Community wealth building and climate breakdown: how left Labour councillors fight back in power

Labour councillors and Labour-held councils must show local communities that municipal socialism can create prosperity while tackling the climate crisis.
Aden Harris

In the absence of a socialist Labour government in Westminster, it's incumbent on local Labour councillors and Labour-held councils to act if we're to have any prospects of tackling the climate crisis.

As Keir Starmer ditches his pledges on climate and the energy sector, Labour risks losing voters who are calling for radical climate action. By taking power locally, Labour councillors can show that the party is serious about the climate crisis, and show local communities that municipal socialism can create local prosperity while tackling the crisis. Labour councils must use the power they have to take positive and progressive steps to slow climate breakdown and reach the necessary net-zero targets.

Using the community wealth building model, councils can redirect money back into the local community, instead of it being pocketed by the out-of-touch shareholders or CEOs of extractive, faraway corporations.

Community wealth building involves local authorities and other public sector organisations, known as "anchor institutions", utilising their economic heft to assist local, progressive economic development. To do this, they have a number of tools at their disposal such as progressive procurement spending on goods and services, ensuring public cash goes to employers to engage with fair employment practices or supporting plural ownership of local enterprise and assets.

Preston city council has deployed community wealth building and has seen significant success. It has retained power within the local economy, with the wider Lancashire economy (including Preston) retaining £488.7m of spend, a rise of £200m. Millions of pounds spent on public sector procurement has been redirected away from extractive capitalists and towards more local and generative suppliers. This shows that community wealth building can be effective — even if it appears we're yet to see the significant expansion of public ownership that the model promises, in that case.

Clearly, with its central focus on public ownership of the local economy, there is a clear relationship between community wealth building and a Green New Deal. The idea that if we all own our resources we can use them for all our interests, including fighting climate breakdown, is an idea that runs strongly through community wealth building, from low carbon procurement, to community energy schemes, to regional banking so that we can finance the energy transition.

In the absence of radical climate action under Starmer, demands for a positive and progressive Green New Deal from Labour's membership has been repressed. Combined with the Conservatives' determination to undermine the significance and urgency of the climate crisis, Westminster is essentially rendered useless. The power Labour holds, and the left holds, in councils must be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of community centred climate policy. The use of these policies not only demonstrates their advantage, but invokes tangible climate action.

The climate crisis isn't going to wait for a Labour government in Westminster, so neither can Labour. It's been 12 years since the last Labour government and climate action cannot wait 12 more. As of 2022, there are 5796 Labour councillors. Every single one of them must act now, to secure a future for Labour, young people, and the country.

Aden Harris is a spokesperson for Labour for a Green New Deal.

Image: Michael D Beckwith via Flickr.

Aden Harris

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