As Labour heads towards a manifesto for the next General Election we have been working with our wider network, and those who’ve signed up to the CPTNetwork, (that’s kindly supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust) to bring together our contribution to the National Policy Forum process. In response to the framing of the NPF Commissions, we try to tell that story here:
Safe and secure communities – Empowered Communities…
- All communities should have a greater say in what happens in their community, and particular to their community. If we can take anything from pre & post Brexit it must be that who decides what is key. Every community should be able to lead its own destiny.
- In our engagement with our network communities are fed up still being done to, be that mass housing development, infrastructure that offers no local benefit, sewage on beaches & in the sea spray!
- Getting how decisions are made, the governance of our communities is key to thriving, especially in a post Brexit and climate changed world. In addition to a stronger local governance consideration must be given to how and when communities can say ‘no, not on those terms’ – devolution will be somewhat hollow otherwise.
- Effective devolution (beyond ‘deals’) is a key part of getting decisions in the right places. While we support the broad thrust of the Brown Commission, they seem to have missed the hyper local tier.
- A strengthened and empowered Town and Parish tier will support communities in having their say, as well as have greater input to local action for quality of life, street scene, resilient (neighbourhood plans) [NB urban Britain would benefit from re-parishing too]
- A Community Power Act would underpin and strengthen community rights cautiously set out in the Localism Act 2011 creating an independent Community Power Commissioner to hold the government to account on its decentralization commitments, and give local communities greater power to shape their communities, using Community Covenants
- As devolution is strengthened consideration should be given to fairness (so that places aren’t left behind in changes to governance), and to scale. We agree with the move to unitary (upper) tier councils with two caveats, scale matters, combining districts will be more accessible and engaging than distant country unitaries, and that town & parish are strengthened.
- In addition, we would argue that each of our historic counties are not the same – can devolution recognise that there is more in common on the coast e.g. between Worthing to Eastbourne than the inland Brighton to East Grinstead?
- Effective devolution should include a requirement on remaining national departments to ensure their decision-making and policies are ‘Local Proofed’ – do they support local political agency, recognise variety between places, and value local distinctiveness?
- Communities will feel more secure with good governance in place; to feel safer will require a visible police presence.
- The Police presence should be resourced on the basis of a full assessment of need, i.e. to take account of significant tourist and visitor influxes to some areas. The oversight and governance of the Police should change to reflect the devolutionary settlement to reduce their democratic deficiency too.
Better jobs and better work – The everyday economy…
- Our ability to thrive, individually, as a family, and in communities is dependent on interaction, no woman is an island; which in turns requires opportunities and means to connect, exchange and interact. In the modern world that means local access to mobility, broadband, digital connectivity, and places of exchange, (which can often be barter as much as purchase), be that the pub, the café, the shop or the workplace.
- Labour in government should support every community to ensure it has at least one community facility of some sort, be that through the Pub as a Hub, co-located public and other services (such as the pub with Post Office Counter that does school meals), a modern village hall with scope for remote working – all of these will help a community thrive, be productive and contribute to the local and national economy. And, of course greater local and community ownership helps wealth creation too.
- Given some of the higher costs of living outside of urban areas and their infrastructures, Labour should benchmark the living & minimum wages at 10% above the urban, for example focused on land workers wage rates.
- Given the higher proportions of self employed in coast & country areas, business support, and skills, provisions should be devolved and orientated to reflect local conditions.
- For everyday economy business to thrive local we will need a means to raise ‘digital rates’ against digital sales, and reduce business rates on local physical sales.
- Every community would be supported by an approach that values local identity and pride in place. This could include Pride of Place grants to Town and Parish Councils, yet will also need a renewed focus on how prosperity is shared across the UK – that is the real answer to so called leveling up – such that we can all have a local team to support, a pub to frequent, a gallery to walk to, as we thrive where we grew up.
- Local distinctiveness is worth supporting, helping places to preserve while evolving – see England in Particular, by Sue Clifford & Angela King.
- Many of these everyday essentials are in turn dependent on energy. Too many communities are dependent on energy from afar that can extract wealth; the ubiquity of renewables means every community can capture some of its own energy supply. This could, in turn support the local economy and its community.
- Clearly the ability of any community to thrive in the 2020s, 2030s is dependent on how we grow our green and digital economy.
A green and digital future – Delivering growth
- Many of the existing government’s policies will see green and digital growth lock in continued inequality and unfairness between those communities that have, and those that don’t. While we described as about growth, done fairly, green and digital could be the driver for shared prosperity, helping give every community the opportunity to thrive, and given our dependence on energy and digital perhaps actually the ability to continue.
- Every community should have a minimum provision of connectivity (10), and for those lacking public or publicly funded transport they should be first to receive digital connectivity. This to be over and above the benefits that will come from Labour’s plan to devolve control over bus services.
- Local government should have powers over transport services, highways and digital infrastructure to coordinate and deliver demand-responsive mobility.
- As digital connectivity underpins many of the future opportunities of a green economy, e.g. giving smarter more efficient energy systems every community should have a rising standard of mobile and digital connectivity wherever they are. It is essential to decarbonisation as much as they every day economy, and otherwise communities cannot be part of, nor benefit from efforts to harness data for the public good.
- Given the ubiquity of renewable energy, and the need for 100% decarbonisation, our energy policies must be local proofed to allow every community to act. This would include placing greater value on place, and community based, solutions giving their energy efficiency and co-benefits they bring to a place (large scale renewables may appear cost efficient, yet they are triggering vast costs in grid upgrades which we will all have to pay for, another example where these communities have to pay in yet not receive a benefit out).
