New impetus for community energy

The Financial Times reports that the falling cost of renewables, advances in battery storage and the prospect of selling electricity locally are giving new impetus to community energy projects.

Community energy projects, set up to generate renewable energy, are reinvesting the proceeds from the sale of electricity into the locality. Sylvia Pfeifer describes them as part of a wider trend towards “distributed energy” as the industry moves away from the traditional model of large power stations that send electricity through central transmission networks, to one that is dominated by smaller-scale, often renewable, plants.

Residents form a co-operative society, which owns the local scheme and raises money through share and bond offers to develop a project; any profits are fed back into local causes

It is, increasingly, an investment proposition for socially conscious investors

“Everyone realises our energy is changing,” said Emma Bridge, chief executive at Community Energy England, the organisation that represents the sector. “The public want more local involvement and to take practical action on climate change.”

Several policy changes and cuts to government subsidies and tax incentives which helped to promote investment in small-scale renewable projects from 2010 led to a steep drop in new schemes. However, the falling cost of renewables, advances in battery storage and the prospect of selling electricity locally are giving new impetus to community energy projects.

Last year research by Community Energy England identified 222 organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with active local schemes operating wind, solar or hydro. They had raised £190m of investment. Together with the Scottish sector, community energy projects have 188MW of generation capacity installed — enough to power about 130,000 homes.

Accessing funding requires a degree of knowledge. Mongoose Energy helps to develop and finance schemes. Its projects are funded through a combination of bank loans, funding from social capital providers and community fundraisers. Mark Kenber, Mongoose chief executive, said he believed investor appetite was growing. “More and more people are now investing as they see renewables such as wind and solar as tried and tested technologies and the returns on offer are predictable,” he added. “People are looking at it as a reasonably low-risk return.” Consumers take charge

The sector may be small but supporters said it was part of a future in which consumers increasingly take charge of their energy usage. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it had made £100m of funding available for small scale renewables between 2016 and 2019. It is currently “considering options” for its approach beyond next year.

Believed to be the first major funding by a local authority in community-owned energy infra

Westmill Solar Cooperative raised more than £20 million for 5 wind turbines and a ground-mounted solar array. Members receive an average of 8% return on their investment. The balance of funding required was raised by a debt bond arranged with the Lancashire County Council Pension Fund, in what was believed to be the first major funding by a local authority in community-owned energy infrastructure.

As yet, any electricity produced locally by a community energy project is not bought directly by local residents for their own usage. Richard Benwell, a director of Westmill, the UK’s first community-owned solar farm, says,

“The really exciting thing will be when schemes can sell locally produced energy to members of the co-operative society that owns a community energy project. With lower distribution costs real savings can be made”.

 

 

 

 

 

Anchoring community wealth

Preston’s skyline: Carl Ji, a Chinese student, at the University of Central Lancashire

Austerity has been devolved to local councils and, perversely, areas with higher levels of poverty have been hit hardest, councils have on average faced 40% cuts in their budgets.

In the face of adversity councils such as Preston have responded by bringing together anchor institutions and working with them to drive through a local programme of economic transformation. The government’s Commission for Employment and Skills defines an ‘anchor institution’ as “one that, alongside its main function, plays a significant and recognised role in a locality by making a strategic contribution to the local economy” and ‘tending’ to be non-profit.

By changing their procurement policies, these anchor institutions were able to drive up spending locally protecting businesses and jobs. They are looking at the council pension fund to see if its investment can support local businesses keeping the money circulating in their town.

A study by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies found that six of the anchor institutions in the area are now spending 18% of their budget in Preston, up from 5% in 2013. So an extra £75 million a year is being spent within the city, with the top 300 local suppliers creating an extra 800 jobs last year alone. And others are watching: Manchester city council has now increased its local spend from 44% of its budget to 70%; Lowestoft and Salford are also interested.

Last year this blog reported that Birmingham City Council was to work with Centre for Local Economic Strategies, with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and support from Localise West Midlands, to see how anchor institutions in the non-profit and private sectors, including Birmingham University, Pioneer Housing and the QE hospital, could use their spending power to increase economic opportunities for Birmingham’s communities, businesses and citizens. Read more on the council website here.

