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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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.

birmingham pound header

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

 

 

 

MUFP: 100 city regions hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing the food system

urban-food-policy-pact

In 2015, led by Milan, a coalition of 100 cities from all continents signed a Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFP) in Milan’s Palazzo Reale and presented it to Ban-Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, in New York on World Food Day, October 16. To read the latest news go to its website.

They now recognise that their food systems are having high health and environmental impacts. As Professor Tim Lang comments in ‘Food Research’: “Aspirations for cheap food have become hard-wired into consumer expectations. Waste is rampant. Governments bow too much to giant food companies selling sugary, salty, fatty, ultra-processed food. Marketing budgets dwarf food education. No-one seems to be in overall control”.

He continues: “Cities are powerhouses of work but parasitic on cheap labour on the land. Their budgets are squeezed but their diet-related costs are rising. Their dense populations could be energy and food efficient but require huge infrastructure and change to be so . . . A new urban politics is emerging, gradually recognising the need to move beyond the neoliberal era’s commitment to cheap and plentiful food which has only spawned an horrendous new set of challenges which it cannot resolve . . .  Waste. The new food poor. Rising obesity. Street litter. Inequalities. Low waged food work”.

17sd-2-g-goals

Though the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are translated as 169 targets, 70 of which involve food, as Lang says: “New techno-imperialists whisper sweet nothings into politicians’ ears, offering another bout of technical intensification to keep this show on the road. This is not just genetic modification, which is already in trouble, yoked as so much is with use of glyphosate, the herbicide previously deemed benign but now in trouble as a probable carcinogen. There’s a raft of new technical sectors offering food fixes: robotics, nanotechnology (putting minute particles into food); synthetic biology; Big Data and the information revolutions; the promise of personalised healthcare applying life science wizardry. Underpinning them all is continued reliance on but nervousness about oil-based fertilisers. It was they who kept the food wheels turning at the last big moment of reflection in the mid 1970s”.

tim-langLang says, “Now we need another package. But which is it to be? Is it more Big Farming or more horticulture? And what sort? Plants not animals are the key to the new metric: how to feed people from declining available growing space”.

He calls for strong political voice and says that the positive news about a sustainable future needs to be grasped: closer foodways, better jobs, healthier populations instead of cheap food, overflowing hospitals and denuded nature.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Transport for the West Midlands?

transportlogosWhat will the Combined Authority mean for transport?

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

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

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

Wednesday 14th September, 6pm to 8pm

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

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

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

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”.

Crickhowell’s tax plan: an example of ‘people power’ raising awareness of injustice and HMRC’s failures

crickhowell 3

Crickhowell has an independent high street with very few of the trading names which now dominate look-alike urban and suburban commercial centres. The town made news earlier this year after offering shares to residents at £50 each to buy their Grade II listed Corn Exchange pub from Punch Taverns to avoid it being used as a convenience store by one of the large retail chains.

The FT reports that the town’s traders, including a salmon smokery, local coffee shop, book shop, optician and bakery have now submitted tax plans to HMRC, using the offshore arrangements favoured by multinationals. They hope that their ‘tax rebellion’ will spread to other towns forcing the Government to tackle how Amazon, for example, paid £11.9 million tax last year on £5.3 billion of UK sales.

The details of the scheme are not in the public domain, but townspeople say it involves shifting intangible assets to the Isle of Man and setting up a trading arm in the Netherlands.

High street coffee shop owner Steve said: ‘I have always paid every penny of tax I owe, and I don’t object to that. What I object to is paying my full tax when my big name competitors are doing the damnedest to dodge theirs.’ Starbucks, for example, has paid £8.6million in UK corporation tax since it opened its first shop in London’s Kings Road in 1998, funnelling revenues/royalties out of the UK and into the Netherlands and Switzerland where they have been offered better tax deals.

Retailers are ‘trying to create a level playing field’ by changing the law

Jo Carthew, who runs Crickhowell’s Black Mountain Smokery told the Independent: “We do want to pay our taxes because we all use local schools and hospitals but we want a change of law so everyone pays their fair share”.