- Given the greater decarbonisation challenges they face, coast and country communities should be supported to benefit from zero carbon technologies first, e.g. on home upgrades, on access to community owned renewable energy.
- In turn we welcome Labour’s proposed industrial strategy and its recognition that ‘there are talented people in every town’. That and the need to build resilience should mean a greater focus on places and Local Proofing. Every part of the country should be supported in developing its ‘Future Successes’, while a Labour government’s view of ‘Sovereign Capabilities’ should include geographical diversity. A place-based focus will also support a more effective diffusion of new ideas and innovations supporting improved productivity everywhere (as will digital connectivity and universal access to renewable energy).
- Labour’s proposed Industrial Strategy Council should have a geographically diverse membership, and should be tasked with ensuring all our regional economies are part of our ‘Sovereign Capabilities’ and have their own ‘Future Successes’ – Britain will need to make much more of what we need, especially on green energy and digital, if we are to deliver on our growth & Net Zero ambitions; which in turn helps frame our trade policy.
- Every community should have the opportunity to frame their own Locally led Economic Strategies in support of their version of these opportunities, given there is no one-size fits all approach. These should be empowered, and well-funded, within the devolutionary settlement, as a thousand different flowers blooming.
Britain in the World – Labour’s progressive trade policy
- Communities of coast and of country are both involved in, and benefit from the globally traded economy as much as the everyday economy.
- While having touched on the implications of traded energy (fuels), and the implications of a lack of global digital connectivity affecting almost everyone, there are also different business sectors across our non-urban communities that are affected by trade policies, not least in manufacturing including food processing & production; and of course, the farming and fisheries sectors.
- To have a chance of thriving, all need a stable trade environment. That should include progressive leadership on standards, be that in services, products or foods (including on animal welfare), all with effective policing – in strengthening local government greater resource will be required for trading standards.
- With higher expectations of our trading producers, a Labour government must ensure the right platforms for these businesses to succeed, addressing business vs digital ‘rates’, providing effective business support, be that for the higher numbers of self-employed, or farm business expected to manage the land as well as food production.
- Strengthening every local economy will in turn support all our families, as well as underpin a more effective provision of public services.
Public services that work from the start; Prevention, early intervention & better services for all
- While we take as a given all public services should work equally well for all citizens we can regularly see and report that that isn’t the case, even when allowing for an understandable difference in approach for different geographies and services.
- Involving the strengthened Town and Parish councils could help change this, while a Local Proofing approach to national government policy will help. In terms of public services delivery, that could include:
- A distinct NHS Rural Care service, to address issues of access to health care
- With a particular emphasis on increased mental health provision
- Greater public funding for emergency services, i.e. Air Ambulances and RNLI Lifeboat to ensure UK wide emergency cover
- An FE college within reach of every community
- The creation of The Coastal University
- A minimum number/proportion of Community/Social/Council homes for rent in every community/local authority area
- Labour should strengthen the capabilities of all local government bodies, as well as Town and Parish Councils. Local government procurement, as well as that of national governments, should work to support local economies where possible, for example using local legal firms, to ensure their availability to the wider market of the local town and area.
- Inherent in these proposals is a recognition that, in supporting these citizens we are also supporting communities that regularly host significant numbers of tourists, and visitors – also known as ‘the milk people’ – “they .. buy a pint of milk, that’s their only interaction with the village, so they’re not supporting the economy, …. They’re not going to community groups, sporting activities …”(‘Labour in the Countryside’, RENEWAL, 29 No.3, Natarajan, et al)
- These communities offer a greater wider benefit that is often overlooked. When determining public service funding and staffing, say for neighbourhood policing, there should be a visitor premium factored in.
A future where families come first – Supporting families
- Much of that which proceeds this section, is of course about ensuring families, of all types and arrangements, can thrive: ‘Labour helping you & your birthplace thrive’.
- A key final part in the jigsaw is the ability to afford a home, be that to rent long-term or own. However, coastal & country communities rarely benefit from housing policy that focuses on their needs, national top-down targets often see communities done to with large, separate estates or extension dropped on their doorstep without a care for the existing community, often without the housing mix that is required i.e. including homes to rent, affordable ownership, as well as homes that allow communities to grow.
- Strengthened Town and Parish councils will be able to support improved neighbourhood plans, which our experience indicates will often prompt greater housing numbers, more suited to the place. Neighbourhood plans should include duties to increase resilience, not least in face of increased extreme weather (e.g. flooding, overheating in buildings).
- All communities need powers to oversee how existing homes for rent are managed, and how new homes are offered to growing places. We support the ‘First Homes, not Second Homes’ campaigns of Cornish Labour and others, as well as measure to ensure a better balance between long-term home rental & short stays, such as registration schemes, higher council tax rates and local hosting platforms. Communities should be able to expect higher, fit for the future, housing standards than currently enforced by government.
- Community Land Trusts, and community asset approaches should be supported to grow the provision of locally appropriate housing, as well as other local services.
- While much of the policy that governs social security and child benefit will continue to be set by the government, as with the minimum wage we support calls for a non-urban benefits weighting (~ 10%) to recognise the higher impact of energy and transport costs for these communities.
And while we develop these policies we should also have more than half an eye on what the future will bring for communities of coast and country, ranging from:
- How the country has been denuded by Tory led governments since 2010
- A changing demography as the country gets older, noting these communities are already somewhat older
- A greater prevalence of extreme weather events, not least flooding
- A changing economic context with trade flows changing, in part post Brexit, in part a changing place for the British economy in the world, and
- Increasingly growth and penetration of digital technologies, which still have to equally benefit coast, country as well as city citizens.