A People’s Plan for the West Mids? Worth a shot, but needs the people

While we and some other organisations in Birmingham have been busy forming the Civil Society Forum to provide a voice for civil society into the workings of the new Combined Authority, Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne has been trying to do something a little similar via a deliberative democracy process he’s called the People’s Plan.

peoplesplan2The website says “We want to work together to give the politicians a plan that we think will make a difference. So: pitch in. Give us your ideas for what needs to change!”

It provides a forum and stepped process for people to propose, comment on and discuss ideas to influence what the Mayor might see as priorities. So far, a fair range of proposals have been put forward – some strategic, some a bit less so.

It also says “The Metro Mayor will be elected to control big budgets and make big decisions. They’ll play a big role in shaping the future of where we live.” But looking at the content of the Mayoral Powers consultation on the WMCA website, it looks as if WMCA governance could end up being an odd hybrid of the Mayoral role and collective decision-making. I’m all for collective decision-making rather than the current obsession with macho  individual leadership, which is why I was sceptical about the proposal of a Mayor for Birmingham – but how effective will it be to try to combine the two, potentially leading to a constant power struggle between factions of Leaders and the Mayor?

Either way, we really need to help those in charge of forming this subregional tier to help themselves by involving civil society, because so far there’s frankly not been enough participation. The People’s Plan format certainly has its merits for this – it’s based on open source deliberative democracy tools from DCENT, and, for better and worse,  is free from the ongoing collaboration commitment that our Civil Society Forum needs, enabling people to contribute freely as and when they can. But it’s only going to be as useful as the ideas that are brought together in it, the breadth and depth of its debate, and the diversity of the voices that contribute. As the website says “The more people who participate, the more legitimacy and impact our work will have.”

So let’s promote it, engage with it, suck it and see.

Karen Leach

Time Banks summary

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

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

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

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

time-bank graphic

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

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

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

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

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

2015

time banking logo

http://timebank.org.uk/

Future Governance for the West Midlands – a workshop: 24th March 2015

At the UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM

Please email to book a place.

 This workshop is organised by the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at Birmingham University in conjunction with the Futures Network West Midlands and Localise West Midlands.

The workshop contributes to the debate about future patterns of governance in the UK and the pattern that best suits the West Midlands. Its focus is on how to shift power, strategic planning and decision making from central government and strengthen the role of local actors in decisions that affect social justice and the prosperity of people and places within the West Midlands.

Discussions about future patterns of governance in England have moved to the centre stage in recent months. But proposals have tended to be driven by developments in Scotland, London and Greater Manchester. In the West Midlands there is a stalled debate about combined authorities and one impression is that people and places within the region are not shaping the agenda. Is the West Midlands losing out and sleepwalking to new arrangements with insufficient thought and debate about what it needs rather than what others are doing?

This workshop opens up debate on these issues and considers:

  • What governance arrangements are needed by the region and different parts of it?
  • What arrangements engage with different sectors – public private and third sector?
  • What happens to the rest of the region if a combined authority emerges in the conurbation?
  • How will alternative arrangements work to strengthen local control and develop strategies that deliver social justice and benefits to different parts of the region?
  • What policies and strategies can benefit from different forms of cross boundary working?
  • How will resource allocation decisions be made and how can resources be raised in the regions for use in the regions?

Please email to book a place.

FUTURE GOVERNANCE FOR THE WEST MIDLANDS

A WORKSHOP MARCH 24 2015:

LECTURE ROOM 120 IN THE HILLS BUILDING

UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM

Programme

1.00 pm Registration

1.30     Introduction by the Chair (Prof Alan Murie, University of Birmingham)

1.40     The Devolution debate: an overview Chris Game, Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham

2.10       A Local perspective: issues, principles and objectives. Jon Morris (LWM)

2.35       Strategic Opportunities: issues, principles and objectives (FNWM Speaker).

3.00       Questions

3.20       Options for the West Midlands: Group Discussion (Tea and coffee available)

4.15      Next Steps: An agenda for action

Report back from discussion groups

Concluding remarks

5.00      Workshop ends

Please note – The Hills Building is R3 on the University campus map. This can be found at this map link.

