Matt Leach is CEO of Local Trust.

With the Levelling Up White Paper due to be published later this month, one of the key questions will be the balance it strikes between the “four pillars of levelling up” set out by Michael Gove: local leadership, living standards, public services and “pride of place”.

Whilst Rishi Sunak’s spending review established the framework within which the white paper will deliver on the economy and key public services, the impact of the white paper in addressing the first and the fourth of those pillars – local leadership and pride of place – remain less defined. But they will be vitally important to the success of “levelling up”.

One thing is clear – the maintenance of strong local leadership and fostering of civic pride and attachment to place are critically dependent on the strength of local social institutions; what Onward described as the social fabric of the nation.

It is those shared places to meet – whether pubs, community centres, cafes, places of worship or local parks – and the organisations and activities that bring us together within them that enable us to connect to one another, gain a sense of collective identity, interest and belonging.

Where necessary they provide the means by which communities can come together to make their voices heard or take collective action in their own interests (such as the upswelling of community mutual aid that took place across the country during the first months of the pandemic).

The building and sustaining of that fabric – the social infrastructure of the nation and the nurturing of the Burkean “little platoons” that help maintain it – was at the heart of Trusting the People, a pamphlet advocating a new community-powered Conservativism, authored by a group of 2019-intake MPs that was launched by Gove at a packed ConservativeHome fringe event at party conference in October.

We know that in some communities the social fabric has started to fray, and at some cost to the people who live there. Deprived neighbourhoods with lower levels of social infrastructure, appear to suffer significantly worse socioeconomic outcomes than other parts of the country, even allowing for relative deprivation. OCSI and Local Trust research in 2019 found many of those communities were concentrated on the periphery of post-industrial areas in northern England and the Midlands, and in declining coastal areas in southern England.

Often these are places that have suffered economic blight over decades because of the closure or failure of previously buoyant traditional industries, but alongside that have also suffered from the loss of the associated social institutions that supported local civic life – the shared workplaces, trade unions, pubs and working men’s clubs and assembly rooms that often defined community identity and fostered local pride and identity. If levelling-up is to succeed for those places, it needs not only to bring economic change, but also to support the rebuilding of the social fabric of those communities.

Later today, the Dormant Assets Bill will enter the House of Commons for its second reading. This legislation sets out the basis on which the next wave of dormant assets – abandoned share certificates, orphaned insurance policies and other financial instruments – will be distributed over the coming decade.

As it passed through the House of Lords, Conservative Peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots co-sponsored a successful amendment to allow for the next wave of dormant assets to be committed to a long-term project to take on that challenge. His amendment set out that such a fund would be for buildings or other assets owned or managed by organisations located in communities for the purposes of local residents’ meeting, socialising, accessing educational resources, or conducting other activities to improve their wellbeing”.

Hodgson described himself in the debate as “a builder of a brighter Britain with small bricks” – a perfect description of what we see as the vital importance of social infrastructure and investment in communities. As he argued, the “deployment of patient, long-term capital to enable the provision of the practical experience and help need to provide remedies for these deep-seated structural challenges” is precisely what is needed to sit alongside the physical and economic infrastructure investment the Government is already committed to.

This is consistent with research from the University of Cambridge, which found that the key ingredients to successful government investment in regenerating such communities included long-term funding of at least 10 years, community involvement embedded at every stage of design and delivery, and support and guidance throughout to ensure the best outcomes for residents. These key elements are also supported in another recent report by Onward on what works in neighbourhood regeneration.

The opportunity offered up by dormant assets is that it is new money available for the long term.  Sitting outside of the public finances but potentially worth hundreds of millions over the next decade, it bypasses any potential tensions between the Government’s ambitions on levelling up and the Treasury’s concern about limiting new spending and further taxation.

These assets are currently unused and unclaimed. They are not counted on any balance sheet; they are not a new tax and they would not constitute new spending.  Over 460 funders, charities, community groups and local and combined authorities have signed up to what has become the Community Wealth Fund campaign – seeking to make the case to government for this next wave of dormant funds to go to rebuilding the social infrastructure of left behind communities.

To date, ministers have held back from making any such commitment, insisting on the need for an open-ended consultation next year on where new dormant assets funding might be directed. But next week they have the opportunity to reconsider and commit those funds towards the long-term levelling up of our most left behind communities.

There is a strong case for them to do so – this proposal marries the vision of Edmund Burke to the ambition of the levelling up agenda. It offers long term support to build and rebuild the institutions conservatives have always championed, whilst targeting those areas most in need of civic renewal. As the government looks to find imaginative ways to vigorously pursue its levelling up agenda in the post-pandemic economy, this is an opportunity just waiting to be grasped.