Sunderland City Council is delighted to join the Community Wealth Fund Alliance, a growing group of nearly 250 civil society, public and private sector organisations supporting the call for a Community Wealth Fund (CWF). This fund would be a new endowment created by £4bn of funds from new dormant or orphaned assets (stocks, shares, bonds or insurance funds) in order to provide long-term investment to ‘left behind’ communities across England.
Research by Local Trust and Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) has identified 225 of the most ‘left behind’ wards in England. These areas are defined by lower levels of social infrastructure, including places to meet, a culture of community and physical and digital connectivity. They have worse socio-economic outcomes than other similarly deprived areas and are more vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 because they lack a strong foundation of voluntary and community organisations.
We have eight ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods in Sunderland.
The introduction of the CWF would directly support these areas covered by our council and across England by providing them with vital funding. The fund would put communities themselves in charge of the spend, allowing them to develop services and facilities to meet their needs and respond to their aspirations.
The CWF would build on some of the work Sunderland is already doing and the council is determined as part of its City Plan to deliver a more dynamic, healthy and vibrant city. Part of our City Plan is a vision for a digitally connected city where no one is left behind. At a time when digital connectivity will play a key role in our COVID-19 recovery, our introduction of an operational 5G wifi network will lay the foundation for an inclusive and connected city fit for the 21st century. Most recently, we brought ultra-fast connectivity to our seafront. In building up our digital infrastructure, we are improving the lives of local people and local businesses and transforming the way we teach and learn.
The CWF will give communities the support they need to build their own social and civic infrastructure, both physical and digital.
Often, residents who are empowered to take decisions for their local area prioritise investing in places for people to meet and interact. Community confidence and capacity will flourish through this investment in social infrastructure, and we know that strengthening community capacity will be instrumental in building sustainable community wealth.
Our Community Wealth Building Strategy sets out Sunderland City Council’s vision to tackle the inequalities residents face, including using purchasing power and influence to keep wealth in Sunderland; using assets for the benefit of communities; supporting resident participation, and being the first North East council to become an accredited real living wage employer. Our aim is for Sunderland’s residents to have the skills, qualities, attributes, qualifications and experiences to achieve their full potential and contribute to the city’s economy, while improving their own mental and financial wellbeing.
The CWF is a major opportunity for local authorities who strive for positive, resident-led change in their communities. Local authorities are facing a challenge of increased demand for services, which has traditionally been met through short-term solutions at the expensive of tackling long-term issues. As a result, there has been a reduction of trust in public institutions and reduced effectiveness in treating problems.
The fund would empower councils, transforming their relationship to residents by devolving power and resources to communities themselves. Residents are acutely aware of the needs of their community and would be able to come up with solutions to strengthen their local area’s civic and social infrastructure, be it through pubs and libraries, improved transport and digital connectivity.
We recognise the scale of our ambition and are committed to continue to work collaboratively with our communities and partners to achieve our aspirations and the introduction of the CWF would be another step towards making this a reality.
Cllr Paul Stewart is deputy leader of Sunderland City Council
You can add your name to the list of organisations that support the Community Wealth Fund Alliance here
Councils in the Community Wealth Fund Alliance
So far, 10 councils have joined the Community Wealth Fund Alliance, including local and combined authorities. The New Local Government Network is also a member.
Sunderland City Council
Preston City Council
Newcastle City Council
Durham City Council
Birmingham City Council
Peterborough City Council
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority