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:

“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.

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”.

 

 

 

b

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.

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’.

.
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.

birmingham pound header

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

 

 

 

Corbyn focusses on decentralisation: localising energy and transport

corbyn-eee-manifestoJeremy Corbyn has launched an environmental manifesto that outlines plans for the UK to achieve 65% of energy from renewable sources by 2030 – without fracking.

Corbyn proposes to put cities, councils, devolved governments and communities at the heart of an efficient, decentralised energy system by promoting a shift to electric and hydrogen buses and cars; a network of low-emission zones and cycling with safe cycle lanes and hire schemes in every town and city.

The manifesto places social enterprises, including not-for-profits and co-ops at the heart of Corbyn’s plans for a “publicly run, locally accountable energy system”.

A “publicly run, locally accountable energy system”.

In a speech in Nottingham, the Labour leader said, “We want Britain to be the world’s leading producer of renewable technology. To achieve this, we will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, and drive the expansion of the green industries and jobs of the future, using our National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy. This will deliver clean energy and curb energy bill rises for households; an energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies.”

He has promised to promote over a thousand local energy companies in the next parliament and legislate to give community energy co-operatives the right to sell energy directly to the communities they serve.

Housing

It would launch a National Home Insulation plan to insulate at least 4 million homes and phase out coal-fired power by 2025. The Labour leader estimates over 300,000 jobs would be created in the renewables sector as a result of these measures.

corbyn-eee-graphic

Labour would reinstate the department for energy and climate change in its first month of going back into government, as part of its plan to rebuild and transform Britain, “so that no-one and no community is left behind,” he said at the event in Nottingham.

Jeremy Corbyn also encourages the British public to take action as individuals to help to meet the Paris climate agreement. He proposes to use the precautionary principle to protect the environment and people from harm – not a pay-to-pollute approach allowing the richest corporations and individuals to wreck our planet.

 

 

 

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/

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”.

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

stirchley baths 3

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?

stirchley banner

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)

 

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”.

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.

plymouth bencom header

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.

pec investors

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.