Community Wealth Building must have people at its heart

David Eyre

David Eyre
Communications Officer, Poverty Alliance

The injustice of poverty in wealthy Scotland shows that our economy is simply not working for everyone. Too many people, including 250,000 children, continue to have their health, wellbeing, and life chances restricted by poverty.

The distribution of wealth in Scotland also remains vastly unequal, with Scotland’s richest 10% of households having 217 times more wealth than the poorest 10% of households.

So – how do we go about building a wellbeing economy that addresses inequalities of wealth and power?

One way is the Community Wealth Building (CWB) approach to economic development. In our response to the Scottish Government’s CWB consultation, we said that it has the potential to advance a more equal Scotland, embedding our shared values of justice and compassion to tackle inequality at the local level.

But what exactly is CWB?

North Ayrshire Council has been at the forefront of promoting Community Wealth Building. It defines CWB as: “…working in partnership with communities and businesses to build a strong local economy which supports fair work, encourages local spend and uses the land and property we own for the common good.”

Examples of how that works in North Ayrshire include the construction of solar energy farms, helping local businesses become suppliers to the council and other local public bodies, and working to support credit unions, so that money saved by the community stays in the community.

the “process needs to work for people, not making people work for a process”.

Through our Get Heard Scotland project, in partnership with the Scottish Government, we worked with people living on low incomes in the early months of 2023 to identify their priorities for Scotland’s approach to CWB.

People told us they were positive about the potential of CWB, and we found that their positivity grew as they learned more about the approach.

But there were reservations about how the approach will work in practice. They wanted to make sure that CWB tackles inequalities in Scotland, rather than embedding them. The best way to make that happen is to require councils and public bodies involved in CWB to speak with people who have experience of living on low incomes, and to properly consider their views. It can’t just be a tickbox exercise.

There should be specific measures to make sure that marginalised people - including women, disabled people, and Black and minority ethnic people - are supported to engage with CWB in their communities. These steps should include consultation practices that take account of the needs of different groups, such as active outreach to different groups in the community, flexible meeting times, childcare support, accessibility and different participation formats.

Local CWB processes need to learn from previous weaknesses when it comes to equality. In 2012, the Scottish Government placed new equality duties on a whole host of public bodies. But in 2018, a review of the effectiveness of the Scottish Specific Duties by the Equality and Human Rights Commission concluded: “there was limited evidence of change for people with protected characteristics… It is possible for authorities to meet the requirements of the duties, without investing substantially in producing or demonstrating change”. In addition, assessments highlight that public body performance against the Scottish Specific Duties has declined over time. That can’t happen again, if CWB is to be successfully in tackling poverty and inequality.

Communities also need help, advice and resources to get properly involved. One participant in our citizen panel said that the “process needs to work for people, not making people work for a process”.

People were clear that it cannot just be about one person in a public body, anchor organisation, or community organisation learning about CWB because of the possibility that the individual will move on, leading to the loss of expertise and knowledge.

While participants in our Get Heard Scotland session supported the establishment of CWB teams within public bodies to provide support and advice to communities, it is also clear that a genuine shift in our approach to economic development requires buy-in from senior leadership and wider teams within local authorities. It is therefore critical that training and capacity building on CWB is available to a range of staff within local authorities and public bodies, enabling more staff to understand their roles and responsibilities in their capacity as anchor organisations.

And the community and voluntary organisations that work with local people also need stability and security. They are often the vital link between public bodies and the communities they serve. We highlighted our support for the fair funding recommendations made by SCVO.

Community Wealth Building could be a vital tool in building a fairer, more just, more equal, and a more compassionate Scotland. But only if we put people at its heart.


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