Matthew Brown believes few available jobs and rising inequality led Preston, like every other district of Lancashire, to vote to leave the EU in June. “People are angry with how the economy is structured. Brexit has happened because of a failure of the current economic model,” says the 44-year-old councillor. But he adds: “What we’re doing now is in response to that, it’s about how we can change local economies to work for people who feel excluded.”
Since 2011, the Lancashire council’s central government grant has been almost halved from £30m to £18m, leading to cuts in everything from community engagement to parks and the leisure centre. “The intention was to devolve cuts and blame it on us,” Brown says. “But you can become more self-sufficient.”
The Preston model he devised involves 12 of the city’s key employers – including the county constabulary, a public sector housing association, colleges and hospitals – buying goods and services locally, to stop 61% of their procurement budget being spent outside of the Lancashire economy. As a result, Brown has been called a visionary thinker for his work to boost the economy in his hometown.