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‘Skint Britain’ town hears how it could transform its economy with experimental approach

A town featured in a ‘Skint Britain’ TV documentary has heard how it could turn its fortunes around with an experimental localised economy. 

National journalists from titles including The New Statesman, The Guardian, The Times and The Independent travelled to the North East to hear how a town is looking to create its very own economy. 

Trailblazer Matthew Brown, leader of Preston City Council, visited Hartlepool to talk about the community wealth model his city has built in the last six years and how this community-minded seaside town can do the very same thing. 

Having been the focus of what local MP Mike Hill dubbed ‘borderline poverty porn’ TV in the form of Skint Britain – a three-part Channel 4 documentary from the makers of Benefit Street – it’s not hard to see why Hartlepool is looking for answers as to how it makes its own way in the world. 

Step forward the Preston Model. An ‘economic democracy’ where a town or city is not running scared that its economic ‘eggs’ are all in the basket of a multi-national corporation which has no genuine investment in its community and can up and leave at any moment. 

This model looks at how wealth can be created, spent and reinvested within a town. Council contracts are weighted, where possible, in favour of local business and co-operatives are created to service the needs of local organisations. An example given was the city’s food cohort that brought eight small business owners together to service a £500,000 food contract to supply local school and the prison in this Lancashire city. 

Last year alone Preston managed to bring £75m worth of contracts back into its city. This equated to 1,600 jobs and it clinched ‘Most Improved City’ in the process. There was no reason, Hartlepool was told, why it couldn’t do the same. 

Instigated by Hartlepool Fabian Society, the evening’s panel alongside Matthew included journalist Hazel Sheffield, North of Tyne prospective mayor candidate Jamie Driscoll and Hartlepool ward councillor Paddy Brown. The evening was hosted by Fabian and comprehensive school teacher Gary Wootton. 

The audience at Hartlepool College of Further Education – an establishment not only famed for providing some of the best engineering talent in the country but one which has won awards for its student care and equipping its community with skills to strive and thrive – were told how the model in Preston had brought together a community on a grand scale. 

Over £7m has been invested in Preston’s very own bank already, with just another £13m to go before it could apply for its full banking licence.  

It has a community pension scheme that is investing in building retail units and student accommodation as well as a drone supply chain company and a golf course. 

All-in-all a very different an interesting concept to consider. Hartlepool may not find itself so ‘skint’ after all. 

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