New Foundations for the Built Environment


Written by:

John Jackson

Industry Editor

Business News Wales


Across Wales our built environment is dependent on the provision of essential goods and services. These are the things, to varying extents, we all rely on in order to live our lives.

These include our physical infrastructure, healthcare via the NHS, care services provided by local authorities, protection provided by our emergency services, social housing, state education, the provision of food, and specific assistance for individuals and communities in need.

These services play a fundamental role in ensuring the wellbeing of citizens, and are provided by a combination of the State and a range of businesses not all of which will be based in Wales. As these services are ones we continue to need as the basis for our built environment their importance can’t be underestimated. In acknowledging this an opportunity to ensure these services are procured, delivered and managed in a way that can; further support local communities, directly increase spend at a local level, and open up the potential for new jobs to be created becomes apparent. In essence this is the potential the Foundational Economy model offers Wales, and it's one the Welsh Government is committed to developing.

A useful introduction to the Foundational Economy is provided by Senedd Research, and the Welsh Government has put in place a £4.5million fund for a comprehensive range of experimental projects to test the Foundational Economy approach. This fund was launched by Lee Waters, MS, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, who explains that: “We are investing in the foundations of the Welsh economy, in areas such as food, retail, care and home building. These sectors are essential to keeping our communities healthy and secure.

“The Foundational Economy accounts for 40 per cent of employment in Wales. Making these everyday parts of our economy more equal, prosperous and resilient will help protect us from external shocks such as Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, which has put us under enormous pressure but also shown how strong we are when government, communities and businesses work together.

“We’re doing this in partnership with almost 50 innovative projects, from across a variety of Welsh businesses, communities, public and third sector organisations because they are the experts. We’ve provided £4.5 million of funding to help them bolster local food supply, increase the use of local construction companies, improve social care and regenerate our high streets.

“Through a combination of togetherness, ingenuity, care and resourcefulness we can adapt and thrive whatever the future holds.”

There is a clear synergy between the Foundational Economy model and our housing associations. Managing over 150,000 properties across Wales the Associations are committed to providing not just homes but also a wide range of services within their respective communities. To help them achieve this they already have access to a tailored made Can Do Tool Kit, a free resource for housing providers. The Housing sector recently carried out a major review looking to refresh and renew this approach focusing on the huge potential that decarbonisation offers, as well as how to extend the reach to other areas of public spending such as health and education. Launched in July 2020, the ten point Can Do Declaration has brought this new thinking together.

Housing and regeneration consultant Keith Edwards explains how this is helping the sector to transform the way it delivers its services: “Housing gets the Foundational Economy – in a sense this was our ground before it was given the name. We are long term community investors – both in homes and people. The scale of the challenges just got bigger by some order and the sector will – indeed has to – step up to be lead agents of recovery.”

In the UK when reference is made to the Foundational Economy the Preston Model is often quoted as a working interpretation. In acknowledging “the system wasn’t working” Matthew Brown, Preston City Council leader, became the driving force for change that centred around the concept of “community wealth building” with inspiration coming from Cleveland, USA. The experience in Preston helps to illustrate the benefits adopting a Foundational Economy approach offers, as highlighted in this article that includes a short informative video.

Adopting the Foundational Economy presents us with an opportunity to ensure that the money we spend in communities across Wales is spent in a way that provides maximum benefits in those communities, whilst creating opportunities for collaborative and cooperative business. In terms of procurement of goods and services, not only will communities benefit from what is being procured, but a Foundational Economy approach ensures a focus is placed on how the money is spent. For example, this can ensure where possible keeping as much of the spend itself in the local community, which in helps to create a double benefit.

The pandemic has brought into focus the challenges facing our built environment in particular; the housing shortage, the increasing numbers of people living in poverty, and the increasing demand for care services. We know our local authorities have seen their budgets shrink. Yet at the same time it's reasonable to suggest we would all benefit from living in a Wales where everyone was living a better life, and the Foundational Economy has the potential to play a key role in helping to achieve this.