Samantha Devos of Number Eighteen café cites the example of Facebook, which paid less than £5000 in corporate tax last year, according to the government’s ‘tax gap’ report, and insists that spending cuts would not be needed if big companies paid their tax.Steve Askew, the local baker, says the traders never intended to put the tax plan into practice. Their goal is to embarrass big companies and the government. “Any right-thinking person accepts we have to pay taxes. What people can’t accept is the injustice,” he added.

Despite the findings of the government’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – massive staff redundancies and poor performance – HMRC has responded by pointing to its extra funding to crack down on multinational avoidance and this April’s introduction of the diverted profits tax, a new “Google tax” on multinationals moving profits out of the UK. It also publishes estimates of the difference between tax paid and the amount that should be paid. This attributes just £1bn of the £34bn gap to tax avoidance.

HMRC speaking with ‘forked tongue’? Is it actually in meltdown? See the Committee of Public Accounts’ report on Revenue and Customs (summary and pdf): “HMRC still failing UK taxpayers”.

Quantitative easing to fund climate change programmes?

finance murphy header

Colin Hines, co-founder of Localise West Midlands and Richard Murphy, Professor of Practice in International Political Economy, City University, London, warn that the Paris Climate talks are facing an enormous funding problem to which there is only one viable solution.

In a new report published by Finance for the Future, entitled ‘Climate QE For Paree’, they suggest that the measures to be put on the table in Paris will not go far enough to halt a disastrous global temperature rises of more than 2 degrees because no one has suggested how the enormous cost of tackling this issue is to be addressed, particularly at a time of global economic slowdown.

The paper offers a solution to this problem, using a variation on the idea of People’s Quantitative Easing that has received much attention during 2015:

The world has or is intending to print €7 trillion of quantitative easing to keep the financial system afloat​. In that case, why not use this mechanism in the form of Climate QE to save the planet?

The European Central Bank is already e-printing €60 billion a month under its QE [programme and is committed to doing so till September 2016.

If it allocated say €10 billion a month either from this QE programme, or from an additional QE commitment, it could use it to buy climate change bonds from the European Investment Bank. The EIB could then direct these funds to climate change programmes in both Europe and developing countries.

This could have a galvanising effect on other rich countries, putting pressure on them to introduce their own Climate QE initiatives and thus further bolster global funds towards the many hundreds of billions eventually needed to keep temperature rises at 2oC.

Importantly, since Climate QE involves one arm of the EU, the ECB, creating e-money and using it to buy assets from another arm of EU, the European Investment Bank (EIB), this will not increase Europe’s repayable debt levels. This would also hold true for countries like the United States and the UK, something that is crucial to making involvement in ‘Climate QE’ post Paris politically acceptable to all rich countries.

How the European Investment Bank Could Spend Climate QE

The EIB already invests around 10% of its funds in developing countries and prioritises climate change mitigation and adaptation (e.g. renewable energy, energy efficiency, urban transport and other projects that reduce CO2 emissions).

To achieve the goals likely to be set in Paris, Climate QE funding should be used by developing countries to fund low carbon emitting industrial and agricultural infrastructure and energy efficient buildings in cities. Such projects face difficulty attracting private finance, since the returns are harder to identify and the process of capturing and sharing them are more complex than normal investment programmes.

Rich Countries would benefit too

Colin Hines said:

‘Climate QE is not just for poorer countries. The economic and employment advantages of investing in energy efficiency and renewables is not only a way to generate economic activity in every city, town, canton and hamlet across Europe, but will also ensure our continent’s significant contribution to helping solve the biggest threat facing humanity, which is climate change.’

For further details contact:

Richard Murphy, Director of Finance for the Future LLP and Professor of Practice in International Political Economy, City University, London

Tel +44 (0) 1366 383500

Mobile +44 (0) 7775 521 797

And

Colin Hines, Convenor Green New Deal Group

Tel +44 (0) 20 8892 5051

Mobile +44 (0) 7738 164 304