The West Midlands Forum for Growth? Well if I were you I wouldn’t start from here.

I attended the West Midlands Forum for Growth yesterday at Resorts World. It was the official conference of the West Midlands Combined Authority, and I was attending on one of two free tickets given to civil society bodies, as part of the group of civil society organisations aiming to have a voice in combined authority matters. Tickets in general cost somewhere in the low hundreds of pounds.

In Andy Street’s keynote address, he told us the WMCA would be judged on its performance on two issues: growth, and public services and the lives of citizens. He said that although we were performing well on the first, we were not delivering well on the second. He said that there was no purpose in economic growth[i] if does not deliver the improvements in the lives of citizens.

This was a really important and honest admission for our mayor to make, at the start of an event that harnessed one day’s worth of the thinking power of hundreds of people in positions of significant power and with years of experience. It should have been the start of a challenging and free-thinking discussion about how we would make sure this happened.

There was a general sense of positivity in the room – that the West Midlands authorities were now seriously collaborating and that the devolution deal, land use and investment policies being followed were going to lead to opportunities. I didn’t really share that sense: I was thinking about Andy’s statement and wanting to discuss how we could address this need and make the West Midlands’ agenda deliver prosperity that was shared fully across its people with public services that met their needs.

But that discussion did not happen. There was nothing really different or challenging. The solutions are to have the biggest site, the fastest train, the tallest building, the greatest growth – the illusory trickle down of machoeconomics.

What about exploring the inclusive prosperity potential to be gained from enabling small development on small sites, not just big development on big sites? What about increasing local ownership? Fostering local supply chains? Raising the lowest wages? A focus, as with our social care report with New Economics Foundation, on the ‘foundational economy’, of providing the things that we all need such as food, energy, care, education?

A discussion on ‘liveability’ towards the end covered many of the right things about wellbeing but didn’t really address how the growth agenda should achieve them. It was more as if liveability was something you did in order to create more growth, not something that growth needed to achieve.

Belatedly, I started to realise what this event was really for. The vast majority of attendance, alongside public sector people, were in roles relating to development: (architects, developers, project management). There was little input from voluntary sector or small business, let alone of course from active citizens. There was none of the cross-sector debate about how policy can make a real difference, as there was at regional conferences of the early noughties[ii]. I assume that all those present had an interest in being enthusiastic about the agenda in order to facilitate access to new developments in whatever capacity they were operating. While they might have cared about it, their role and expertise was not to help deliver policy, investment and practice that meet those public needs.

This, I guess, is fine. There probably SHOULD be an event (probably in a car-centric and unsustainable consumer-orientated venue[i], probably for a prohibitive fee) that brings such people together to create a positive buzz around the devolution agenda and to network about the business opportunities that will result.

But should that event be the official Combined Authority conference? Given the Combined Authority’s remit that Andy laid out, does its real conference need to bring in a wider range of perspectives, some experts in public services and local economics, in a vastly more participative format (I counted 4 questions from the audience in 6 hours) and perhaps not charge them £300 for doing so?

We’d be happy to support such a WMCA conference in 2018.

Karen Leach

[i] I cycled there and back. Alongside the asphyxiating fumes, the only way out as a cyclist was take the third exit off the M42/A45 roundabout in three lanes of motorway-hungry traffic. I am sure I lost one of my nine lives.

[i] Yes, we are aware of the the grim realities of the impacts of such growth on our future on a finite planet. Having gone many steps backward since the not-ideal era of Regional Development Agencies, we’re currently aeons from being able to debate this. Instead, we hope to enable policymakers to see that other objectives and measures are more critical, and that this will reduce the focus on, and eventually the impact of, such growth. We know that this won’t be in time to stop dangerous levels of climate change or the depletion of finite resources, but we have to start somewhere.

[ii] And no, I never thought I would be highlighting those as pinnacles of sustainability and social inclusion.

Make social care an economic ‘engine’ of the West Midlands

Press release for our inclusive economics & social care report with New economics Foundation – launched today

Social care may be on the brink of crisis but the sector has the potential to become a driver of the West Midlands economy.

A report for Localise West Midlands as part of the Good City Economies programme, has called for a re-framing of the sector, away from large-scale providers towards community and cooperative care models.