In a separate project, Localise West Midlands has been working with the Midland Metropolitan Hospital (under construction, artist’s impression) which will be the closest adult hospital to the centre of Birmingham. The Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust and LWM are partners in Urban Innovative Actions supporting the development of the local economy. The Trust hopes to spend 2% of the new hospital’s annual budget with local suppliers, adding £5-8m to the local economy. It will provide locally sourced meals and the builder has a target of 70% local employment, aiming to source 80% of construction materials locally.

Alice Thomson in The Times pointed out that making a legal requirement that councils buy and hire goods and services locally is banned by EU law at the moment, so it should be noted that the Preston project operates on a voluntary basis.

She commented: “The government should take the idea and encourage it, particularly in hollowed-out market towns where out of town shopping centres have crushed their sense of identity” adding “But (procurement policies) could also be used for more high-profile programmes such as the rebuilding of Big Ben, where the steel has had to come from Brazil, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, or the V&A which showcases Britain’s greatest designs but where the tiles for the new forecourt came from Holland”.

 

 

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A local alternative to Uber?

Transport for London has decided not to give Uber a new license, though its app (Uber requires drivers and users to have a smartphone) will still be operational in London while Uber appeals against the decision.

More information about its problems and bans in several cities and countries may be seen on the West Midlands New Economics site.

The New Economics Foundation has called for a mutually-owned, publicly-regulated alternative to Uber, providing better working conditions for drivers and higher safety standards for passengers.

Stefan Baskerville (NEF: Unions and Business) said:

“Digital platforms are here to stay and technology cannot be reversed. The question now is how they should be controlled and by whom, as well as the standards they set and how they treat people. It is time to develop alternative models which put people back in control”.

As NEF points out, drivers in different parts of the UK are developing their own platforms.

In 2015 Cab:app was co-founded by London taxi driver Peter Schive, who said: ‘Cab:app draws on the heritage and expertise of the black cab industry and translates it for the digital world.

Other early examples included the Bristol Taxi App – abbreviated to Braxi – which will only employ drivers licensed by Bristol City Council. Farouq Hussain, ‘one of the brains behind the app’, described it as being “just like Uber, only local”, with no surcharge and 25% pay cut. He added: “Our app takes the best of Uber and makes it local”.

The most recent: in June Anlaby-based 966 Taxis in Hull designed and launched its Uber-style app which they believe could transform the service. Alice Martin (NEF: Lead for Work) said: “TFL’s move will send ripples across the country where there has been a recent surge in private hire licenses given out to support Uber’s growth, particularly in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West” adding:

We’ve been working with drivers in different parts of the UK who are developing their own platforms. The time has come for the Mayor to back a better alternative to Uber and lead the way for other local authorities to do the same”.

 

 

 

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Changing local economies to work for people who feel excluded

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A link has been received to a Guardian report about the ‘Preston model’ – for background information see Clifford Singer’s interesting article on the Next System Project’s website.

Councillor Matthew Brown, Preston city council cabinet member for social justice, inclusion and community engagement, devised this model. 12 of the city’s key employers were helped to reorganise their supply chains and identify where they could buy goods and services locally, stopping 61% of their procurement budget being spent outside the Lancashire economy. The employers included ‘anchor institutions’ such as:

  • the county constabulary,
  • a public sector housing association,
  • colleges
  • and hospitals

Since 2011, Lancashire council’s central government grant had been reduced 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 Public Services (Social Value) Act 2013 now allows public bodies in England to take into account the social, environmental and economic impact of their commissioning. A key step was to redirect lucrative contracts, such as printing services for the police and food for council buildings, towards local business and the city council doubled its procurement spending with Preston companies from 14% in 2012-13 to 28% in 2014-15.

Brown and his colleagues want to build a city where workers are in control of wealth, improving people’s sense of citizenship. “We’ve got the public pension fund to invest in student housing, we’re looking at setting up a local bank to give business loans and for the local authority to become an energy provider,” he says. “You put all that together and you can see how we are developing the infrastructure for a new economy.”

