Former director of IPPR North and advocate for regional development in the North of England joined the Manchester-based ‘think and do’ tank in June.


The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) welcomed its new chief executive in June.

Sarah Longlands, the former director of think tank IPPR North, taken the helm at the Manchester-based economics ‘think and do’ tank, replacing Neil McInroy, who has taken up a new post in the United States.

Originally from Northern Ireland, Sarah holds a PhD on the influence of economic growth policy on spatial planning in England. She has been an outspoken advocate for regional development in the North of England and a critic of the government’s “levelling up” agenda.

Sarah’s appointment comes in CLES’s 35th anniversary year, as the organisation expands its support for people, places and policy-makers across the UK, and opens a new chapter in its mission to realise local economic, social and ecological justice.

At the top of Sarah’s agenda will be overseeing the relaunch of the Community Wealth Building Centre of Excellence in July, and stewarding the growing community wealth building movement.

Conceived originally in the US, CLES developed the community wealth building model in the UK in the mid-2000’s as a way to modify and democratise local economies. The model allows local economies to become more inclusive, collaborative and democratically controlled by restructuring large local “anchor institutions,” to produce more sustainable and equitable outcomes.

Sarah Longlands, the former director of think tank IPPR North, joins CLES. Image: CLES.

In a statement, Sarah said: “I am delighted to have joined CLES as its new Chief Executive at this critical time for the UK’s future. For 35 years, CLES has championed local economies and worked closely with our stakeholders across the UK to build a better economic model which works for people.

“Now, in 2021, the climate crisis and the onset of Covid-19 have added to the list of challenges besetting local economies, and though the stakes often feel impossibly high, it is also a moment of hope. Covid-19 has served as a reminder to us all of the importance of community, and of our local places. I am committed to working with local people, businesses, councils and elected leaders to turn the dial on economic democracy and power in support of a fair and just recovery which works for people across the UK.”

Over the coming months, Sarah will be carving out a new vision for the future of local economic development, the Centre says, as well as supporting councils, businesses and communities as they navigate their journeys towards Covid-19 recovery. She will also be leading CLES’s work on reimagining how local economies can function to serve as a vital tool to address the climate emergency.

An expert in regional and local economic development, Sarah argues for economic and social justice and the creation of places which enable people to live good lives. Central to Sarah’s approach is a recognition that real economic change does not come from the rhetoric of Whitehall, but from the activism and ideas of those local councils, businesses and communities across the UK.

Gill Steward, Chair of the CLES board said: “We are thrilled that Sarah will be joining us as our new Chief Executive. Throughout the recruitment process Sarah demonstrated that she has exactly the right skills, experience, track record and commitment to CLES to build on the strong foundations put in place over the last 20 years by Neil McInroy. 

“Sarah will be joining CLES at a critical time, as we strengthen our work at scale and depth across the UK, developing our work with City Regions and the devolved nations and use our unique think-do model to develop alternative progressive economic models much needed by communities up and down the UK.”

For the Centre for Local Economic Strategies website – click here

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  • Alex King

    Alex is a reporter at Planning Magazine. Prior to working there he was a freelance journalist specialising in climate, employment and politics. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Politico, Novara Media, Tribune Magazine, The Bristol Cable, The Mill and Red Pepper. He also set up and co-manages Green New Deal Media, an independent media outlet based in Greater Manchester devoted to addressing climate breakdown.

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