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How to… use commissioning to build local economic resilience

A new action research report by Locality looks at the opportunities and barriers to keeping public money local, and creates a framework to help make place-based commissioning the norm.

Funded by the Friends Provident Foundation, Locality conducted research in six places – Bradford, Bristol. Calderdale, Dorset, Hackney and Shropshire – to investigate the role of community anchors in each place and how their role in the local economy can be harnessed through commissioning.

The report Powerful Communities, Strong Economies: Keep it local for Economic Resilience, found a number of barriers preventing councils from working in close partnership with community anchor organisations.

While austerity is, on the one hand, making councils more open to doing things differently, they are also often under too much pressure to trial new approaches, the report found. Many fear ‘letting go’ of their traditional roles and find that fragmentation with the system makes change difficult to enact. They also worry about the capacity of local organisations to ‘step up’.

The report found that social value policy has largely failed to drive change in commissioning practice, with even those places that have done detailed social value work meeting with internal resistance to new policies and struggling to embed it into contracts in a meaningful way.

From this, the research identified four key things need to in order to make more local commissioning happen: top level leadership, a joined-up system, greater ambition around social value and help for community anchors to make their case.

Locality has created an economic resilience framework to help build a shared commitment between the council and the community around place-based commissioning.

It is in effect a local charter for economic resilience, to help councils and their communities to come together to find ways to maximise scarce resources.

The seven characteristics of the framework are:

  1. Positive flow of money and resources. E.g the public sector investing in neighbourhood-based community organisations which recycle the investment to create jobs and resilience. An examples of this is an analysis of Halifax Opportunities Trust’s Jubilee Children’s Centre, which used LM3, to measures how spend impacts on the local area, and found that the organisation generated £2.43 for the local economy for every £1 of income.
  2. Network of diverse, responsible businesses and enterprises. An analysis of the 10 community anchor organisations and their tenants found that together they enabled 1400 jobs and £120m GVA to the local economy.
  3. Inclusive finance system with stable financial institutions. An example of this is Boost Neighbourhood Finance in Bristol, which offers a range of advice and support services to help people manage their finances and plan for the future.
  4. Positive and productive use of local assets. The report suggests that the number of empty buildings that are brought back to use each year are monitored, and cites the example of Hebden Bridge Town Hall, which was transferred to the community in 2010 and is now at the centre of civic life and the hub for support during the floods of 2015.
  5. Active and connected citizens. Resilient economies display high levels of trust among residents, particularly among people who aren’t ‘like me’. Cleobury Country Ltd is a community organisation that acts as a hub for a wide range of local knowledge and information and runs services for local businesses and citizens
  6. Clean and sustainable environment. This could be measured annually by, for example, monitoring the usage of green spaces. The report cites Manor House Development Trust in London which supports local people to run a community garden and organises clean-ups of open spaces.
  7. Good quality services. Community anchors like Royds Community Association in Bradford provide a range of services to help address health inequalities. This includes a health buddy programme which trains volunteers to help local people access appropriate health care, helping alleviate the strain on A&E and also detecting issues earlier.
  • Read the full report here.

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