The model was inspired by cooperatively run communities in Cleveland, Ohio and the world’s largest co-operative group, Mondragón, in the Basque region of Spain, and has been cited in speeches by the shadow chancellor John McDonnell and other councils, including Birmingham, Rochdale and Sheffield have taken an interest in the initiative.

Matthew Brown has worked with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, a Manchester-based think tank with considerable experience of working collaboratively with local authorities and other institutions to boost local economies.

CLES is  working in Birmingham with Localise West Midlands because for many years LWM has made the case for more inclusive, ‘locally grown’ economies – see its ground-breaking report, Mainstreaming Community Economic Development. The focus is on those ‘anchor institutions’ which have a major impact on the city.  As part of a separate initiative, LWM is working with the New Economics Foundation, CLES and New Start. They have brought together a group of local practitioners from the region which has suggested a focus on health and social care. Read on here.

Brown believes that as a result of the financial crisis and its aftermath people are ready to hear a radically different way of thinking about politics and that Corbyn can win a Labour party victory in 2020. Until then, Preston is backing the northern powerhouse initiative to secure devolution, allowing it to build what Brown believes are the foundations of a new economy away from the City and Westminster.

“The days of getting huge inward investments are over, so the sensible way is looking at how you can do that through your local area to make something new,” he says. “This is it.”

 

 

 

Doncaster leads on local sourcing

As local sourcing where appropriate is central to relocalising and strengthening regional economies, many will welcome news of a pledge made by Doncaster’s Mayor Ros Jones to ‘buy local’.

mayor ros jonesBusiness Desk reports that when Ros Jones became Mayor in 2013, the council spent more money with firms located outside of borough, but now the vast majority of work goes to local firms, supporting the local economy and helping to stimulate jobs and growth.

Mayor Jones said: “I was determined Doncaster firms could bid for suitable contracts and by understanding what is involved in the procurement process have every opportunity to win work. We have put on workshops, organised events and provided support for business owners so they understand the rules, can find available contracts and know how to prepare their tender bids. This work is certainly paying off with amount of work being won by local firms increasing by a staggering 34% in the last four years”.

Doncaster Council’s procurement team has trained about 130 businesses on how to do business with the public sector and procurement rules have been changed to include local suppliers.

Working with the Business Doncaster team, supplier engagement events have enabled firms to meet public sector buyers, while other public sector agencies in Doncaster have also been encouraged to ‘buy local’.

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doncaster chamber logo

Dan Fell, the innovative chief executive of Doncaster Chamber, added: “Doncaster Chamber believes that it is important for local organisations in the public and private sectors to do business with each other to generate new supply chains and keep work local where possible.  For many years the Chamber has encouraged partners to ‘Buy Doncaster’ and, as such, is delighted that Doncaster Council has such a high percentage of its good and services locally.”

Because of Mayor Ros Jones’ pledge to ‘buy local’ – and despite reduced council budgets – the amount of work awarded to firms in the borough increased by over £27m since 2013/14 and now represents 68% of all council spend. In  2016/17, Doncaster based companies are projected to win over £108m of council work.

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Endnote: see news of the Birmingham Pound which encourages sourcing of local goods and services: https://brumpound.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Birmingham Newsroom: find it and buy it from local businesses to help the local economy

m-mahmood-small-at-rally-supporting-jcBirmingham Newsroom, Birmingham City Council’s online press office writes about Find it in Birmingham, the city council’s procurement portal where the goods and services the council needs to go about its business are bought, aiming to make sure the Birmingham pound is kept local. 

Councillor Majid Mahmood, cabinet member for value for money and efficiency, has talked about how the city council’s procurement portal is helping boost business and jobs in the city, alongside beneficiary Lightpower, who won a contract with Centro. See the short video here.

He adds that all evidence suggests buying from local small businesses will help the local economy, as local small companies are more likely to employ people locally and spend their earnings locally.

birmingham-pound-kl-hubThis is precisely the awareness expressed by Localise West Midlands (LWM) about helping to set up a ‘dedicated’ Birmingham Pound, which would encourage individuals and businesses to source goods and services within the city region.

