WMCA’s new Inclusive Growth Unit

WMCA’s new Inclusive Growth Unit

We’re really pleased to be part of the WMCA’s new Inclusive Growth Unit https://www.wmca.org.uk/news/linking-cranes-with-communities-wmca-launches-inclusive-growth-unit/. It’s an opportunity to go beyond a focus on ‘problem people’ to the systemic reasons why we fail to share prosperity and how this can be addressed regionally.

We will be coordinating the input of civil society organisations into the inclusive growth agenda as well as having more general input into the Unit from our 20 years experience of exploring beneficial economics in the region. As part of our Barrow Cadbury funded work we’ve already held a workshop in February for organisations who have some level of ‘frontline’ role in economic justice and shared some initial conclusions with our WMCA contacts.

It will be a challenge for the WMCA and its partners including ourselves to coordinate the plethora of work strands – and overlaps with the social enterprise task force – into something that has the power to impact on the ‘business as usual’ growth-led approach that we have seen in every strategic economic plan since they were invented. But from what we have seen there is a genuine appetite to see change in how we value and deliver economics – so we are confident this is worth engaging with. The appointment of Claire Spencer as inclusive growth lead is definitely worth celebrating, but many of her new colleagues seem to share her willingness to push the boundaries.

We’re told that the Unit will cover not only public service reform agenda but cross-cuts the whole WMCA remit: it would be excellent to end the silo-ing of anything relating to ‘people’ away from the macho realm of ‘growth’.

From a specifically Localising Prosperity perspective, we’re also hoping to ensure that this agenda seeks not only jobs but diversifying and democratising economic ownership, and building local economies around its assets and local ‘anchor’ institutions – the story of Preston remains an inspiration on this and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies have worked with anchor institutions in Birmingham on a similar approach. Our recent work with New Economics Foundation on the economic potential of social care in the WM economy highlighted how what’s described as the ‘foundational economy’ (the one that provides what human beings actually need, often based in the places where they actually live) provides a useful driver for inclusive economics.

Of course all this must be underpinned by the right set of values and measures: social care cooperatives hit all the right numbers if you value the goods, services, livelihoods, redistribution and economic power that it brings; less so if you are motivated by GVA. So this is the starting point for the work we’re planning.

We’re looking forward to an interesting few months.

Karen Leach

Whither West Midlands

Whither West Midlands

If the answer was Brexit, then surely, we were asking the wrong question.

This isn’t a blog about Brexit: instead it asks the fundamental questions about our economy that Brexit poses, and presents a different answer.

With the government’s own economic impact assessments for the West Midlands making grim reading (worst case scenarios are reminiscent of the early 1980s recessions that devastated the social and economic fabric of the region) it is vital that policy makers, institutions and individuals prepare for what is likely to be a disruptive period for the UK economy.

Added to this is the high concentrations of leave voters in the de-industrialised areas of the West Midlands. Economically and politically disempowered, these areas have performed poorly, in orthodox economic development terms, since the 1980s. They have experienced comparatively low levels of private sector and government investment and entrenched social issues linked to poverty. Put simply, the West Midlands hasn’t fared well out of the last 40 years of UK economic policy.

It seems that for the West Midlands, Brexit could be a perfect storm:

• A lack of political power to shape national policy to meet its specific needs.
• Opening its markets to intense global competition, leading to job losses.
• Lower state investment likely to affect the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

So the most important questions are “what next?” and “Are the changes being planned for us, not by us, really in our interest?”

It seems two options exist….

More of the same?

Much of the hype around Brexit from government and its main advocates has been around the notion of a ‘Global Britain’, the narrative about this uses snappy messaging like ‘freedom’ ‘something new’ and ‘we will all benefit’. In reality ‘Global Britain’ is simply a rebranding and upscaling of the of current economic model we have followed for 40 years – you know, the one the West Midlands hasn’t done particularly well out of.

Let’s take food as an example of what this ‘Global Britain’ might mean. Early reports about potential ‘free trade’ deals have focused on cheaper food imports from places such as America, New Zealand and Australia. The result of this is that smaller UK farmers and food producers won’t be able to compete and could go bust, coupled with the enormous environmental costs of shipping food and goods long distances. So it appears behind the snappy title, Global Britain will be bad for local producers, but a bonanza for massive corporations, with capital and jobs leaving Britain in return for environmentally unsustainable food products and in some cases lower quality food.

In this scenario it seems more apparent by the day, that a real danger of Brexit will be to open Britain up to a free trade ‘free for all’ that could result in lower food, safety and environmental protections.

Something different?

Let’s be radical! If any situation called for creative thinking and new solutions, Brexit is it. Another Brexit mantra is ‘Taking back Control’ an amorphous phrase that in practice will most likely entail a further concentration of power in one place, Westminster. Even with the Devolution deal secured by the West Midlands, economic policy is generally created for the benefit of one part of the UK economy – London and the Southeast – and if this trend continues it will most likely lead to further divergence between London and the rest of the UK, but without the power to set policy that works locally.

So how about a radical redistribution of economic and political power, not only devolved to regional (though yes, that’s important) but right down to the communities we all live in?

Getting Local; Community Economic Development

Imagine a new style of economy that valued people and created a resilient and sustainable West Midlands. An economic model where local people lead and participate as owners, investors, purchasers and wealth creators. Far-fetched? Not really. Community Economic Development (CED) exists in practice in communities across the world, from hyper local food networks, energy co-operatives, complementary currencies and larger private, trade union & public-sector partnerships that grow localised economic activity for the benefit of communities.

Evidence proves this approach is a better way to grow jobs, harnessing the assets of local communities, rather than relying on distant private and public-sector owners with little understanding of the local areas. The approach is well evidenced with LWM’s research finding that higher levels of small and micro businesses and local ownership lead to higher levels of economic success, job creation, social inclusion, civic engagement, wellbeing and local distinctiveness.

So maybe the right question should be ‘How do we make an economy that works for everyone, that we all have a meaningful stake in?’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why?

We could spend another 40 years following the current economic model, sending profits into the offshore accounts of multinationals, damaging our environment and generally carrying on regardless, or we could spend the next 40 years working together to ensure the West Midlands is at the forefront of a new social and economic revolution.

Anything else is simply unsustainable…..

Visit Localising Prosperity to find out more www.localisewestmidlands.org.uk

International Alliance for Localization: update

In December 2015 this blog reported Local Futures’ 2014 launch of a cross-cultural, North-South network of thinkers, activists and NGOs – the International Alliance for Localization (IAL) – with members from over 30 countries who meet online and/or in person – a few pictured below.

Localise West Midlands later became one of the member organisations. Last July’s LWM blog – gave news of some very interesting localising ventures.

Local Futures have collaborated with organizations worldwide which are helping to forge a grassroots path to a new economy:

  • In Japan, Local Futures has helped to forge a broad-based Economics of Happiness/localization movement.
  • In South Korea, it collaborates with a group of 37 mayors who have formed a Social Economy Forum.
  • In Italy, it is in dialogue with the Five Star movement (M5S), an environmentally-minded people’s party that is channelling half of their MPs’ (member of parliament) salaries into a microcredit bank that provides funding for small businesses. They have raised more than €10 million so far.

Community Solutions’ 2017 Arthur Morgan Award was given by the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions to Local Futures’ co-founder and director Helena Norberg-Hodge, “in recognition of her tireless advocacy for communities across the planet”.

The award is bestowed annually to honour those who are passionate about – and committed to – community and democracy.

Community Solutions is perhaps best known for their inspiring 2006 film The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

It described how organic farming, urban agriculture – and of course community – enabled Cuba to survive the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of almost all its oil and food imports.

Read more about founder Arthur Morgan’s work here.

In the UK, the small Somerset town of Frome, where Local Futures film The Economics of Happiness was screened in 2011, has revolutionized rural politics.

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-a-democratic-revolution-in-the-somerset-town-of-frome-could-teach-our-political-class-8312163.html

Over the last few years, representatives of Independents for Frome have gradually won all the seats on the local council. Their platform is about sustainability, inclusivity and rebuilding the local economy from the ground up. Read more about their achievements here.

In 2017, Helena hosted four live webinars in The Global to Local Webinar Series. In January she was joined by Christian Felber, founder of Economy for the Common Good and the final webinar of the year was with Shaun Chamberlin, author of The Transition Timeline and managing director of the Fleming Policy Centre. It focused on the late David Fleming’s work, his book Surviving the Future, and his contribution to the localization movement

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Read more in the latest Local Futures Newsletter.

 

 

 

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Community asset transfer: news of a Scottish bid and activity in Birmingham

From short-term licences to long leases, local community and voluntary groups are seeking opportunities to take on the management or ownership of buildings and land. ‘Community Asset Transfer’ or in Scotland ‘Asset Transfer’ has enabled thousands of buildings and spaces across England, such as swimming pools, town halls, libraries and parks to be taken on and successfully managed by community organisations for the benefit of their local community.

A community buyout bid is being made for Ulva, a beautiful 12km-long island with fine heather moors and mossy woods, off Scotland’s west coast. 