Prioritising and promoting community-scale care provision could transform the sector, creating high quality jobs and improving standards of care across the region.

Following calls by the new mayor of West Midlands Andy Street for greater diversity in the provision of all public services, this timely report sets out the benefits of a more localised social care system.

The report, Social Care as a Local Economic Solution in the West Midlands, was scoped by a group of organisations active in the region on inclusive economics and social care.

Social care is a ‘dysfunctional system dominated by “too big to fail” companies’, the report says. For while the ‘big five’ care providers appear to offer lower costs, almost a third of their spend goes to shareholders.

Data cited in the report shows that the UK’s five biggest chain social care companies offer big returns to investors, taking up 29% of their costs —the second-biggest drain on expenditure after staff wages.

It calls for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to prioritise new models of care and establish a community care innovation unit.

Community-led care providers tend to keep money in the local economy and offer more personalised care for the same cost. A regional ecosystem of smaller-scale care businesses, such as West Midlands-based Crossroads Care, could ensure public investment in social care is re-invested in communities.

This re-framing of social care models a new approach to local economics, one that is aligned with the assets and needs of communities rather than focused on economic growth and inward investment. This ‘foundational’ approach to local economies could be extended to other sectors such as housing, food and utilities.

David Powell, subject lead at the New Economics Foundation and author of the report, said, ‘Social care is on a cliff-edge. New ideas are desperately needed. The West Midlands can transform the perception of the care sector in the region: a growing economic sector with the potential to meet a diversity of skills, employment and economic needs for communities that aren’t helped by GVA-driven economic strategies.’

Localise West Midlands, who commissioned the report said: ‘The West Midlands coordination role and the election of its first Mayor – who has committed to not-for-profit models of public service provision – places it in a unique position of leadership.

‘The region has an opportunity to be visionary if it understands how sectors like social care can provide careers in places where people live meeting local needs. To deliver its commitment to inclusive prosperity the WMCA will need strategies like this based on real local needs and assets, and to create an economy in which we all have an ownership stake.’

 

Notes:

Social Care as a local economic solution for the West Midlandsis part of the Good City Economies project, a partnership between New Economics Foundation and Centre for Local Economic Strategies, with funding from Friends Provident Foundation.

Localise WM works towards local supply chains, money flow and ownership for a more just and sustainable economy and will be focusing on policy opportunities such as this at the regional level over the coming years. Its work on this has been funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

Download the report here

 For more information contact:

 Author and primary contact:

David Powell: David.Powell@neweconomics.org

 Co-ordinator of Localise West Midlands:

Karen McCarthy: karenm@localisewestmidlands.org.uk

@localisewm 0121 685 1155

Good City Economies: @GoodCityEconomy

 

Notes:

Localise West Midlands: http://www.localisewestmidlands.org.uk

Good City Economies: https://newstartmag.co.uk/good-city-economies/

Can you help us to inspire and catalyse a better economy?

Can you help us to inspire and catalyse a better economy?

Join LWM’s board

We know our work towards localising and redistributing prosperity resonates with a lot of people. We’d love some of that resonance to draw people to get involved in governing our future – the small but crucial ‘lynchpin’ organisation in the region’s progressive economics!

After the summer we will be embarking on a fourth phase of our Localising Prosperity programme, which came from our groundbreaking research into the benefits of a localisation approach and how it can be integrated into mainstream economic development. We are now focusing on delivery of this agenda in practice. The main strands of work will be:

  • Maximising the local benefits of the new hospital development in Smethwick, including with partners through the EU-funded USEIT project
  • Enabling more of a voice for economic justice organisations into the Combined Authority agenda
  • Supporting and challenging regional and local economic agendas to go beyond ‘growth’ to ‘who benefits’.

We will also be putting some time into diversifying our activities and will be planning for this over the summer.

To help refresh and strengthen our thinking we’re looking for two new active, committed board members with commitment to our concept and values, understanding of the tactics and communication for effecting change, and relevant knowledge and contacts.

We are also very aware that the age, ethnicity and gender profile of our board does not reflect the population of the West Midlands, and we are keen to address this in order to benefit from a wider range of perspectives and ensure we do not inadvertently exclude anyone from our group. So we particularly welcome applications from women, younger people, and people from a variety of cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds.

