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Opinion: Why Michael Sheen was looking to Preston for inspiration

Posted on - 17th April, 2017 - 6:33pm | Author - | Posted in - News, Opinion, Politics, Preston Council
Hollywood star Micheal Sheen was in Preston meeting Preston councillors (far left) and the shadow chancellor
Hollywood star Michael Sheen was in Preston meeting Preston councillors (far left) and the shadow chancellor

Last week, me and a blood-sucking vampire joined a professor and some other bearded political activists for a conference at the University before nipping for a pint at the Continental.

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‘Rolly’s been at the real ale again!’ (I hear you cry)

Admittedly I have been at the ale, but you may have heard that Hollywood actor Michael Sheen, star of the vampire saga ‘Twilight,’ was in Preston to talk about co-operative economics.

If someone was to compare capitalists to blood-sucking vampires (heaven forbid) then this could be the biggest political u-turn in history – but in reality, Michael Sheen’s politics bear no similarities to his character’s life-draining qualities.

The Welsh Actor was fact-finding, rather than neck-finding, for his real life role as a political activist, with a special interest in the fortunes of his beloved home town Port Talbot. The South Wales coastal town is reeling following the news that Tata Steel is withdrawing from the area, and with no state rescue plan or impending takeover, ten percent of the town’s jobs will be lost.

Sheen heard about the ‘Preston Model’ on the political grapevine and came to see what all the fuss was about during a round table conference at the University of Central Lancashire on the subject. The ‘Preston Model’ (a term coined last year by Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who was also at the conference) is gaining momentum as an alternative economic model following the partial collapse of the banking system in 2008.

While Preston Council has eagerly jumped on the government’s investment bandwagon City Deal, which redirects existing funding towards targeted new build and regeneration, we have also been quietly building a portfolio of economic alternatives that aim to make Preston more resilient to the global financial rollercoaster.

Read more: Where the fight to save Preston’s libraries is up to

Policies like paying the Living Wage (as set by the Living Wage foundation, not the government’s ‘budget’ version), starting the Guild Money credit union, supporting a food co-op, protecting advice services and voluntary sector grants (that many other councils have cut), tackling fuel poverty, investing in quality, local, affordable food by regenerating Preston Market, letting property at reduced rates to not-for-profit and creative enterprises, the list goes on…

The main strand of the Preston Model however, involves encouraging local ‘anchor’ institutions like housing associations, the university, police, colleges etc, to spend more of their money in Preston. Preston Council have led by example by doubling its local spending in two years. The ultimate aim of this policy being to identify gaps in the local market and create worker co-ops to provide the goods and services we need locally. The model could include a community bank to support the concept.

Michael Sheen visiting the University of Central Lancashire
Michael Sheen visiting the University of Central Lancashire

Michael Sheen knows that Port Talbot needs to be more resilient and less dependent on outside investment in the future. British Steel was privatised by the Thatcher government in 1988, taking away any local influence on its future. International investors like Tata can up-sticks very quickly when the market changes – and they have. The Public and quasi-public sector ‘anchor’ institutions are going nowhere, and in Preston spend around £1billion pounds a year between them, twice the value of City Deal.

Read more: Two Preston council seats up for election in May

More and more people, from all political persuasions, even Hollywood movie stars, are beginning to see the logic of the Preston Model. The conference certainly gave former vampire Mr. Sheen a lot of ideas to get his teeth into…and it was amazing to have a pint with a movie star.

Fangs for the memory Michael.

This is a guest post from Preston City Council cabinet member for finance and resources councillor Martyn Rawlinson

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