Preston in England chose to rely on community to build economy

By Glen Davis

Preston is a town in the North West of England. Like many similar towns, it has been hard hit by the decimation of traditional employment in manufacturing, with the subsequent change to low paying, casual work in service-related industries.

In 2011 it sought to revitalize itself by opening a huge shopping complex, hopeful on a consumer lead recovery. But with the financial crisis that hit the United Kingdom, amongst other difficulties, the plan fell over.

Would Preston and its elected council then turn to the usual mantra of solutions, outsourcing and privatization? No, they chose to go a different way, focusing on their local strengths.

They focused on their local community, drawing on the strengths inherent in it.

Research showed much of the money spent in Preston did not stay in Preston. less than 5 percent of a money spent remained to support the local economy. Much of the rest went to firm’s headquarters in London, or in other countries.

How could you get this money spent in your locality?

An area that the council put a lot of work into, is what are defined as ‘Anchor Institutions’, such as hospitals, schools, and universities. Having these entities run in a non-corporate manner, where people are treated as people, not consumers or customers, is a pleasant break from the neoliberal orthodoxy.

The champions of neoliberalism might want to call this socialism. This is no such thing. These services still operate within a capitalist context. But they still provide important benefits for those that need them.

Local employers such as housing associations and healthcare providers stopped outsourcing

their ancillary work, keeping it in house. There was also a push for providers to spend locally.

With the funding local services, there was a reported improvement in the quality of services, with any rise in costs being minimal. Every quarter these services meet to compare their progress.

Preston has also seen the creation of some worker owned co-operatives. There is one in Information Technology, the other in food. More are proposed.

What about financing? With the banks being based in the financial hub of London, many people in Preston felt disenfranchised by the power of big finance.

Something the Council did was support a local credit union. As well as providing an alternative to the powerful established financial institutions. It gave locals somewhere to go when they needed quick money, rather than be dependent on the exorbitant loan shops.

Apparently, there are plans for a local bank.

Such has been the revitalisation of Preston that in 2016 it was voted the best place to live-in North-West England. In 2018 it was voted Britain’s most improved city.

Is this a way to having a worker owned economy, or establish new regional investment bodies? Is it a way forward for us?\

Photo from COOP: The Lostock Hall cooperative shop in Watkin Lane Preston

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