Please read our Board member role description and browse our website for more information. If you’re interested, please email us outlining how you meet the above criteria and why you are interested in getting involved, attaching your CV. We’ll then be in touch to arrange a meeting.

Please also pass this on to contacts who could be interested!

Karen Leach

Smile, you’re on TV! A West Midlands Combined Authority meeting is filmed

As Localise West Midlands, we are playing an important role in pressing for and enabling a civil society voice about the West Midlands Combined Authority, bringing together people and organisations that have knowledge and experience around economic issues, transport, housing and health.  We have blogged before about the West Midlands Civil Society Forum.

West Midlands Combined Authority Board meetings are held at different venues around the region, but are not livestreamed.  Even when the meetings are held in rooms equipped for webstreaming, the facility is not used.  As WMCSF, we’ve asked why this isn’t happening, and been told it probably won’t happen till the mayor is elected.  Until it does, we try to get to each meeting, to observe proceedings and to make the point that people are interested in the combined authority.

But last Friday’s meeting was held at Nuneaton Town Hall.  Again, the chamber has cameras but in this case they aren’t set up for webstreaming.  Uniquely though, local Green Party councillor Keith Kondakor has been using the right to film meetings to put proceedings on a YouTube channel.

So here for the first time is a WMCA Board meeting for the wider public to see:

 

 

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Lucas Plan on 26th Nov!

Veteran trade unionists and younger activists see Nobel prize-nominated plan as inspiration for the future

Leading figures from the left, trade union, environmental and peace movements are coming together at a conference on November 26th with a fresh perspective on tackling current crises, using the ideas of socially useful production pioneered in the Lucas Plan. The Plan, produced by workers at the Lucas Aerospace arms company, showed how jobs could be saved by converting to make socially useful products, rather than weapons. See www.lucasplan.org.uk,  for more information on the Lucas Plan.

lucasplanThe conference will focus on 5 key themes:

  • The Lucas Plan and socially useful production.
  • Arms conversion and peace.
  • Climate change and a socially just transition to sustainability.
  • The threat to skills and livelihoods from automation.
  • Local/community economic and industrial planning.

LWM will be running an informal workshop on the last of these. Linking all these issues is the need to rethink how we can produce what people and society actually need and overcome corporate domination through their control of technology.

Highlights of the conference will include:

  • Talks by Phil Asquith, Brian Salisbury and Mick Cooney (Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine).
  • Screening of a new film on the Lucas Plan by Steve Sprung.
  • Contributions from: Chris Baugh (PCS), Suzanne Jeffery (Million Climate Jobs Campaign), Hilary Wainwright (Red Pepper), Natalie Bennett, Molly Scott-Cato and Jonathan Essex (Green Party), Philip Pearson (Greener Jobs Alliance), Romayne Phoenix (People’s Assembly Against Austerity), Mary Pearson (Birmingham Trades Council), Tony Kearns (CWU), Mika Minio-Paluello (Platform), Philippa Hands (UNISON), Stuart Parkinson (Scientists for Global Responsibility), Dave Elliott (Open University), Liz Corbin (Institute of Making), Tony Simpson (Bertrand Russell Foundation), Dave King (Breaking the Frame), Simon Fairlie (The Land magazine), Karen Leach (Localise West Midlands), Marisol Sandoval (City University), Tom Unterrainer (Bertrand Russell Foundation), John Middleton (Medact), Gail Chester (Feminist Library), Julie Ward (Labour Party), David Cullen (Nuclear Information Service) and Richard Lee (Just Space).

The conference on the Lucas Plan 40th anniversary will be held at Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (138 Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 6DR) on November 26, 2016. See www.lucasplan.org.uk. The conference is being organised and sponsored by: former members of the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine, Breaking the Frame, PCS, UCU, Million Climate Jobs Campaign, Green Party, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Campaign Against Arms Trade, CND, Left Unity, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Red Pepper, War on Want, Conference of Socialist Economists, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Newcastle TUC, Medact, and Momentum.

