Post-Brexit we need to build an economy for the many

‘Home-grown solutions’

neil mcinroyYesterday, Ann (West Midlands New Economics Group) sent a link to an article by Neil McInroy (right), chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. CLES focusses on economic development and regeneration, ‘promoting and implementing new progressive economic activities which create positive environmental, health and social outcomes’.

It was recently published in the New Start magazine under the title given and a few highlights are offered here:

“Framed by austerity, the economic reality behind many voters choosing Brexit was a future of little promise – insecure jobs, insecure public provision, insecure futures. As a result, many leave voters felt that they had little or nothing to lose. On the back of an economic recession eight years ago, insecurity and a social recession has been built . . .

“Maybe the game is up now? Brexit may now consume the energies of Whitehall and the treasury. The rhetoric and promise of more devolution from Whitehall may at best slow, if not stop. We can hope for more and deeper devolution, but I suspect this is a forlorn hope. More importantly, there is a pressing task in reducing the existing pain and hardship and addressing deteriorating community relations and cohesion.

“In this, the local economic development community, local politicians and potential Metro mayoral candidates have a responsibility. They must strive to protect and build progressive economic and social policy. They must look toward home-grown solutions, and radical innovations across public, social and commercial sectors. They must adopt a pro-social approach to local economic development. This is less about treasury-backed local agglomeration policies, boomgoggling promises and trickle down. This is about stimulating local demand, social investment, addressing city-wide inequalities and the economics of social cohesion. Progressive local solutions are out there. We need to be bold in accelerating them.

“I would hope the newly-formed commission on inclusive growth . . . (will) use its influence to broaden its narrow growth-within-austerity remit, and explore how to build a truly democratic, inclusive and resilient economy within fairly-funded public services.

“The Brexit vote was in part prompted by a sense that people felt abandoned by the economy, and the state. This has created a new local economic and political reality, and with it come great dangers. As such we must avoid deepening the social recession and accelerating the divides between the haves and the have-nots. It is imperative that we now build an economy for the many and not just the few”.

Read the whole article here: http://newstartmag.co.uk/your-blogs/post-brexit-need-economy-many/

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

Roundtable meeting: Shaping the Combined Authority’s economic agenda

We are organising a West Midlands Civil Society Forum roundtable meeting to discuss and influence how the Combined Authority’s economic agenda can best meet the needs of all communities and neighbourhoods. This will be on Thursday 9th June at 4pm in Birmingham. Venue to be confirmed. It is open to all interested civil society organisations in the area – although as a roundtable meeting there are limited places.

As background – we have been involved in establishing a West Midlands Civil Society Forum, to provide a voice for civil society into Combined Authority decision-making. We are at early stages – with positive noises from the Combined Authority about our role – and are seeking new organisational members. For more information and to join the wider Forum, click here.

Although still in embryonic form, the Forum is establishing working groups on issues that the Combined Authority will be addressing, and is aiming to engage as much of civil society as possible in these discussions. This roundtable is part of that process: as an immediate outcome its results will be summarised in a short statement and fed into the Combined Authority leadership to be taken into account in its decision-making. In the longer term we hope to establish an economics, training and development working group to continue engagement with the Combined Authority.

If you’re interested in attending, please email karen@localisewestmidlands.org.uk telling us what civil society organisation you represent and we will let you know if there are still spaces.

If you can’t make the meeting, but would like to contribute to our thinking, please send us an email with your thoughts and we will feed this in and keep you informed. And don’t forget you can join the wider forum as above.

Karen Leach (LWM) and Ted Ryan (RnR)

Sheffield and Balsall Heath: the real march of the makers

julian dobson2The observations of Julian Dobson (Living With Rats blogspot @juliandobson), strike a welcome and hopeful chord after reading the dismal question: “Will Chancellor Osborne cripple the ‘makers’?”

A search revealed JD’s substantial localist credentials – as director of Urban Pollinators, which helps to make sense of regeneration and the editorial director of New Start, the national magazine for regeneration practitioners. He is on the editorial board of the journal Local Economy and writes think tanks and publications such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and Res Publica. He is helping to create Our Society, a social action network, and Revive Our Town Centres, a network for people involved in rethinking local high streets.

george osborne 2 smallerChancellor George Osborne closed his 2011 Budget speech by eloquently setting out his aspiration for “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”. But recently he caused consternation by closing down the Business Growth Service, including the Manufacturing Advisory Service and the Growth Accelerator programme.

