New Tory MPs: We need to put power into hands of communities to level up the country
Ten Conservative MPs elected in 2019 have said its time for their party to ‘trust the people’ and caution that money alone will not solve the problems facing the country.
On Sunday 3 October Michael Gove will use one of his first appearances as Secretary of State of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to introduce Trusting the People, a rallying call for a new ‘community-powered Conservatism’.
The paper is co-authored by backbench Conservative MPs Siobhan Baillie, Miriam Cates, Nick Fletcher, Jo Gideon, Jonathan Gullis, Paul Howell, Jerome Mayhew, Robin Millar, Kieran Mullan and Jane Stevenson.
They set out a new vision for the Conservatives’ levelling up agenda, where communities and businesses are given power and money to strengthen their economies, improve public services, and build better places to live.
The MPs say that new funding streams such as Levelling Up Fund or Towns Fund are not enough to change the country. Speaking about the investment outlined by the government so far, the MPs say that “[M]oney does not solve all problems, and if invested poorly there is a risk that it creates new grievances.” The paper urges the government to reform the public and private sectors to make sure that power is put into the hands of communities and people who have the expertise and commitment to turn places around.
Community power has deep roots in Conservative tradition, argues the paper. MPs should learn from the limitations of the ‘Big Society’ and be prepared to put real money and control into the hands of local people and businesses to build “the next stage of the Conservative story”.
The paper points to the ‘civic core’ of 12 million people who regularly volunteer in their communities every year and highlights where communities are already transforming places and services – from addiction recovery schemes in Essex, to coastal rejuvenation in Somerset, to support for care leavers in Derby.
To unlock the broader potential of community power, the Conservatives must now embark on an “ambitious programme of devolution” and reform, argues the paper.
This means not only ceding power from Whitehall to councils, but from councils to communities. This ‘double devolution’ would be underscored by ‘Community Covenants’, signed between a council and local people to ensure power is shared.
The report calls on the government to take greater responsibility for Britain’s deteriorating social and cultural infrastructure by increasing funding for libraries, youth centres and post offices, as well as opening up opportunities for community control. This responds to research that places with a richer set of civic institutions are economically better off and happier.
The paper also urges the government to increase support for community businesses, social enterprises and employee-ownership, including through tax incentives. It recommends it reform the Companies Act, to give businesses more flexibility to put local communities and the environment at the centre of their decision-making.
JEROME MAYHEW, MP for Broadland in Norfolk, says:
“Community power is the logical conclusion of Brexit. People who voted Leave in 2016 voted to take back control not just of our borders and laws, but of our communities and society itself.
“We need to do more than pass power from Brussels to Whitehall to town halls. We need to empower the practical people who live, work and can make a difference in local places.”
SIOBHAN BAILLIE, MP for Stroud, says levelling up cannot be a top-down pursuit:
“The best way to level up our country is through our communities, investing in the institutions and infrastructure that bring people together and create stronger social bonds. We recognise that Conservatives can rediscover that this is the bedrock of strong local and national economies.”
Trusting the People: The case for community-powered conservatism is co-published by independent think tank New Local and the New Social Covenant Unit (NSCU).
NOTES TO EDITORS
Trusting the People: The case for community-powered conservatism will be available here from 23.00 on 2 October 2021.
The launch event will be held 17.00 – 18.00 on 3 October 2021 at the Conservative Conference Fringe, hosted by Michael Gove MP, Jermone Mayhew MP and Claire Coutinho MP. More information and registration here.
For all media enquiries please contact Imogen Sinclair (NSCU): 07902 127 981, or Katy Oglethorpe (New Local): 0791 2161 536.
New Local is an independent think tank and network of councils, with a mission to transform public services and unlock community power.
The New Social Covenant Unit (NSCU) exists to promote policies that strengthen families, communities and the nation: the associations that make individuals happy, safe and free. Given the unique threats and opportunities of our age it calls for a ‘new social covenant’ for the 21st century.
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