Professional pointers: Supporting local communities
Dr Alan Southern, co-director of the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice and a senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool Management School, highlights the importance of businesses contributing to their local communities and how to truly make a difference.
Most businesses are local. In a place like the Liverpool City Region the economy relies on small enterprises at the centre of local services and production systems to support local markets. We look at things like this because we believe these local enterprises are important to the growth of the economy, for creating wealth and new jobs.
They are – businesses impact on the local economy more by selling outside of the city region and buying from within, although what’s often missing is a focus on the effects from a business that is embedded within its local community. Here they can play an important role too.
The link between local business and community creates a different form of capital. Rather than look only at the economic benefits from a local business it may also be beneficial to consider the cultural, social and human capital the business can affect.
Social businesses and community enterprises are particularly good at this, building local networks that can support local communities with a variety of services that are not simply centred around a transaction, such as supporting new migrants into the region or linking into public services to address matters like mental health and social exclusion. Local businesses that are pro social also do this and we should encourage more to think in this way.
We should also think carefully about the types of business located in many low-income communities. Often we find low value-added businesses, enterprises that are easy to start up but lack the resources to be sustainable and are ultimately transient. If we were to think more strategically about community and business we could begin to recognise what types of business could be most beneficial for communities most in need.
We could think about how such businesses could help address some of the most pressing problems, such as low skills, training and in-work poverty. We know charities such as Power to Change take things like this seriously.
As we plan our local economy through the devolved powers of the Metro Mayor and combined authority, perhaps more thought can be given to the relationships existing between communities and the small businesses they host.