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Power and leadership

Party manifestos: what’s in them for neighbourhoods?

With the release of the party manifestos ahead of the UK general election, Tilly Steward, Local Trust’s policy and parliamentary manager, discusses what we know about the key policies from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. But will these make a difference to the country’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods?

Two weeks from today the UK will head to the polls. Over the past month, many of us will have read attention-grabbing headlines, seen political stunts and photo-ops, and listened to snappy soundbites from leaders’ interviews and televised debates.

Last week we passed another – perhaps more serious – campaign milestone with the release of the party manifestos. These documents set out each party’s vision for power, and how they plan to grapple with the challenges facing us as a country if they are to form the next government.

With over 300 pages of content across the contributions from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, what do we now know about their key policies – and will these make a difference to the places most in need?

Where the main parties stand

The Liberal Democrats’ For a Fair Deal promises to “shift power out of the centre in Westminster and Whitehall, so local decisions are made by and for the people and communities they affect.” Their focus is largely on new powers and resources for local government, alongside the expansion of community energy and Neighbourhood Planning across England. Interestingly, the party also proposes a new ‘Health Creation Unit’ that would sit within the Cabinet Office to lead work across government to improve the nation’s health and tackle health inequalities. 

Meanwhile, levelling up has taken a noticeable backseat in this year’s Conservative Clear Plan, Bold Action, Secure Future manifesto – although many of its associated funding programmes,  supporting communities to have a greater stake in local regeneration, are set to continue. They plan to expand their commitment to the Long-Term Plan for Towns, which provides endowment-style funding over ten years for communities to invest in local priorities, as well as keeping the existing Community Ownership Fund and UK Shared Prosperity Fund. 

Labour’s manifesto, simply titled Change, sets out the party’s overarching ambition to deliver a more joined up, mission-driven government that pushes power out to communities. Core to this will be embedding a greater focus on prevention – from a new ‘Neighbourhood Health Service’ delivering care in local communities and helping to spot problems earlier, to ‘local prevention partnerships’ that will identify young people at risk of being drawn into crime.

Why we need a neighbourhood focus

All of these policies have the potential to make a positive difference. But what’s missing is a plan for concerted effort across government to target these interventions where they would have the most impact.  

Take for example the Liberal Democrats’ ‘Health Creation Unit’. Local Trust’s work has identified a group of doubly disadvantaged neighbourhoods where many of the health challenges identified in their manifesto are concentrated. We agree the causes are complex and multi-faceted, requiring coordinated action, but would urge them to focus the efforts of their proposed unit at the neighbourhood level – where we know interventions work best.  

This is why we are calling on whichever party forms the next government to take a new approach to policy, grounded in the evidence on what’s needed for the places in dire need of change.

By breaking down departmental and organisational silos, collecting and disseminating evidence and learning on what works, and supporting capacity building for communities and the public sector, Local Trust’s proposed new Neighbourhoods Unit would ensure that the most disadvantaged communities benefit from the next government’s policy programme – whether that be delivered through expanded powers, funding, or a new approach to delivering our public services. 

Such a unit would represent a welcome departure from the many disparate, small-scale programmes which have so far failed to acknowledge differences in relative need, or the reality that the places needing the most support have often missed out. And it would build on the success of previous governments, who have successfully tackled place-based disadvantage through long-term programmes such as the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. 

A proven approach

We know from our experience delivering the Big Local programme that building community confidence and capacity pays dividends – from supporting successful community energy projects, to providing vital local assets that bring people together. And our new partnership with the NHS Confederation will be further exploring how to improve population health and reduce inequalities through joined up, community-led approaches at the neighbourhood level. 

An expanded and reinvigorated Community Wealth Fund could provide essential long-term investment to develop community capacity for similar local initiatives across the country, funded at no cost to the public purse through dormant assets.  

As the election campaign enters its final weeks, it’s clear that each party has a plan for government. A focus on neighbourhoods is what will help them achieve it. 

You can read Local Trust’s manifesto A new neighbourhoods policy, and find out more about why the new government should focus on neighbourhoods in our policy spotlight.

About the author
Tilly Steward

Tilly Steward is policy and parliamentary manager at Local Trust