In 1837 more than 600 people lived on Ulva; there are now only six residents. In the four years to 1851, when potato blight and failure of the local kelp industry left the population destitute, the laird deported three-quarters of Ulva’s residents. Jamie Howard, the resident owner, puts the more recent population slump down to the “special and difficult challenges of living on a small, remote island with rough roads and limited housing stock”.

Barry George, who came to live on Ulva twenty years ago, said there were then 27 residents who would join together for Burns Night and Christmas parties: “The whole community has collapsed. There are five empty houses sitting there, empty . . . It’s quite shameful really.” Many of the buildings on the island show signs of neglect. A stepladder holds up the pulpit roof in the church. Slates are missing and wood frames rotting at the manse and other cottages. He added: “I don’t see what can possibly be wrong with right-to-buy, if the people who own the land are given a fair price.”

When Mr Howard put Ulva up for sale this year, asking for over £4m, local community organisers saw an opportunity for change.

The North West Mull Community Woodland Company, which operates forestry and related businesses on behalf of residents of the area of Mull that includes Ulva, has made a community buyout bid to bring Ulva under the control of local residents. Colin Morrison, chairperson of the Woodland Company, said : “Our drive would be to repopulate it, to bring business. There’s huge tourism potential.” (Left: director of the Woodland Company John Addy). A feasibility study commissioned by the Woodland Company for the community buyout argues that renovation of the housing stock would attract new residents and higher rents would then help the estate to cover its operating costs.

Today the Times reported that the Electoral Reform Society, which supervised the ballot, announced that out of 401 of those eligible to vote 255 had responded, with 163 in favour of the bid and 91 against. Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish government’s environment secretary, will have to approve the bid and she is expected to do this in the next few days.

Donald Munro sails the ferry across the narrow sound to Mull

In Birmingham:

  • Witton Lodge Community Association piloted Birmingham’s first community asset transfer in 2010 – Perry Common Community Hall – now a thriving community hub.
  • Castle Pool Community Partnership – successful transfer of local community swimming and leisure facility.
  • Spitfire Services (formerly known as Castle Vale TRA) – successful transfer (licence to operate) of Tyburn Library.
  • Moseley Road Baths Action Group – working with a range of partners to secure the future of Moseley Road Baths – ongoing.
  • Wildside Activity Centre – working to support the board and CEO to secure the transfer of the centre and develop the business into a sustainable community asset – ongoing.

Some members of Localise West Midlands are playing a part in the Moseley venture.

 

 

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The Centre for Retail Research – some common ground?

The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) has provided authoritative research and analysis of the retail and service sectors for twenty-one years in Britain, Europe and North America and is completely independent, not funded by the retail sector or suppliers.

In an article on its website, a ‘recalibration of policy’ is advocated.

Themes relevant today:

  • Create a comprehensive industrial strategy, based on local needs and using local knowledge.
  • Replace imports and create the vital supply chains needed by British business.
  • Build housing, potentially a provider of 1mn new jobs and a swift way of improving the living standards and opportunities.
  • Increase the focus on learning science, maths, technical subjects and foreign languages;
  • Abandon the current emphasis on university as the only useful goal for young people;
  • Increase vocational training, retraining and part-time study for adults.
  • Renew concern for manufacturing industry and jobs rather than focussing only on retail, service industries, banking and the City of London.
  • Legislate for government permission to be required before a significant UK business is bought by a foreign company.

Localisers would find some common ground here.

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CRR’s retail recommendations:

  • A level playing field where online businesses face the same levels of corporation tax and property tax as does retailing through stores.
  • Higher wages for retail workers and better jobs, which will probably mean fewer jobs, more automation and perhaps fewer stores.
  • Reform of Insolvency laws to ensure that creditors, employees and pensioners are better served than they are at present by legislation designed to keep failing companies alive.

And the summary of a Localise West Midlands exploratory report (2008-9) expresses the value of independent retail:

Retail plays an essential role in a localised supply chain of food and other goods; ‘walkable’ retail builds social inclusion and reduces the need for the car; social capital and local multiplier are stronger in a town centre full of independent shops, and local distinctiveness is another benefit”.

 

 

 

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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 strategic alternative: localised and labour-intensive food production

LWM’s co-founder Colin Hines, in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism, asks: “In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn”.

He notes that at present, the UK feeds only around 60% of its population of 65 million. The EU was the next largest supplier at 27%. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years. Other food travels much further: click on the link for a larger picture: http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2012/Food%20supply/Changes%20in%20food%20supply/Food%20Miles%20Britain.png

There is no guarantee that these supplies would continue under the same terms following the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and there are other potential threats, such as drought, floods and/or increased global demand.

