We owe it to our communities to provide support they need not merely to survive, but to thrive
Cefin Campbell MS, Mid & West Wales
The Covid pandemic made us all more acutely aware than ever of the importance of strong and resilient communities. Our communities were at the very forefront of the pandemic response: neighbours working together to keep each other fed, healthy and connected.
Now they are being called on to confront a cost-of-living crisis – the record of a decade of Tory-imposed austerity.
We owe it to those communities to provide the support they need not merely to survive, but to thrive. It is for this reason that today I will be leading a debate in the Senedd about support for community-owned businesses and social enterprises.
Thriving local businesses including pubs, shops and cafés are the beating heart of our communities.
Too often the pages of local newspapers across Mid and West Wales are filled with stories of these vital communal lifelines being shuttered. With this comes existential risks to the sustainability of our communities, and to the Welsh language and culture.
How heartening it is to see, then, when communities rally to protect or purchase these important community assets, and convert them into community-owned businesses.
These businesses come in all shapes and sizes, from community-owned pubs like the Cwmdu Inn in Carmarthenshire, Tafarn y Plu, Llanystumdwy and Tafarn y Vale in Ceredigion, to cafés like Cletwr in Tre’r-ddôl, and hardworking efforts to purchase hardware shops like Havards in Newport, north Pembrokeshire.
They are central to the foundational economy, and play a vital role in community development, social regeneration and economic transformation.
A recent article by Grace Blakeley in the Tribune highlighted how social enterprises in Blaenau Ffestiniog provide a world-leading example of grassroots alternatives to the failing model of post-industrial capitalism.
Most – if not all –community owned-businesses, co-operatives and social enterprises prioritise environmental protection as core elements of their business models.
In St David’s, Câr-y-Môr is the first community-owned regenerative ocean farm in Wales. It is a Community Benefit Society with two key aims: improvement of the coastal environment and sustainable job creation. The seafood it produces is both sustainable and delicious.
Ynni Sir Gâr is one of a number of community energy projects working with communities to reduce energy costs, tackle fuel poverty and generate clean, renewable energy. Thus, social and community owned enterprises have an important role to play in reaching key environmental targets.
Potential solutions to the current housing crisis are also to be found in community ownership. Learning from and building on best practice, community land trusts in Mid and West Wales, such as the Solva Community Land Trust, are working to deliver affordable rental accommodation.
The success of all of these initiatives is owed to the knowledge and drive that exists within our communities. Support to incubate and nurture these initiatives needs to be long term and structural.
I am therefore calling on the Welsh Government to consider how it might both broaden and deepen its support for community-owned businesses, social enterprise and co-operatives.
There are a small number of organisations which provide critical support and guidance to communities seeking to establish community-owned businesses, undertake community share offers or manage asset transfers.
This includes, for example, the Pembrokeshire-based PLANED, which delivers a wide portfolio of community support and has worked with communities to generate more than £1 million in funding to support the purchase and retention of community assets.
It has done this, however, without core funding, which means precariousness for employees and a limit to the depth of support it is able to offer. Reliance on short-term grant funding limits the capacity to plan and deliver projects over the long term.
The Welsh Government should explore whether and what kind of core support it might offer which is all the more important as existing finance through European Structural Funding begin to wind up.
Given that community-run businesses and social enterprises are at the forefront of social, economic and environmental innovation in Wales, it is surprising that they were not prioritised (and, indeed, received barely a mention) in the draft Innovation Strategy for Wales. It is important that this is addressed in the final draft.
Right to buy
Finally, as the Senedd’s own Local Government and Housing Committee has noted, at present, there is no process in Wales to guarantee that community assets are retained in communities’ hands – despite legal rights existing in this area for communities in both Scotland and England.
We need legislation for a community right to buy, mirroring that in Scotland, and combined with other measures to regularise and simplify asset transfers. This should be supported through the establishment of a central fund to support these kinds of community initiatives.
This would all provide much needed support to communities as they look to follow the inspiring examples set by the many and dynamic community-owned businesses driving economic renewal and development across Mid and West Wales.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.