EconomicsLocal economiesLocalisationUncategorized

Buoyed by a positive attitude to a socially inclusive economy in Birmingham

Some very quick thoughts picking up on earlier tweets on today’s Social Inclusion Process Be Birmingham summit: quick because it’s officially my day off and I want to go and tend the rain-battered swamp that passes for our garden in this particular ‘summer’.

Having spent the last two summits concerned that the social inclusion process might just be churning out the same old thoughts on valuing diversity and raising aspirations that we all say every time (important, but not the root causes), I felt quite buoyant at the end of this one; perhaps because I have been part of the inclusive economy subgroup, and the economy is of course a fairly fundamental place to address social exclusion.

First of the positives – that the new Birmingham administration is considering district-based local economic boards, with private and community/non-profit participation,as a mechanism to drive positive, homegrown local economies with a high local multiplier. Our Mainstreaming CED research has brought us into contact with some fantastic community economic development approaches in America and Canada that suggest this approach has a great deal of exciting potential to create more inclusive and sustainable economies.

Secondly, a hint that as the new administration reviews how best procurement can be used to tackle income equality, it could be prepared to question whether it is always best to procure or commission – as with Birmingham Energy Savers- via a single huge entity which is expected then to subcontract to small local organisations, thus losing a great deal of the potential local benefit from the local economy. Cutting out the middleman and procuring directly from a consortium of local organisations requires careful approaches to risk and finance, but again good practice in Italy and elsewhere shows this is possible.

Thirdly, while a harder nut to crack, income inequality’s elephant-in-room status seems to be changing at last. Councillor John Cotton talked of the need for a more equal society and clearly intends to use his Cabinet post to confront this issue. Where the inclusive economy group had previously pondered how Birmingham seems to celebrate its low wage culture as a boon for inward investment, Lisa Trickett and others talked of how we need to bust the myth that a low wage economy is a good economy.We are no longer just talking about ‘social mobility’ and ‘raising aspirations’ which can so often be euphemisms for preserving high levels of inequality, and more mirroring the fairness commissions of other cities which have identified action on high and low pay as priorities.

And fourthly, the general sense that the findings of our Mainstreaming Community Economic Development research are going to be very timely and will chime with other local thinking, which increases the chance of us together achieving change towards a simply better economy in the West Midlands.

One clear recommendation emerging from my perspective was that Birmingham’s economic development department needs mechanisms to ‘social-outcome-proof’ its decision-making.

But as I said, just quick initial thoughts; we’ll reflect more on all this potential through our current research activity.

Karen Leach