Julian observes that if there’s going to be a march of the makers, it is more likely to take the form of developments such as Portland Works in Sheffield, a stone’s throw from Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground, a development born of “a local determination to see Portland Works kept in use as a place for making”.

He relates that a community trust was formed when the previous owner wanted to cash in and convert the premises into flats: more than 500 people bought into a community share issue, reflecting the groundswell of support both for the works’ heritage and the trust’s vision of the future”.

portland works

Portland Works currently has 32 tenants with a wide spread of interest, including a knife maker, engraver, forge operator, several artists, a rug maker, a window maker, a distiller, bike-makers, woodturners, musicians and jewellers.

Though both are beset by the difficulties of maintaining an old building, a similar pattern can be seen in Birmingham (below, rear view) at The Old Print Works in Balsall Heath – first mentioned on this site in 2013 – where ‘makers’ work in low-cost spaces.

old print worksFollowing his account, Julian Dobson concludes:

“If there’s going to be a march of the makers, it is more likely to look like this than the kind of projects favoured by central government and its placemen in local enterprise partnerships, obsessed with projects that rejoice in titles like Catapult and Accelerator.

“It is likely to be a much slower march than the periodic stampedes of real estate and financial services speculators, too. But it has the potential to last far longer and to create more useful stuff in the process.

“And while there’s no doubt that the makers of Portland Works are having to rough it far more than government ministers and their acolytes might be used to, I’d hazard a guess that their work is both more creative and more fulfilling”.

Localism: a rescue plan for British democracy

A notable omission from Localise West Midlands’ extensive range of articles about, or with references to localism, is a review of a book by Simon Jenkins: Big Bang Localism: a rescue plan for British democracy.

big bang localismIn this book he attributes the decline in British voter interest and participation to the over-centralisation of power in Whitehall, ‘one of the most centralised governments in the West’. As turnouts in elections are dwindling, he notes, many are turning to ad hoc pressure groups and direct action.

Centralisation has not worked well, Jenkins believes; levels of satisfaction with health care, education and policing are lower in Britain than almost anywhere in the developed world. He notes a change in public opinion which once, on the whole, believed that the British government works well and is now shifting to a belief that it needs improving, citing contemporary YouGov polls showing a rise in discontent with public services and health care

Twelve years later the need to heed Jenkins’ pre Corbyn message has never been greater as the established on the political left and right frantically attempt to discredit and unseat a democratically elected party leader.

He noted that Britain’s local councillors are outnumbered three-to-one by 60,000 unelected people serving on roughly 5,200 local quangos, managing various functions that may be local but are no longer under local democratic control. Examples include health service, housing, prisons, training and economic development.

Jenkins points out that, across Europe, countries have spent the past two decades refreshing their local democracy – even traditionally centralised countries like France have devolved. The USA operates the most decentralised system of government and in these countries, public services are delivered more locally than in Britain – and win greater public trust as a result.

He sets out a programme for a ‘democratic Big Bang’, to return power to the local level, including control over health, police and education services, to re-enfranchise the British people:

Counties and cities should run:

  • health services
  • secondary schools
  • policing
  • the prison and probation services
  • youth employment and training
  • planning.

Municipalities and parishes should run whatever gives a community its pride and visual character:

  • primary schools
  • old people’s homes
  • nurseries and day-care centres
  • clinics and surgeries
  • parks and sports centres.

Local services should mostly be funded by local taxation, which should be raised from a combination of:

  • residential property tax
  • business rates
  • local income tax.

Jenkins proposes that central government funding of local services should take the form of a block grant, determined by the Local Democracy Commissioner and paid to local authorities with no strings attached.

The “enemies of localism” are vested interests and the national media, but devolution in Scotland and Wales shows that people prefer decisions about local services to be made locally. Simon Jenkins recommends that the Big Bang should start with a “bonfire of central controls” and an end to targets and official league tables, adding “Big Bang Localism is the answer to the failure of Britain’s public services and the loss of faith in British democracy”.