Tickets are £10/£5 concessions: To book for the conference, visit

www.lucasplan.org.uk/tickets. For more information, email info@breakingtheframe.org.uk

BACKGROUND INFO: The Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine’s Alternative Corporate Plan (‘The Lucas Plan’) was launched in 1976 and became famous worldwide, sparking an international movement for socially useful production and workers’ plans. Facing the threat of redundancies, the Combine collected 150 ideas from shop floor workers about alternative socially useful products that could be produced by the company, instead of relying on military orders. Many of the innovations in the plan, such as hybrid car engines, heat pumps and wind turbines were commercially viable and are now in widespread use. Although the Alternative Plan was rejected by Lucas Aerospace managers, it was instrumental in protecting jobs at Lucas in the 1970s. The Combine was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and Mike Cooley received the Right Livelihood Award in 1982. More information about the Plan, including the 53-page summary of the five 200 page volumes, can be found on the conference website, www.lucasplan.org.uk.

A better way to challenge trade deals

One of the upsetting things  about both Brexit and Trump’s victory in America, is that they have taken some solutions from the progressive left and green movements, intermingled them with the nastiness of far right rhetoric, and made far more headway than we have by doing so. For years while the Labour machine was busy joining the Conservatives in telling us that There Is No Alternative, that they were intensely relaxedgreat_offers about the stinking rich, and that free market economics would raise us all, we have been saying that many are left behind and made insecure by this economic model and entire cities and districts are written off by it as collateral damage, while inequality rises. The trade deals opposed by many Trump supporters and many Brexiters, have partially caused this, alongside other factors such as automation and poor domestic industrial and regional policy. Mainstream dogma economists sneered at us for querying the success of neoliberalism, while those experiencing the inequality and insecurity got neglected and disenfranchised.

In both countries, the rightwing media has for decades peddled the myth that immigration (or, for the nastier media outlets, immigrants) and benefits-scroungers are to blame for workers’ predicament, following the age-old pattern of splitting the oppressed into factions to fight each other. This has been the fuel for the success of the Trump and Brexit rhetorics. Now the neoliberals are saying “The people have spoken.” Well, kind of. The people have spoken through the distorting sound system of a very rightwing media, powerful megalomaniacs, and, for some, extreme desperation. As a friend said yesterday, we must not “pander to prejudice and division because we mistake that for listening”. At least there is a trace of understanding this in the new mainstream interest in so-called “inclusive growth”.

International trade and protection need to be refined collectively, not unilaterally, and with care that we’re aiming for the outcomes we really need. Hence the call of “Another Europe Is Possible” which sought reform from within Europe rather than the UK leaving it. Freedom of movement applies to people (or “labour” as it charmingly gets called), capital and goods, and capital is currently the freest of those. We should reverse this. Put simplistically (of course negotiations would be complex in reality) more restrictions on the flow of capital, some on goods, and less on people, could enable these better outcomes. It could mean that we still value our connections and the opportunities of travel, but can ensure that the industries that meet domestic needs can be protected, that countries get and contribute the goods required from other places, and that the profits this ‘labour’ generates can stay within each country to benefit its citizens more fully. Meanwhile we should ensure strategies to develop alternative industries where whole places have relied on one globally-relevant sector (Sunderland’s ship-building).

LWM is a regionally focused organisation, so although we are interested in the reform of world trade our role is more to tell the story of, and get policy change for, economics that is built on increasing local ownership and control over the economy of a place, as per Localising Prosperity. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance does a similar job in the states. The International Alliance on Localization  calls for this approach globally.

Seeking a positive from both the Trump presidency and Brexit, there is now the tiniest opportunity to challenge the neoliberal approach to trade with more solidarity and inclusivity. But only if we can challenge the scapegoating of the vulnerable and join together to demonstrate better economics.

Karen Leach

Land – they’re not making it any more – how to use it effectively in the West Mids

Have you got a minute to contribute your thoughts to the West Midlands Combined Authority Land Commission call for evidence? Deadline is 14th Oct.

It will consider “what measures could be initiated and undertaken to ensure an improved supply of developable land which supports the growth ambitions of business, the housing needs of residents, and the future diversification of the local economy.”

messagetotheplanners (2)If you think providing affordable homes in quality settlements is important… or safeguarding good farmland… or ensuring people don’t have to travel long distances to work… or that we live in quality places were we can access community facilities easily… or protecting the services the land and soil and its wildlife provide to ensure our survival… or keeping land in public or common ownership… or if you don’t think local authorities should be bribed to accept poor development…  then it would be great if you could make a response as there won’t be many contributions making these points.

snouts-in-troughOn the other hand if you’re a large developer wanting to make a case for the release of greenfield land in unsustainable locations so you can carry on building exclusive homes that don’t meet society’s needs in any way, then I wouldn’t worry – there should be lots of responses like this already!