Years ago LWM organised a conference exploring public procurement, funded by AWM and the Countryside Agency and attended by those involved in procurement, with representation from most of the region’s local authorities and various health and other statutory bodies (Click here).

Two reports were produced: a summary of local public procurement initiatives, and the report of the conference itself. Following discussions at the conference, a regional strategy group and regional practitioners’ group were set up. These are making progress on a range of procurement issues. LWM continues to contribute to these groups, noting that the WTO’s liberalisation agenda has been contributing to the loss of local and national control of purchasing, which has been keenly felt by those prioritising local public services above corporate profit. LWM added its voice to that of many organisations calling for national government to bring such concerns on procurement to the WTO negotiations.

That earlier initiative related to food procurement: the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility has a wider brief but is also about trying to keep investment local, by making sure that local businesses have the best chance to secure part of the £1bn of investment the Council spends every year on providing services.

There is also now a welcome emphasis on ‘putting the local back into house building’ and, as Councillor Tahir Ali said when the charter was launched, the city’s more diverse house building programme has large sites where the usual house builders offer the best economies of scale but it now also has an ‘emerging portfolio’ of smaller sites. In accordance with the charter, the council wants to enable small and medium enterprises to secure this type of work in the future. He ended:

“This has strong links to Find it in Birmingham which I hope you are all signed up to so that you can see the range of opportunities that are available to small and medium sized enterprises that are located here in the city”.

 

 

 

News from the Combined Authority AGM

The West Midlands Combined Authority intended to hold its inaugural AGM last Friday, 10 June, but a little local difficulty in the House of Commons meant that the legislation hadn’t been completed in time.  They went ahead with the planned business, intending to ratify it once the powers had been vested in them.

The meeting was held in Hall 4 at the ICC, around a huge table to accommodate the council leaders, chief execs, LEP and others.  There had been very little publicity for the event, but there were a number of interested people in the public seats.

Much of the agenda was formal acceptance of constitutional matters – the agenda and papers are here:

https://westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/committee-papers/west-midlands-combined-authority-board/

Cllr Bob Sleigh from Solihull was elected chair and Cllr Pete Lowe from Dudley was vice-chair.

The reports pack does include the governance structure at p37, which is worth a look as it indicates the areas of future work. The portfolios were not allocated though: this was deferred/delayed to an unspecified future date.

There was an intervention from David Jamieson, the Police and Crime Commissioner about the powers of the mayor and the potential for the WMCA to veto the mayor’s decisions.  He felt he couldn’t support the transfer of police powers to the mayor on that basis.

The Strategic Economic Plan was not available in advance: despite being launched before the meeting, it was not handed out until the relevant item was reached on the agenda.  The online version is quite hard to find but this is the link:

https://westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/about/strategic-economic-plan/

Some of the diagrams do require a measure of caution – see Ravi Subramanian’s take on one of them:

The idea was repeated that this was part of a nest or set of SEPs which incorporates the three LEP SEPs.  The versions shown for this were the 2014 ones, so no formal updating has yet taken place.

Martin Reeves, the “Head of Paid Service” and Chief Exec at Coventry CC, introducing the SEP, said that the dynamic economic impact model was the most exciting part of the strategy.

The Strategic Transport Plan was also presented – this was part of the papers circulated in advance, as above.   The chair of the transport delivery committee will be Cllr Richard Worrall from Walsall, but the decision on a vice-chair was deferred.

There were also updates from the three commissions:  Norman Lamb MP gave an interesting verbal update on the work of the Mental Health Commission.  While he did emphasise that their work was about reducing the cost of mental ill-health and addressing the impact on productivity, he talked about the West Midlands leading the way nationally and that it was not a one-off exercise but the start of a journey.  They have looked at the work of Thrive NYC, which is led by the Mayor of New York,and favour a similar concordat approach.  He also mentioned the criminal justice system and that they have identified that mental health treatment orders are not being used.  The full report from the commission will be launched in September, but there were no notes or slides from his update.

