A ‘Preston Model’ for Scotland’s towns and cities?

IT is basic, common sense. If your neighbour were to rear chickens, you wouldn’t think twice about buying some eggs from them, as a show of support, to provide them with an income, and to make them feel valued.

And you would probably have some better, tastier, healthier eggs, yourself. Win-win.

This simple connectivity between people, writ large into a town or city context, is the basis of what has become known as the Preston Model, a socio-economic ‘transformation’ system of keeping income within the locality, to help create and sustain jobs and to make people feel valued.

It is an antidote to revenues and profits leaving a local area and ending up goodness knows where, and began by approaching some of Preston’s ‘anchor institutions’ (those unlikely ever to go away, even during the toughest of times) and asking them to re-assess their spending habits.

When these institutions (including the university, where I research) were asked in 2012/13 to quantify their spending, locally, they came back with a figure: an average of about five per cent.

As a sign of how much the model has progressed, when the same question was asked of them in 2017/18, it was almost 18.2 per cent, representing some £75m of wealth remaining within the city.

As the model has spread throughout Lancashire area, where Preston is located, the numbers are (for the respective years): 39 per cent, 80 per cent and £200m.

Pretty impressive, by anyone’s reckoning.

It is important to emphasise that the Preston Model is not just an economic one, although it begins with promoting local spending.

It is also social, about valuing people’s contributions and assisting in the development of co-operative ventures, where people can co-own where they work. New businesses are being set up – many of them as co-operatives – to capture some of the expenditure the anchor institutions are saying they are unable to spend, locally, for lack of provision.

It is a model being looked at seriously in other parts of the UK, including in North Ayrshire. Indeed, Neil McInroy, the chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, and who was one of the people assisting the city council in Preston to encourage an increase in local procurement, has just been seconded to the Scottish Government, on a part-time basis, to advance community wealth-building in Scotland

I believe Scotland might have a real appetite for this approach to economic development, one that  places a premium on wellbeing.

Were any Scots town or city to consider adopting the Preston Model, it would be a fair first step to recruit its ‘anchor institutions’, so that they re-orientate their spending so that it is more local.

Local councillors also have to be a driving force, the council itself being an ‘anchor institution’. Some infrastructure – potentially paid for by the council – would be a help. But when the Preston Model was established, it had absolutely no resources to speak of. 

My employers, at the University of Central Lancashire, were bold and good enough to allow me to develop a stronger relationship with the city council, in Preston, to try to get the ball rolling. 

It was that simple and should inspire grassroots organisations to be set up, to achieve a similar ambition.

A top-down approach is helpful, but a bottom-up one is vital.

To that end, an essential aspect of the Preston Model is the development of a Preston Co-operative Education Centre as part of a wider ‘co-operative university’, which would provide both hands-on practical advice, support and training for any prospective co-operative ventures that might wish to set up as a response to a shift towards more local spending, and also an opportunity for achieving a degree level education in co-operatives. 

This is accompanied by the creation of a network, the Preston Co-operative Development Network – set up three years ago – which enables the sharing of resources, experiences and insight.

We are also developing a local, co-operative and community bank, to help provide any funding required by prospective ventures to set themselves up. There is a built-in resilience to co-operatives, with members likely to go that extra mile should the going get rough. Co-operatives also operate with quite a narrow gap between the highest paid and the lowest, which offers the potential for a more equal division of wealth than you might otherwise find.

The model is organic, it’s constantly evolving. It’s much more than putting into practice a way of doing business that might have been more familiar 50 or 100 years ago. To that end, its localism feeds into growing concerns about climate change, not least in reducing transport emissions.

We are not afraid of ventures making money, but it’s about democracy and the people who are creating the wealth, and their communities, being the principal beneficiaries of that wealth.

Albeit a couple of years ago, but in a ‘good growth cities’ index published in 2018, by professional services network, PWC, and think tank, Demos, Preston was ranked as the ‘most improved’. It had improved by miles.

It was an accolade that had many people wanting to know the secret of our success, including the creation – by the Labour Party in England – of a Community Wealth Building Unit.

Dr Julian Manley is a founder member and former chair of the Preston Co-operative Development Network. He is also an academic at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. He lives in Edinburgh.

Photo: A ‘Preston Model’ for Edinburgh, perhaps?