas are crucially important for the creation of long term vision and belief, there is also a real need for an immediate and parallel agenda in what could be called social infrastructure improvements. This particularly relates to developing community resilience and is something that we feel is the most critical place in which to start. We need to make sure that communities have a sustained ability to use available resources to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations like coronavirus.
Initiatives such as a community wealth fund financed by dormant assets would go a long way to creating this resilience. Communities would have the financial confidence created by a community wealth fund to be able use their resources effectively and in the best way when responding to adverse situations. It is also something which a local community could feel and touch whilst the longer-term investments can be watched progressing.
The need to invest to support community spirit where it has shown itself – and plant resources to grow it where it is missing – is the key message of how we start to level up our left behind communities post covid-19.
Paul Howell is the Conservative MP for Sedgefield.
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