Financial tools supporting the local economy: the world’s first crowd-funded fee free payment app

“There seems be a real appetite among consumers to buy from independent retailers and support community shopping”

droplet header

Those who have been expressing interest in Localise West Midlands’s involvement with a future Birmingham Pound will also read the Birmingham Press account of Birmingham’s Droplet a mobile app born in Birmingham promising a ‘customer loyalty revolution’.

droplet snapshot 1a brum

The Press reports: “Droplet, the brainchild of tech entrepreneurs Steffan Aquarone and Will Grant, has used £575,000 of Crowdfunding to take the world’s first fee free payment app into eight cities across the UK. More than 300 independent retailers across Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Norwich are now accepting transactions by using the simple mobile app . . . The first eight cities have been chosen due to their vibrant independent scenes and their willingness to embrace new idea. Local ambassadors, who are well known in the community, have been appointed in each location to work with merchants to introduce the technology and grow the Droplet brand organically. With user numbers now over 23,000, there are plans already in place to build on the initial rollout by targeting another ten cities in 2016.

Will Grant says: “Birmingham is still a critically important city for us. This is where the Droplet story all began and we have just strengthened our team here to include new ambassador Laura Patricia Jones. She will be charged with building on our existing merchant base of 35 retailers and growing our user numbers in the city.”

droplet snapshot 3 brum

Using Droplet is simple for the consumer, just tap ‘pay here’ when entering a registered outlet for the first time and the payment is taken directly from your chosen card – you’ll get a notification on your phone to show how much you’ve been charged and the reward stamps you’ve earned.


For further information, please visit www.dropletpay.com follow @dropletpay on twitter or watch the launch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzG1cO1-jXA

The latest neighbourhood initiative: ShirleyTOPS

shirley tops header

ShirleyTOPS is a community focused web site designed to encourage Shirley residents to support local businesses. It promotes around 500 businesses that trade across the Shirley area, listing shops by category – with clubs, nurseries, doctors, schools and a range of organisations promoted as well as over 500 places to shop or relax and enjoy a drink or meal. There is also a useful section on units to let.

shirley tops graphic

Developed at no cost to Shirley businesses, or the council tax payer, the ShirleyTOPS web site is sponsored by The Solihull Green Party. The content has been made possible thanks to hundreds of hours of input by volunteers.

Councillor Howard Allen sends the link: http://www.shirleytops.co.uk/. He writes:

Shirley high street in particular has suffered recently as Parkgate, instead of bringing the promised high street ‘names’, competes with the high street by adding to the number of bargain and charity shops. The situation is not desperate but some quick action is needed to halt and reverse the decline. Hopefully, the ShirleyTOPS web site will help by encouraging residents to support the local economy and shop locally rather than travelling further afield.

If anyone wants a club or society advertised and it’s not already on ShirleyTOPS then please just let me know. There is a contact form on the website for all to use.

shirley banner

Shirley Greens will be regularly advertising the ShirleyTOPS website to the over 16,000 homes in Shirley asking residents to use local businesses wherever possible. The Shirley Greens will also be direct mailing everyone who moves to Shirley to both advise them of all the things on offer in the area and again asking them to support their local businesses.

We are very happy to advertise any promotional activity being undertaken by any Shirley business or community group. All they need to do is let us have the details and we will add them to the ShirleyTOPS web site.

Please spread the word and also let me know of any businesses or organisations you think I have missed.

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Cllr Howard Allen – Shirley West ward, Solihull MBC

Local development as a strategic alternative in Fife

Once again many will question the dependence on a global market economy as headlines shout, “China’s ‘Black Monday’ sends markets reeling”. For months, in a range of publications, Mohamed El-Erian, who chairs President Obama’s Global Development Council, has been forecasting the risk of a ‘perfect storm’, adding that considering ‘its destructive potential, it warrants serious attention by policymakers’, though China does not loom large in his list of contributing factors.

fifediet small family2

Mike Small (with family, above) is said to be ‘behind’ the Fife Diet local eating experiment, which aims to relocalise food production and distribution on a regional basis, as a response to globalisation and climate change. See a 2008 Telegraph article and more in depth on the Transition Culture website.

Remarkably, it is funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund and has also received funding from Celebrating Fife, the Co-op Community Fund and Awards for All.

Over an eight year period the Fife Diet has developed from a simple idea framed around ‘local eating’ to a complex one about sustainable food, environmental justice, globalisation and culture. They set out to build a sustainable food movement that popularised eating healthy, local produce in Fife, starting from the understanding that there is something fundamentally wrong with the food system but also from the thought that they could, by acting collectively, do something about it.

