Dormant Assets Funding: Community Wealth Funds

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:09 pm on 6th December 2022.

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Photo of Ian Levy Ian Levy Conservative, Blyth Valley 5:09 pm, 6th December 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris. I wish to speak in favour of creating a community wealth fund through the next wave of dormant assets. I will briefly outline some of the evidence as to why it is so important and why the core elements behind the idea of a community wealth fund have worked in the past. I hope Members will agree that we can work for left-behind neighbourhoods, such as those in Blyth Valley, and supporting the community wealth fund would signal a real commitment to levelling up communities that have been overlooked and forgotten for so long.

We know that investment in boosting local connectivity, such as transport, is vital, and I am pleased that we have made great progress with the Northumberland line, reconnecting communities that have suffered as the result of the Beeching cuts to our railways. However, community regeneration must involve investment in social as well as physical infrastructure, as the progress made by the Forget Me Nots clearly shows. I have been working in the Cowpen ward with people who felt that enough was enough, and who have set up a group called the Forget Me Nots—the name says it all about how they feel. Imagine how much more could be done if proper funding was in place to support such groups.

Regenerating our communities is no easy task. Areas such as the Cowpen, Isabella and Kitty Brewster wards in my constituency have not only high levels of deprivation but some of the highest levels of community need in the country, with a lack of assets, low levels of community engagement and poor connectivity. The Forget Me Nots now have a place to meet up for a coffee and can host drop-in sessions with crisis management services, such as citizen’s advice bureaux, debt counselling charities and outreach groups. They all make a real difference in their area, and they are the heart of the community. They know better than anyone what support is needed by local residents. Our goal should be to make lives better for people in those areas and give them the chance that they have been crying out for. This is our opportunity to do that, using the community wealth fund to change and improve lives. In doing so, we will level up.

A community wealth fund targeted at building social infrastructure will work to regenerate local communities, and it will do so from the bottom up. Pioneering and cutting-edge research by Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion, and shared intelligence from all-party parliamentary group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, has assessed the additional benefits of community-level interventions. It is robust, and it is factual. Early results indicate that in areas where community-led economic partnerships are active, crime and antisocial behaviour are lower, and there are stronger social relationships and higher levels of participation in local activities than in areas without such interventions. The evidence shows that putting power and resources in the hands of the people who need them works best, and I am hopeful that the Government will ensure that this most important of initiatives benefits from the dormant assets funding needed to make the community wealth fund a reality and truly level up the communities in most need of investment.