Three points from LWM’s response:

– greater use of the Community Land Trust and similar models to keep land in common ownership and lock in the value for the community.

– Excessive release of greenfield sites will undermine the attractiveness of some of the more crucial brownfield sites, leaving areas blighted, reducing quality density and leading to damagingly dispersed land use and travel patterns.

– The old regional policy of “reducing the need to travel” should be a WMCA policy when considering all new development land.

Plenty more points to make.

Karen Leach

Bringing community wealth to Birmingham

We’re really pleased to report that Birmingham City Council will be working with the excellent Centre for Local Economic Strategies, with funding from Barrow Cadbury Trust and support from us at Localise West Midlands, to look at how ‘anchor’ institutions can use their spending power to increase economic opportunities for all Birmingham’s communities, businesses and citizens.

As the Leader’s bulletin explains “Anchor institutions, such as the local authority, hospitals, universities and housing providers are significant spenders in the local economy, with large annual budgets for staff, food, energy and other supplies and services.

“Now, using an approach which is common in many North American cities and which CLES has piloted in Preston, the new partnership aims to help Birmingham’s anchor institutions use their spending power locally by identifying changes in behaviour around procurement and other processes that will benefit local businesses, people and communities.”

barrow-cadbury-logoSara Llewellin, Chief Executive of Barrow Cadbury Trust, who also fund LWM’s Localising Prosperity work, said: “The Trust has been pleased to see debate and practice on local economies grow in Birmingham in recent years.  This anchor institution work will build on a movement which is already strong within the city and help to explore how resources already flowing through the city can be better utilised for the good of all citizens.”

Read the Leader’s Bulletin here.

Transport for the West Midlands?

transportlogosWhat will the Combined Authority mean for transport?

What things do we want to see from the Metro Mayor?

How might you like to get involved in shaping this agenda?

An opportunity to find out about the new transport powers and budgets held by the West Midlands Combined Authority, and consider and discuss what this could mean for communities across the West Midlands…

Wednesday 14th September, 6pm to 8pm

The Warehouse (Birmingham Friends of the Earth), 54-57 Allison Street, Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 5TH

An evening open to anyone who wants to find out more and may have things to say or ideas to share about developing the excellent transport system that this region needs.

For further information, contact joe@greentravel.org.uk

A People’s Plan for the West Mids? Worth a shot, but needs the people

While we and some other organisations in Birmingham have been busy forming the Civil Society Forum to provide a voice for civil society into the workings of the new Combined Authority, Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne has been trying to do something a little similar via a deliberative democracy process he’s called the People’s Plan.

peoplesplan2The website says “We want to work together to give the politicians a plan that we think will make a difference. So: pitch in. Give us your ideas for what needs to change!”

It provides a forum and stepped process for people to propose, comment on and discuss ideas to influence what the Mayor might see as priorities. So far, a fair range of proposals have been put forward – some strategic, some a bit less so.

It also says “The Metro Mayor will be elected to control big budgets and make big decisions. They’ll play a big role in shaping the future of where we live.” But looking at the content of the Mayoral Powers consultation on the WMCA website, it looks as if WMCA governance could end up being an odd hybrid of the Mayoral role and collective decision-making. I’m all for collective decision-making rather than the current obsession with macho  individual leadership, which is why I was sceptical about the proposal of a Mayor for Birmingham – but how effective will it be to try to combine the two, potentially leading to a constant power struggle between factions of Leaders and the Mayor?

Either way, we really need to help those in charge of forming this subregional tier to help themselves by involving civil society, because so far there’s frankly not been enough participation. The People’s Plan format certainly has its merits for this – it’s based on open source deliberative democracy tools from DCENT, and, for better and worse,  is free from the ongoing collaboration commitment that our Civil Society Forum needs, enabling people to contribute freely as and when they can. But it’s only going to be as useful as the ideas that are brought together in it, the breadth and depth of its debate, and the diversity of the voices that contribute. As the website says “The more people who participate, the more legitimacy and impact our work will have.”

So let’s promote it, engage with it, suck it and see.

Karen Leach