Members of the council’s Leisure and Development Committee agreed to look at the Five Pillars of the Community Wealth Building model in a bid to reduce poverty and create jobs in the borough as proposed by DUP Councillor Michelle Knight-McQuillan.
They also approved the Anti-Poverty Action Plan 2021-22 and the proposals for the spend of the £126,139.43 DfC Food & Essential Supplies Transition Fund and the further expected funding of £150,000 from DfC for Covid recovery in relation to community development and advice services.
Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council recorded the second highest relative poverty rate of (BHC – Before Housing Costs) across all 11 local authorities, with just Derry and Strabane and Fermanagh and Omagh with a higher percentage of 23%. It also had the joint second highest percentage of 19% of the population living in absolute poverty.
Causeway Coast and Glens area has the third highest fuel poverty level with an estimated 57,200 households in the area in fuel poverty, which is 5.1% above the Northern Ireland average.
Councillor Michelle Knight-McQuillan spoke of her ‘grave concerns’ for the coming months in the borough ‘ in terms of poverty and hardship, not to mention the effect on mental health’.
The Bann DEA councillor said: “There are many factors that will be coming into play in the coming weeks and months, including the end of furlough that will affect 44,000 people in Northern Ireland and many, I presume, within our borough.
“We will see the end of the £20 uplift for those on Universal Credit and the return of the minimum income floor for the self-employed on universal credit. The self-employed will be particularly hard hit, especially those who provide a manual service such as building, repair works etc. with the cost of supplies rising it will be even more difficult to secure jobs and contracts.
“This action plan will serve some benefit in the short term but I believe we, this council, need to be looking further than this, in the future.
“Recently, I have been looking at the anti-poverty model ‘Community Wealth Building’ and I see real merit in this model. This model looks at the problem in a different way, it looks at the problem not being of poverty but of wealth, an alternative approach to local economic development.
“Community Wealth Building looks at anchor institutions, such as councils, universities, hospitals and large employers within the area, taking ownership through the power of procurement, introducing social value clauses into contracts, buying local, employing local, using internal money and keeping it internal instead of letting money escape out of the local economy. It plugs the leaks!
“It also involves the combined power of the community and voluntary sector, and this sector played a vital role during this pandemic.
“Preston was in the top 20% of poverty-stricken cities within the UK and they adopted the Community Wealth Building model, which was tried and tested in Cleveland Ohio.
“In 2018, Preston became the most improved city in the UK, reducing people’s poverty and improving people’s lives. Their key outcomes were 4000 new jobs, improvement in NVQ students and municipal owned community banks.
“Regionally, I believe the Minister for the Department for Communities is supportive of this model, however I see no progress in adopting it.
“Locally, I believe we, this council, could look at our own borough and what we could do locally to reduce people’s poverty and improve people’s lives.
“In the short term, we have this report in front of us that will make a small dent in a very big problem, but only in the short term. I know the advice sectors are gearing up the impact ahead. Therefore, I will propose the recommendation, with an amendment, that this council looks into the Five Pillars of the ‘Community Wealth Building model’ with a view towards its adoption, in whole or in part, if feasible.”
Seconding the amendment, Alderman Sharon McKillop agreed with her party colleague saying: “I think this council needs to look at proposals like this in the days, weeks and months ahead, not in the distant future.
“I do believe that model is a solution to procuring our services and goods locally, generating wealth within our borough and creating jobs within our borough would undoubtedly relieve poverty within our borough.”
UUP Alderman Joan Baird said: I strongly support what Councillor Knight-McQuillan has said. That is indeed a great opportunity for us.
“We have found ourselves in a real emergency situation. The outworkings of which we still do not know and which look as though they may be dire ahead for people.
“This is a very sensible way of working forward to help people out of poverty and to save jobs going forward and I strongly support that.
“Our absolute poverty here in our borough is really high and really shocking, running at 19%, the second highest in Northern Ireland, that is pretty dreadful.
“The funding of £126,000 is not a lot given the staggering proportions of this problem but at least it’s a good start and we have the promise of more funding coming forward.
“We need to be really serious about this because this will affect our borough in the years to come.”
Bringing the discussion to a close Committee Vice Chair PUP Councillor Russell Watton agreed that anything that could help reduce poverty levels in the borough is welcomed.
He said: “I don’t believe this council is doing enough, the total lack of social housing in our borough is dire and I am inundated every week about it.
“Take my own DEA in Coleraine town, seven years ago there were 1,253 and today there are 1,265 on the waiting list. We haven’t made the slightest dent in it.”
Councillor Knight-McQuillan’s amendment and the recommendations passed unanimously.