Three cheers for Lancashire localism
Could Preston prove a blueprint for post-Brexit Britain, asks Alice Thomson. Six years ago, the Lancashire town was on its uppers – its local economy stagnant, its central funding slashed, its plans to redevelop the city centre in shreds. But then the Labour council came up with a radical plan: to start buying things locally. It urged all its institutions – its schools, university, pension funds, police, housing associations and hospitals – to start spending more of their combined budget of £1bn on local providers; to consider, say, using “a local builder who costs a little more, but who will sponsor two local apprentices”. Today, six key institutions in the area now spend 18% of their budget in Preston, up from 5% in 2013, pumping an extra £75m a year into the town. And the idea is catching on: Manchester City Council, for example “has now increased its local spend from 44% of its budget to 70%”. Not that localism should mean retreating from the outside world. It would be disastrously protectionist to turn local sourcing into a legal requirement: we need global conglomerates. But we also need local enterprise “to humanise our homes, towns and cities”.