New Clause 1 - Authorised reclaim funds: duty to assess and report

Part of Dormant Assets Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 31st January 2022.

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Photo of Claire Coutinho Claire Coutinho Conservative, East Surrey 8:00 pm, 31st January 2022

I support the Government’s proposal for a public consultation on distributions to a new community wealth fund. We talk often and rightly in this House about levelling up, particularly on the Government side of the House. It is right that this a priority for the Government, but too often we talk as if the work of levelling up were a job for Government alone. I firmly believe that the best decisions for communities are rarely made for them rather than by them. That is why we should treat communities across the country as the legitimate decision makers that they are. We all know that strong community leaders can transform a local community We will all have seen that on our patches. I could name many from East Surrey, including Janine Battersby in Woldingham, and Kay Hammond and the Calvers in Smallfield. With their dedication, charisma and get-up-and-go, they forge friendships, support those who need extra help, and put the local needs of their communities in front of those who might be able to meet them.

Let me give the House a brief example of this in action. I recently visited the residents group Ambition Lawrence Weston. On the edge of Bristol, Lawrence Weston had for too long had been used as a dumping ground for social housing tenants with complex needs. They were trapped in a negative cycle. Low housing costs made it attractive for the council to use it to temporarily house people, often with complex needs. That created disruption and fracturing within the community, which in turn drove low housing costs—and so the cycle went on.

However, with the support of the Local Trust’s Big Local community fund programme, the residents decided that they had had enough of things being done to them instead of for them. With some initial capital support from the community fund, they have transformed the area by building a new community centre, bringing in a new supermarket, introducing a local lettings policy, and bidding directly for Government funds themselves. They have a solar farm and even a wind turbine to tackle fuel poverty. I am in awe of that team. I have seen similar developments on my own patch: we have a community fund, Your Fund Surrey, and I am working with some brilliant people in Whyteleafe, Deano, Sara and Marcus, who are pushing to set up their own community centre and are doing it brilliantly.

It was a relatively small amount of funding that made these developments possible, but that funding unleashed the really important thing: the leadership, ambition and energy of a group of remarkable, community-minded individuals, which has made such a difference. Without these funds, that would have been wasted. I believe that the community wealth fund can unlock that level of ambition and energy from individuals up and down the country, and I am pleased to support amendment 2.