They now believe that food has become central to the precarious economy. Real progress won’t be made until control is regained over the retail experience, and profiteers that benefit from products that fuel obesity are confronted.

In the Food Manifesto they are developing, they call for opportunities for the ‘right to grow’ and an expectation of quality healthy food in our public institutions, aiming eventually to become – as the Scottish government puts it, a ‘Good Food Nation’.

FAQ: “But what fruit do you eat?” Fife’s Pittormie fruit farm produce:

fife's pittormirefruitboxjuly091

Remarkable achievements listed on their site:

CELEBRATING OUR OWN FOOD CULTURE

When we started we were met by a mixture of incredulity and poorly-disguised scepticism. People really didn’t think that you could eat food from Fife, and survive at all. It was just unthinkable, unimaginable.

CARBON SAVINGS

In 2011-2012 we saved 1019 tonnes of C02e. Then, in a three year period (April 2012- March 2015) we saved a further 6976.37 tonnes of C02e. These are immediate savings, by diverting food waste from landfill thereby avoiding creating methane, for example, or by sequestering carbon and enriching soil with compost, but also by eating locally, growing our own food, eating organic, changing the meat we ate (and eating less of it).

OUTREACH

We held or attended over 500 outreach events over the three years, engaging with 15,520 people.

GROWING SPACES

We established a community food growing garden, a wildlife and forest garden and a vibrant volunteer and community group who are maintaining them. We hosted 57 events at the garden, including the children’s gardening club, large community lunches and volunteer sessions.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

We ran 79 weekly children’s gardening clubs (79 clubs over three years) and hosted 7 large-scale community events.

LEADING THE WAY

We were part of building a new food movement in Scotland that encompasses the right to food, championing small producers, insisting on sustainability as a measurement of quality in food production and celebrating food sovereignty.

NEW ORCHARDS

We planted 7 orchards around Scotland from Galloway to Sutherland with our Silver Bough tour (‘ a cultural conversation about apples’).

SCHOOL LUNCHES PILOT

We collaborated with Fife Council and the Soil Association in a pilot project exploring regionally sourced, healthy, sustainable and organic school lunches. See here.

INSPIRATIONAL PRINTED MATERIAL

We published a series of inspiring posters, postcards, booklets and other materials including recipe books, calendars, guides on native apple varieties and a booklet on gardening with kids. We also produced a free Ebook for our members of Collected Recipes from the life of the project.

BIRTHING THE ORCHARD COLLECTIVE

We curated and hosted the National Orchard gathering and helping the Orchard Collective into existence.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

We are proud to have been part of a wider movement and welcomed the collaborative work over the past eight years with such groups as Nourish, the Soil Association, Slow Food, Permaculture Scotland and Transition Towns.

Much more here: http://fifediet.co.uk/fife-diet-chronology/

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End note: protect and rediversify local economies

pp hines logoAs LWM’s co-founder, Colin Hines, has written, there is growing opposition to a system which regards as inevitable the driving down of tax rates for higher income earners, worsens social and environmental conditions and kills local jobs and small business opportunities:

“Whistling in the dark to keep up the nation’s economic spirits by promising export-led growth in an era of rising Asian dominance is a ridiculous policy. The alternative to these dangerous and damaging dark alleys is to propose a set of practical measures for protecting and rediversifyng local economies. This is the only way to tackle the economic and environmental crises, return local control of the economy to citizens and provide a sense of hope for their future . . .”

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Is a quiet political revolution getting under way?

As the old order with its class and gender hierarchies gave way, George Monbiot points out that the void filled with junk could have been occupied by a better society, built on mutual support and connectedness, without the stifling stratification of the old order.

The feast to which we were invited is only for the few’

foe logoInstead, as the developed world – saturated with advertising, the handmaiden of market fundamentalism – became reliant on rising consumption to avert economic collapse, he notes that Friends of the Earth has begun to explore how we might reconnect with each other and with the natural world. New models for urban living are based on sharing rather than competitive consumption:

  • the sharing of cars and appliances and tools,
  • of money (through credit unions and micro-finance) and power.
  • community-led decision-making, over transport, planning and, perhaps, rent levels, minimum and maximum wages,
  • municipal budgets and taxation.

