For over two years now, the Community Wealth Fund Alliance has been calling for the expanded dormant assets scheme (which could release around £880m of new funding for good causes) to be used to help rebuild the social fabric of the most deprived and ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods.
Our mission is simple – to equip these forgotten communities, which are both extremely poor and suffering from major deficits in social infrastructure (places and spaces to meet, civic activity, and physical and digital connectivity), with the power and resources needed to regenerate their local areas.
The proposal for a Community Wealth Fund is now backed by an impressive cross-sector coalition of over 460 private, public and voluntary sector organisations, which includes over 40 councils and metro mayors.
Legislation to release the next wave of dormant assets (unclaimed bonds, stocks, securities, shares, insurance and pension funds) is currently in the House of Commons. And the campaign has been working closely with parliamentarians from across the spectrum, to ensure these assets are dedicated to helping establish a transformative Community Wealth Fund.
Before the Dormant Assets Bill reached the Commons, it successfully passed through the House of Lords. It was here, during its Report Stage, that a cross-party coalition of over 200 Peers were able to win an amendment that could pave the way for Community Wealth Funds to be established.
One of its co-sponsors was the Conservative Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, who, in his speech, remarked that Community Wealth Funds “can reflect the often highly idiosyncratic needs of a particular local community” and, through long-term capital, can address the challenges that these communities face. The need for patient social infrastructure investment in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods was reaffirmed by Labour’s Baroness Lister of Burtersett.
(Baroness Lister of Burtersett, 16 November 2021)
Another notable theme in the debate was how social infrastructure investment helps to build vital social and civic resilience in areas. The experience of the pandemic and how everybody’s sense of locality and place has changed had helped to change the mind of Lib Dem Baroness Barker. She had originally been sceptical about the proposal, but now understood “that being able to appreciate and develop your community space will be a very important part of people’s physical, economic and mental well-being in future.”
In response to several Peers calling for a Community Wealth Fund, the government stated they are not opposed to the idea but that they first wanted to hold a national consultation on where new dormant assets are committed.
Encouragingly though, the Minister Lord Parkinson acknowledged that the core features of the Fund, such as “community decision – making at a hyperlocal level and investment in social infrastructure – have an important role to play in improving access to opportunities for everybody, particularly those in the more deprived communities.”
Following its successful passage through the Lords, the Bill entered the Commons and had its first major debate earlier this week at Second Reading. Once again, the proposal demonstrated the hefty political support it commands across the house, with supportive speeches coming from Danny Kruger MP, who in 2020 led an inquiry into the future of civil society for the Prime Minister, the Shadow Civil Society Minister Rachael Maskell MP, and Conservative backbenchers Dr Kieran Mullan MP and Paul Howell MP.
In her remarks, Rachael Maskell argued the current absence of a Community Wealth Fund “has meant that whole swathes of communities have been robbed of the opportunity to build the very partnerships that could tackle the deepest of challenges.” She concluded by saying the principle of the Fund should be set out in “primary legislation”.
Danny Kruger responded by endorsing the Community Wealth Fund as a “brilliant idea” and said it could “get money to all these projects, whether commercial, charitable or social enterprise.” Paul Howell then stressed the government’s levelling up agenda “should not forget that we also need to build the social capital needed to develop and sustain prosperity in left-behind neighbourhoods.”
And just a couple of days later, Paul followed up his passion for the idea by introducing a Private Members’ Bill for a Community Wealth Fund, which was supported by a number of Conservative and Labour MPs.
(Paul Howell MP, 8 December 2021)
So, what comes next?
Well, the Dormant Assets Bill will return for more detailed committee scrutiny early in January. The government has indicated its intention to overturn the Community Wealth Fund amendment, in order to allow for a national consultation. However, the case to commit the next tranche of dormant assets to transforming the most deprived and ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods is too powerful to ignore, and we will seek to keep Community Wealth Funds written into the face of the Bill.
2022 is shaping up to be a big year for the campaign.
For more information, please contact Campaign Manager Rayhan Haque at: firstname.lastname@example.org