The Land Commission update really just identified that they are not under way yet.  The one which worried me was the Productivity and Skills Commission report.  Sarah Middleton, the chief executive of the Black Country Consortium, gave a brief report.  The chair of the commission would be announced shortly.  Desktop research had been done re mapping and research, and there would be a workshop on 4 July for regional and national experts to identify lines of enquiry. This would be business-led with support from the universities.    There seemed to be very little planned to involve local groups or to allow the voices of young people and seldom heard groups to be heard.  Nick Page, chief exec at Solihull MBC, seemed to be the lead on that, so organisations who feel they should be there should probably contact him.

Overall, it was difficult to tell if the less than inclusive approach was deliberate, or accidental given their timescales and resources.  We do need to keep reminding the Combined Authority that civil society expects them to make some of the effort to engage.

Karen McCarthy

How and why has the community spirit evident in Stirchley and neighbouring Bournville developed?

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As the writer saw in the first hour over a hundred local people flocking into Stirchley’s restored Edwardian Baths, their new community hub, with more coming through the door as she left, she remembered one resident’s words in Stirchley online:

Stirchley is a unique community. It must be one of the only remaining Edwardian designed High Streets left in Birmingham still mostly populated by independent traders of all descriptions.

Around this high street are hundreds of affordable owner occupied households of all age groups and ethnicities.

Its residents generally display the old Brummie attributes of being amiable, tolerant and willing to work with each other.

It has parkland aplenty, great public transport routes and is as much alive at night as it is in the daytime.

change kitchenStirchley Baths is a Grade II listed building, built in 1910 and closed to the public since 1988. Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet approved plans to transform the building into a community hub in 2012. It has ‘re-emerged’ with a community hall, meeting rooms, cinema space and training rooms. Its café will be run by Change Kitchen, well-known in the city centre, an imaginative choice.

Stirchley groups who intend to use the hub include established leisure, karate, arts and crafts groups, heritage initiatives, film nights and the monthly Stirchley community market. Three enquiries have been received from couples hoping to have their wedding receptions there.

The question stands: how and why has the community spirit evident in Stirchley and neighbouring Bournville developed?

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More about Stirchley:

http://stirchleybaths.org/timeline/

https://stirchleyhappenings.wordpress.com/

http://stirchley.co.uk/onlineforum/index.php

https://ourbirmingham.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/tonight-see-stirchleys-restored-edwardian-baths-preserving-and-reinstating-many-original-features/ (pictures of the exterior)

 

Time Banks summary

Assembled because of the 15th October, Public Timebanking event in Birmingham

The world’s first time bank is said to have been established in 1973 by a Japanese woman. The benefits that older time bank members derived included formation of new friendship networks to replace those lost by retirement and the chance to use old skills and learn new ones. Time banks can generate a new form of social capital that fosters traditional Japanese reciprocity and has ikigai or ‘sense of meaning in life’ as one of its main pillars. See Elizabeth Miller’s thesis, submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Australian National University June 2008.

time banks boyle coverDavid Boyle, who helped to found the London Time Bank, wrote a 2001 briefing, published on the New Economics Foundation blog, setting out a practical prescription for community time banks, that can release human resources to tackle deep-rooted social problems and also provide practical and effective solutions for a range of public policy problems. Download here.

The time bank idea was further developed at the London School of Economics by Washington law professor Edgar Cahn in 1986, who describes the idea as working like a blood bank or babysitting club: “Help a neighbour and then, when you need it, a neighbour – most likely a different one – will help you. The system is based on equality: one hour of help means one time dollar, whether the task is grocery shopping or making out a tax return… Credits are kept in individual accounts in a ‘bank’ on a personal computer. Credits and debits are tallied regularly. Some banks provide monthly balance statements, recording the flow of good deeds.”

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Our database first records a reference to a 2001 letter to Ed Mayo, then director of the New Economics Foundation, enclosing a donation for the Time Bank work with a local reference:

“I rather like our South Birmingham LETS social fund, which enables elderly and/or frail people who are not LETS members to use the appropriate services – shopping, sitting, gardening etc. It costs nothing except members’ donations of Hearts to the fund. Where Time Banks will perhaps work better is in becoming better known – forming linkages with Health Centres and other organisations – because the gripe here is that the fund is not used enough”.

