Lessons learned from community economic development

A new report into a government-backed scheme to promote community-led economic development has revealed a growing desire among local groups for control of the economy, but said that many feel they lack legitimacy and power.

The report into the Community Economic Development (CED) programme, will be published tomorrow by Co-operatives UK. The CED programme – which ran from April 2015 to May 2017 – found that a CED approach can give people real power in the local area.

The project was led by Co-operatives UK, working with Locality, New Economics Foundation, Responsible Finance, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the Community Development Foundation.

It aimed to support 71 selected communities across England and help them produce a local economic plan.

All the communities were allocated an experienced adviser, who provided guidance and support, and a grant of £5,000 was also available to help each community develop their CED plan.

A total of 69 groups completed the CED programme. Of these, 59 produced good quality CED plans to help residents, businesses and public sector organisations achieve economic change, including the Eastbourne Fisherman’s CIC, which was set up to create a sustainable future for the Sussex coastal town’s fishing industry.

The CIC formed an organisation to help them purchase and develop the land by the Waterfront in Sovereign Harbour to create a Fisherman’s Quay.

Working with local residents and businesses, the group developed a CED plan, and on the back of that levered in funding from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund to enable the development to go ahead.

‘Fishermen have never occupied a powerful position when it comes to local decision making,’ said director of Eastbourne Fishermen’s CIC, Graham Doswell (pictured).

‘We need CED as previous development strategies have not delivered the changes needed for the local fishing fleet and the community it supports. Fishermen need to be better able to plan for the future and contribute to the area they live and work in,’ adds Mr Doswell.

‘A well-connected local economy can deliver positive outcomes on many levels, and fill the gaps where previous development strategies have failed to be inclusive, connected or locally supported.’

The report found interest in the CED approach is growing around the country, especially in the context of calls for more control in local areas.

It also found the most effective approaches to CED were around taking control of a particular asset or building on existing plans, which were not previously working for the local community.

The report also found CED plans can get overlooked, particularly by local authorities and should be embedded within wider measures, like neighbourhood planning, and be given a statutory footing.

It also added that sufficient time and resources are needed to develop and implement the plans.

Speaking to New Start, programme manager James de le Vingne says: ‘I was talking to someone a few weeks ago and they said “to affect real economic change, you need everything to happen at the right time. You need all the investment and opportunities to happen at the right time and it will still take 20 years. If any of the moving parts slip, you’re looking at 40 years”.

‘The CED concept has been around for a long time,’ adds Mr de le Vingne. ‘It’s well developed in the US. There was a lot of interest and the programme was oversubscribed. There are already a lot of groups who are looking to make economic changes in their area.’

He says one of the key issues for him was the importance of key individuals, who could support the communities develop their CED plans.

‘The role of the advisor was absolutely critical,’ he said. ‘Each of the groups were paired up with a CED advisor. Investing in them was equally important at the start of the programme. Having a sounding board for the groups was absolutely critical, sometimes just to test the thinking.

‘A lot of the groups knew what they wanted to do. Where the focus was around an asset transfer, they could draw down particular expertise around that, but having someone there to push, prod and encourage at every stage was absolutely critical.’

He adds that while in some cases the local authorities were ‘very supportive’ and ‘receptive to what the groups were producing’, in other areas, the opposite was true.

‘There was a group in Blackpool, who really struggled to get the local authority engaged,’ he recalls. ‘They resorted to a neighbourhood planning exercise, because the local authority was more familiar with that than CED as a process, and that resulted in them engaging and becoming part of the process.

‘But where groups did not have the [council] relationships or were not sure how to form those relationships, and present their ideas in a local authority language, that’s where groups like NEF and CLES came on-board to provide that support.

‘We think there needs to be greater awareness of CED as a process within some local authority areas. We think there are opportunities with devolution deals and the introduction of metro mayors that might restart some of these conversations again.

‘There are a lot of people who are active in this space and I think we are agreeing a common language,’ adds Mr de le Vingne.

‘Hopefully this report contributes to this common language. We just want to continue the conversation and get more people aware that a bottom-up community approach to wellbeing and economic development is a valid approach.

‘It’s not something that should be shied away from. It’s not overtly complex. It requires a huge amount of time and investment, but the groups picked up the concept very quickly.’

  • Read the report here.


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