Such initiatives, facilitated by the state can bring people together with a sense of shared purpose, ownership and mutual support that centralised decision-making can never provide. But in some areas, non-party political movements are achieving this without that elusive government facilitation

Independents

Peter Macfadyen, Kate Bielby and Mel Usher of Independents for Frome
Peter Macfadyen, Kate Bielby and Mel Usher of Independents for Frome

Today, a neighbour gave the writer a cutting about Frome’s declaration of independence.

This Somerset market town has developed “flatpack democracy”, taking political power at a local level and enabling people to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.”

Independents for Frome took all 17 seats on Frome’s town council, with vote-shares as high as 70%, and support from people who cast their other votes for the main political parties.  

Localism in action

Though local Conservatives were convinced that austerity had to apply even at the most local level, the council has borrowed around £750,000 to invest in buildings and land:

  • green spaces have been spruced up
  • game-changing help has been given to the local credit union
  • he council is involved in a new renewable energy cooperative,
  • and has put money into the setting up of a new “share shop”

In Devon the Buckfastleigh Independents group have followed a similar path. the town’s new deputy mayor, Pam Barrett says the town is ”a working-class town that’s been suffering from a real loss of services.” After fighting – successfully – to keep open a library and swimming pool, she and other residents stood for town council seats that had not been contested for “20 or more years”. One of the catalysts, she says, was a box of 10 copies of the Flatpack Democracy booklet, which was brought in by one of her colleagues. On 7 May, they also took nine of 12 seats, and started running the show.

Flatpack Democracy ideas are being shared with other groups in Devon and Somerset and though people in Alderley Edge, Cheshire were not aware of developments in the West Country, their thinking is much the same: as one newly elected councillor, Mike Dudley-Jones, said: “our basic mantra is that there is no place for mainstream party politics at this level”.

On election day, Conservatives lost all nine of the parish council’s seats to this group – Alderley Edge First – which also took the village’s one seat on Cheshire East council.

A localising message from former MP Andrew George and journalist George Monbiot

andrew georgeFormer MP Andrew George sent an email message today; though no longer in Parliament, he wants to work with colleagues of all parties to create a progressive alliance to challenge and oppose government action detrimental to those who need help, our communities, our public services, the NHS and the environment.

He added that the Conservatives – with less than 25% of the electorate having voted for them – are now entitled to govern this country . . . They may have a parliamentary mandate, but they don’t have a moral justification to rule as they please”.

The next message in the inbox was from George Monbiot who took up the narrative and described the process:

George Monbiot 3He asserts that “No progressive party can survive the corporate press, corrupt party funding systems and conservative fear machines by fighting these forces on their own terms”. His prescription:

“The left can build only from the ground up; reshaping itself through the revitalisation of communities, working with local people to help fill the gaps in social provision left by an uncaring elite. Successful progressive movements must now be citizen’s advice bureau, housing association, scout troop, trade union, credit union, bingo hall, food bank, careworker, football club and evangelical church, rolled into one. Focus groups and spin doctors no longer deliver . . .

“In Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, such movements transformed political life. They have evicted governments opposed to their interests and held to account those who claim to represent them. Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been inspired, directly or indirectly, by the Latin American experience”.

Monbiot referred to Ed Miliband’s Movement for Change (read more here), which has “lobbied job centres to stop treating applicants like criminals; pressed local businesses to advertise their jobs openly; urged the police to change the way they engage with victims of domestic abuse; chivvied councils to clear up discarded needles; struggled against revenge evictions; asked local media to stop running advertisements for loan sharks and sought to provide alternative finance; and appealed to the owners of derelict buildings to rehabilitate them, all with a degree of success”.

He warns that rebuilding community has to start almost from scratch and might take decades because in Britain community life is weaker than almost anywhere else.

The timeline:

  • destruction of rural populations through enclosure and agricultural change, rapid and chaotic urbanisation based around industries that later collapsed,
  • the implosion of organised labour,
  • extreme atomisation and hyper-consumerism

But until it happens, there’s little hope for lasting progressive change in this country.

Monbiot ends: “Revitalising communities is not just an election strategy. It is a programme for change in its own right; even without a sympathetic government. If it takes root, it will outlast the vicissitudes of politics. But it will also make success more likely. If Labour wants to reconnect, it must be the change it wants to see”.