The Farmers Guardian (26.10.01) recorded that the Cumbria Rural Women’s Network was helping women to train or retrain, set up or expand their businesses. The network catered for 16-year-olds upwards with some 15 local networks bringing women together on a geographic or common interest such as a wool group. Voluntary co-ordinators and mentors – successful business women or rural women with professional training – advised and supported budding entrepreneurs. The commitment was repaid by the time bank – this means that their time is repaid by an equivalent amount of someone else’s work or training time.

In its 2002 Social Enterprise Strategy (now archived) the Department of Trade and Industry highlighted the remarkable upsurge in competitive social enterprises – credit unions, social firms, housing co-operatives, fair-trade and ecological enterprises, managed workspaces, farmers’ markets, recycling initiatives, employment services, community shops, arts ventures, social care co-operatives and time banks.

James Robertson’s Newsletter No. 8 – December 2005, brought news of a Municipal Time Bank: ”The Overstrand Municipality in Hermanus is running this project in partnership with SANE and the Embassy of Finland. It enables poor people in the municipality to reduce their debts or pay for services, and the municipality gains the value of the work they do. The benefits of this Community Exchange System (CES) are that people work for each other and their communities. This encourages people to identify and use their skills to meet local needs, builds the local economy and community, and compensates for cashlessness.

2015

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http://timebank.org.uk/

Community energy solutions: Plymouth

In 2012 Plymouth’s co-operative city council established a Low Carbon City Team, which helped to identify the city’s potential for community energy solutions and forge partnerships. The council funded pre-development, initial community engagement and business plan development.

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In 2013 it joined forces with local residents to form Plymouth Energy Community (PEC) which then set up a second Industrial & Provident community benefit society (Bencom), PEC Renewables, to fund and manage renewable energy installations. PEC has 850 members, 95% of whom are local residents, and the number is rising, with more joining as the current share offer progresses.

Marie-Claire Kidd reports that Plymouth’s energy future is changing. PEC Renewables launched its first share offer in February 2014. It closed after seven weeks, oversubscribed at £602,000, with 144 investor members, around half of them local. This enabled it to install free solar photovoltaics on 18 schools and three community buildings between May and November 2014.

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The installations, which collectively represent 0.78 megawatts, are now generating half-price electricity for their community building hosts. Surplus electricity is sold to the grid. The bencom also receives income in the form of a government subsidy, via the Feed-in Tariff.

PEC Renewables launched its second community share offer this February, this time with a £950,000 target. It will fund more free solar photovoltaics, and bring the bencom’s community fund to more than £1.2m. It is forecasting a return of up to 6% for members, which rises to 10.5% including tax relief. The offer, which closes on 5 May, has already raised £510,000.

midland house council offices plymouth

Plymouth’s largest solar roof will be installed on Plymouth Life Centre, a diving centre and one of the busiest leisure centres in the country, and there will be solar panels on four more schools, bringing the total to 1.3MW. (Above: panels on Midland House, a Plymouth council office)

Plymouth has 11,500 households in fuel poverty – 10% of its population – and an energy-inefficient housing stock. The city council has produced a plan to reduce emissions from the council estate by 20% by 2015 and reduce citywide emissions by 30% by 2020.

One of its main aims is to help local people to understand their energy options, so it is promoting grant schemes for free cavity and loft insulation and subsidised external wall insulation, offering savings of around £260 per household per year. It has also provided energy tariff advice for over 600 households, offering average savings of £180 per year.

PEC Renewables’ community fund is being used to tackle the challenges of rising energy costs, fuel poverty and climate change. Projects include PEC’s fuel debt advice service, which has helped local residents clear £55,000 of energy bill arrears in the last 10 months, and its energy team, which trains volunteers to provide free home energy advice to at-risk households.

 

To learn about Plymouth’s plans for the future, read Ms Kidd’s article.