The future of the left since 1884

Renewed commitment

The next government must deliver mission-driven government at a neighbourhood level, writes Matt Leach



In early 2023, Keir Starmer announced that a future Labour government would focus on five fundamental missions to “restore our ambition, raise our sights above the quick fixes, the pandering to the noisy crowd, the short-termism that will only ever provide the sticking plaster”.  

 If Labour does take office, achieving this vision will not only require a rethink of the state, but a significant departure from government policy of the last decade. This is because tackling crime, addressing economic failure, breaking down barriers to opportunity and improving the health of the nation will need a concerted programme of action at both the national and the neighbourhood level – in the communities where experience of disadvantage is at its greatest, and where policy failures of the last 14 years have hit the hardest.  

As part of its plans for a decade of national renewal and a society of service, Labour needs to address the needs of the neighbourhoods that have suffered most from economic decline, increased deprivation, austerity-driven cuts to local government services and a loss of social fabric.  

We know from the work of the APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods that these communities suffer from worse health, lower educational attainment, higher levels of criminal damage and unemployment than the wider population – with nearly double the proportion of people out of work due to sickness. Most recently, they have faced the greatest vulnerability to the rising cost of living.  

If these communities – many situated on the edge of towns and cities that have experienced industrial and economic decline, and disproportionately represented in constituencies that switched from Labour to Conservative in 2019 – are not acknowledged and responded to, there is a risk they will lose faith in the ability of conventional politics to deliver for them. The alternative then is that they turn to others willing to exploit the problems they face for short-term political gain. 

The framework of mission-led governance aims to catalyse joined-up and outcome-focused delivery, offering the opportunity to trial a new approach to policy grounded in evidence on what works best for the places in dire need of change. Local Trust’s experience of delivering the Big Local programme shows that a model grounded in strengthening our local social and civic foundations holds the key to generating better outcomes for disadvantaged areas that are sustainable over the long term.  

This would not be the first time Labour has taken action to address the neglect of our most deprived and left behind communities. Following Labour’s election victory in 1997, it established a new Social Exclusion Unit to identify the challenges that needed to be prioritised to transform the country. Last September marked the 25th anniversary of the report that unit prepared – the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal – and its conclusions are as relevant now as they were then:

“Over the last generation, this has become a more divided country. While most areas have benefited from rising living standards, the poorest neighbourhoods have tended to become more rundown, more prone to crime, and more cut off from the labour market.

The national picture conceals pockets of intense deprivation where the problems of unemployment and crime are acute and hopelessly tangled up with poor health, housing and education. They have become no-go areas for some and no-exit zones for others. In England as a whole the evidence we have suggests there are several thousand neighbourhoods and estates whose condition is critical, or soon could be.  

These neighbourhoods are not all the isolated high rise council estates of popular stereotype. Many are publicly owned, but others are privately rented or even owner occupied. Some are cut off on the edge of cities but others can be found close to wealthy suburbs and prosperous city centres.”

A renewed commitment to neighbourhood-level policy is vital for tackling these challenges and overcoming two of the major shortcomings that have dominated recent policy.

The Big Local programme shows that a model grounded in strengthening our local social and civic foundations holds the key to generating better outcomes for disadvantaged areas that are sustainable over the long term

First, a plethora of small-scale programmes – whether on community rights or community ownership – have failed to account for differences in relative need, or the reality that the communities requiring the most support and not already benefiting from a strong civic foundation have traditionally missed out. More recently, while the Levelling Up White Paper’s goal to reduce economic disparities within – not just between – regions has been welcome, many of its accompanying initiatives have failed to adequately target resources on the ground.  

At the same time, we know that demand on our public services has been further increasing, requiring urgent investment in prevention to reduce demand over the medium and long term.

This is why Keir Starmer’s recent speech to the Civil Society Summit was right to call for “a new vision for a new era. A renewed social contract. A new focus on those who build the bonds that connect us, the communities that nurture us and the local institutions that support us.”

A mission-led government committed to restoring ambition for everyone will first have to recognise the foundational importance of social and human capital to develop locally tailored and sustained solutions, particularly in our most deprived communities, in turn creating the conditions for sustained growth, a fair clean energy transition and better health, educational outcomes and reduced crime.

Supporting and harnessing these institutions will help mobilise local assets – including people, places and local knowledge and expertise – to deliver improvements that stick.

In this election year, Local Trust will be conducting further research into what works for community-led neighbourhood regeneration and how the incoming government can best achieve its policy ambitions at a neighbourhood level. To find out more or to contribute to our work, please sign up to the Local Trust newsletter.


Image credit: Local Trust

Matt Leach

Matt Leach is the chief executive of Local Trust.


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