In a new report, experts from the University of Cambridge are calling on the next Prime Minister to rethink the government’s strategy to boost civic pride – a core commitment of the ‘levelling up’ agenda.
The Bennett Institute for Public Policy is warning that a narrow focus on cosmetic, short-term measures – such as ‘hanging baskets’ on the high street – is misplaced and says that levelling the playing field requires that communities have access to a broader set of amenities necessary to sustain themselves – from pubs and football clubs to heritage and green spaces.
Researchers say that civic pride plays an important role in boosting social capital, participation and trust – all of which help create the ‘seed capital’ required for economic growth. This is particularly true in left-behind places which have less access to private investment.
They also challenge the established view held in the Levelling Up White Paper that the poorest places suffer from a deficit of civic pride. Instead, there is a mixed record across the country, with one of the most deprived regions, the North East, exhibiting higher levels of pride than London in government polling.
If leadership candidates are serious about enhancing civic pride, the next Prime Minister must increase the size of the Community Ownership Fund to £1 billion – a seven-fold increase, up from its current £150 million.
On top of beefing up the Community Ownership Fund, researchers at the Bennett Institute are calling on government to:
- Create a new Minister for Civic Pride to drive focus across Westminster to ensure that departments are boosting pride in a way that meaningfully impacts the lives of millions of Britons.
- Commit to a ‘Minimum Standard Guarantee’ so that communities across the country have a basic level of social and cultural amenities. That means ensuring that communities have access to green spaces, cultural amenities, heritage sites and high streets, and that these are of adequate quality.
- Enshrine community ownership in law to place the onus on government – both national and local – to unlock onward devolution where it has stalled and ensure that people have a say over what happens in their neighbourhoods.
- Introduce a new ‘impact assessment’ on regeneration to take account of its impact on civic pride and ensure that any negative impacts on local communities’ feelings of pride are mitigated.
- Extend powers to fix up high streets, including Compulsory Purchase Orders to enable local authorities to take over high street sites that aren’t serving their community.
- Allocate ‘capacity funding’ to local communities to enable them to measure the interventions they design to enhance pride and to ensure that these represent value for money.
- Put discretionary services that boost civic pride on a statutory footing, such as arts and culture provision for which local authorities are responsible.
- Adopt a ‘green is good’ principle and legislate to ensure that green spaces are protected in perpetuity and not threatened by encroachment.
Professor Michael Kenny, Director of the Bennett Institute and co-author of the report, said:
“Giving communities reasons to be proud of where they live should be core to any attempt to tackle social and economic inequalities.
“Rather than quietly dropping the ambitions set out in the Levelling Up White Paper, the next Prime Minister should consider how civic pride can be harnessed to strengthen the resilience of our communities and their economic prospects.
“This is a nettle that all political parties should grasp if they wish to address the disenfranchisement of large parts of the country”.
Jack Shaw, co-author of the report, said:
“The enveloping crises – from cost-of-living to sluggish growth – has rightly turned attention to the state of the economy, and boosting pride has an important role to play in driving economic growth.
“But policymakers need to be more ambitious. Communities want good quality public services, they want to make decisions over the things that affect their lives, and they want their histories to be celebrated and stories told.
“Without this corresponding focus on boosting pride in place, levelling up has a slim chance of being realised.”
Report: Townscapes: Pride in Place