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including:

  • far less meat consumption,
  • feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues;
  • returning human sewage to productive land;
  • dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings,
  • local slaughter and food distribution;
  • managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure;
  • and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Hines notes that these measures would demand more human labour and a more even dispersal of livestock and humans around the country.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) promotes a global economy which requires agricultural commodities to be transported for long distances, processed and packaged to survive the journey. As global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector, substantially increasing greenhouse gas emissions and making climate objectives much harder to achieve, i ts Agreement on Agriculture should be superseded by a World Localisation Organisation (WLO), under which all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food.

Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained, where feasible, from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region and countries exporting food should use the revenue to increase their own level of food security.

Hines ends by endorsing – as the answer – Tim Lang’s injunctions in the Foreword to the report of the Sustainable Development Commission (above left): calling for significantly less food wastage, more produced from less land and dietary change – eating more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy.

 

 

 

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Cargonomia: shrinking the distance between producers and consumers 

Planet Local, which highlights examples of localization in action all over the planet, is a project of Economics of Happiness/Local Futures/The International Alliance for Localization. In March thumbnail sketches of three ethical local banks were published here.

The local food movement is about growing food and also shrinking the distance between producers and consumers — and a new initiative in Hungary is doing just that.

In Budapest, an organic vegetable farm, a do-it-yourself bicycle cooperative and a self-managed bike delivery company teamed up to create Cargonomia, an urban food distribution hub which uses locally-manufactured cargo bikes to deliver locally-grown food across the entire city. And the project continues to grow: Two local bakeries have joined Cargonomia which now delivers bread across the city as well as vegetables.

Read more about this one-of-a-kind collaboration here. Within the team of partners, there is expertise in designing and constructing different types of cargo bikes and trailers.

It’s a business model which utilises each partner’s strengths: vegetable deliveries from Zsamboki Biokert are coordinated by Kantaa’s distribution experts and made using Cyclonomia’s bikes. In this way, Cargonomia goes beyond ‘local food’ to encompass the entire local economy. It aims to help local food producers: organic food producers, vineries, apiaries.

It hosts a community centre where local residents can borrow, rent, or buy their own cargo bikes, organise or attend activities focusing on the transition to a local-scale economy and events to connect with other social and environmental initiatives in the city.

Localise West Midlands is a member of IAL, a cross-cultural network of thinkers, activists and NGOs from 58 different countries.

 

 

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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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Localising new-build housing

Architect and writer Clive Aslet (left) writes about a development of 4,000 houses on 500 acres – houses, small apartment blocks, schools, surgeries, mixed income housing, shops, business premises and leisure facilities and green spaces – on the edge of Newquay. There is an emphasis on local labour, materials and procurement.

“How society chooses to house people is every bit as important as how it chooses to feed people,” says Tim Gray, estate surveyor and chief of operations “If you can get those two things right, you will be happier, healthier and better able to engage socially. the ambition is to build community and engender civic pride, to live so that you can meet your daily needs conveniently on foot, not to differentiate between homes of different tenures, and to be connected socially with the adjacent settlements — this should provide good foundations for deciding how the nation should build homes in the future. There really is an alternative.”

Aslet describes a number of features:

  • a core commitment to spend the money in Cornwall, using local labour and materials and a pattern book with typical Cornish vernacular details, e.g. roofs are made from Cornish slate from a nearby quarry
  • The plans include setting up a town farm in some listed buildings to provide food for residents of the development.
  • There will be mixed-use neighbourhoods, in which the car is subservient to the pedestrian.
  • There will be a community orchard, allotments and ‘edible gardens’.
  • Low-cost rented homes are scattered among the more expensive owner-occupied ones 30% of the housing is affordable.

The area has been given a new lease of life. The quarry provides jobs, and so do the builders responsible for the work — all firms are from the southwest, whose work not only requires local labour, but also helps to establish local supply chains. They form what Gray calls a “consortium” a method that ensures the architecture is practical and appropriate for the local market.

Newquay is poor and homes are particularly needed by young people. Judging from conversations with a number of people in their twenties and thirties and young families met in the area, they like the designs, the edible gardens (herbs and fruit bushes are planted next to houses), espaliered pear trees and bee bricks (bricks with holes laid into the eaves of houses to welcome threatened bee populations), they’re all part of the philosophy — as well as local style, local materials and local employment . . . local food.

This is symbolised by the community orchard. seven acres of land that has been turned into allotments. “Trespassers will be composted”, reads one of the signs. Orchard and allotments are visible signs of the local food web that is being encouraged. They’re also somewhere that people from the new housing can meet long-time Newquay residents.

As Tim Gray said, this should provide a good foundation for deciding how the nation should build homes in the future. There really is an alternative: Aslet sees it as the beginning of a movement that made Britain better to live in.

 

 

 

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