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A step forward for left-behind neighbourhoods – and cross party working

4 min read

The announcement by the government to name community wealth funds as a new cause of the expanded Dormant Assets Scheme – an initiative that brings together unclaimed funds from bank and building society accounts and insurance, pensions and securities – will, hopefully, represent a seismic shift in how the most deprived and under-resourced parts of the country receive the funding they desperately need.

The recent news is also a victory for practical, cross-party working. We lead the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Left Behind Neighbourhoods, a group of MPs and peers who have urged the government to ensure that the 225 neighbourhoods in England identified as left behind no longer miss out on the government’s ambition to level up the country.   

Left behind neighbourhoods have not only been devastated by the loss of traditional industries over many decades but have also experienced the disappearance of vital community infrastructure alongside this – the pubs, community centres and other meeting places – that sustain the strong social fabric of a community.

While money, such as the £2.1bn levelling up funding announced back in January, will no doubt make a difference to the areas that receive it, there are pockets across the country that won’t get the benefit of this funding.

These communities do not feel the ripple effect of such money – usually because the funding is allocated to physical infrastructure projects in town or city centre locations, while left behind neighbourhoods are, by-and-large, located on the outskirts of conurbations or at the periphery.

As a result of this depleted social infrastructure, many such disadvantaged communities find themselves increasingly isolated, experiencing worse outcomes across a range of indicators, from health and wellbeing to education and employment. Furthermore, not only were they hardest hit by Covid – with less resources to draw upon locally to marshal a community response to the pandemic – but research for the APPG’s inquiry into levelling up has shown that with the highest levels of financial vulnerability they are also the most exposed when it comes to the cost of living crisis.

Given the complex, and often multi-generational challenges these communities face, targeted funding and resourcing over the long-term are required if a local community’s social fabric is to be repaired and form a necessary foundation for improving its economic prospects.

Levelling up funding has been driven by decisions from Whitehall, in terms of where to invest and what to invest in

To achieve the change needed, we must support and empower local people to play an active role in reinvigorating the places they call home. Community wealth funds help do that, by providing long-term support and investment at the hyperlocal level, to the neighbourhoods that most need it, to support and foster community leadership.

One of the key principles of community wealth funds is long-term, patient funding. If delivered as envisaged, over a 10 to 15-year time horizon, this funding would provide certainty, stability and continuity – sitting in contrast with other government spending and forms of public expenditure.

And, as the APPG has heard in its inquiry into levelling up, by helping address issues earlier upstream through preventative measures, such as improving children’s mental health, significant savings will be made in public expenditure.

To date, levelling up funding has been driven by decisions from Whitehall, in terms of where to invest and what to invest in. Community wealth funds represent an opportunity for a welcome break from this approach. By ensuring that those with real skin in the game – the local people who live in the community and know best about what needs to be done to improve local outcomes – are in control over the decisions taken that affect their neighbourhood, change is more likely to be sustainable over the long term.

Levelling up won’t be truly achieved until left behind neighbourhoods are given the chance to get back on track. While government will be consulting further on the overarching design of this important new initiative, the announcement to commit to creating community wealth funds is the first step on that journey.

Diana Johnson – Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, Co-chair, APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods

Paul Howell – Conservative MP for Sedgefield, Co-chair, APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods

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