Adam Smith’s invisible hand and visible hands in Birmingham

Birmingham has long been a city with some of the highest levels of deprivation in western Europe, living with fears for the future as the loss of big manufacturing becomes apparently permanent.

However, within living memory the city became the UK’s second city, and achieved an economic peak during the 1920s and 1930s – times that for Manchester and most American cities were very tough.

Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin were major reasons for Birmingham’s success. Theirs is a story that contradicts that of Michael Heseltine, who conjures up illusions about a ‘buccaneering’   entrepreneurial past. A story that underpinned his now clearly failed attempt to forge a common agenda between provincial English business (centered on Local Enterprise Partnerships) and the Downing St of today.

appeasementThe Appeasement of Adolf Hitler has cast a shadow over proper understanding of the era of Birmingham’s expansion. This appeasement occurred before the suburbs where most Birmingham people now live, had come to need their original paintwork renewing.

Local historians have been less effected by such political and  obsuring shadows. And one can find glimpses  in local history of  how Baldwin and Chamberlain and their people worked.

For much of the interwar period one or both of them were tenants in Downing Street. Either as Prime Minister or as Chancellor.

Business alliance

Both were elected from the West Midlands, but there was more to it than that. Kenrick coverTheir families had since 1887 both been in alliance with the Midland’s premier business family – the Kenricks.

As the First World War ended, Kenricks were at the heart of the trade ( the cartels) that supplied baths, cisterns and the metal components that would profit from any house building boom. The Baldwins were major shareholders in Kenricks since selling out their factories in Stourport-upon-Severn.

Neville Chamberlain’s mother was a Kenrick. And her early death meant that he spent most of his childhood at the Kenrick’s main family home – Berrow Court, at Edgbaston in Birmingham.

Berrow CourtAlthough Neville ran a firm of his own, that boasted of being an ‘Admiralty Supplier’ on its letterhead, around  1913 he brought in about a quarter of his income from a second job -chairing a Kenrick owned company.  This company,  called Elliots, made the copper for the plumbing and wiring that building now required, and was the base material for the bulk of Birmingham firms who were then geared towards home-making goods, rather than the automotive bits of  later decades. Indeed as the base for Ford in the UK,   Manchester could until 1929 better claim to be the UK Automotive city.

Homes for Heroes

That Neville Chamberlain would  be the most important figure behind the building of the interwar suburbs, should be seen against this industrial  background. For much of the interwar years he was acting for a cabinet led by Stanley Baldwin.Baldwin

Birmingham was first out of the stocks with building ‘homes fit for heros’ in 1919.  Manchester and Glasgow, Birmingham’s main rivals trailed. Shipbuilding and textiles did not sniff such profit in housing. Nor had either been prepared for a house building campaign.  Manchester did not have much room to expand, being hemmed in by industrial townships like Oldham and Salford in every direction except southwards into Cheshire. Manchester would not get round to buying up land until the end of the 1920s. Neville would be the minister who would assist the setting up of a Manchester Regional Plan in 1927, for the neighbouring councils to co-operate in Manchester’s overspill.

Building the suburbs

Birmingham had not needed any such help, when as a Ladywood councillor Neville had lead the lobbying for Birmingham to expand into the rural districts surrounding  it  in every direction except to the west – where the Black Country lay. This 1911 Birmingham boundary extension assumed future housing estates, the case for which he led the elaboration of – on the very eve of the 1914 war.

This experience in Birmingham gave him a status as a housing expert when he got to Parliament to represent Ladywood in 1918. Conservatives had tended to favour property tax incentives to encourage building, but Neville leaned towards government subsidy. It was no coincidence that subsidy for both private and council house building were introduced by Neville’s brother, when he was chancellor in 1919 (and his deputy was Stanley Baldwin). And this subsidy was rapidly taken up by Birmingham builders.

Manchester, however, was not yet going to be contributing to the profits of firms the likes of Kenricks.  Areas reliant upon textiles and other depressed industries could not afford building without even further subsidy. Led by Manchester, these councils sought an improved subsidy for building council houses in 1923. Baldwin was then chancellor, which ensured Neville ( as Health Minister) had a free enough hand to cut them a better deal. And on this basis, Manchester built out to the south into Wythenshaw.  Orders came Birmingham’s way – as a simple matter of trade association quota.

SmithWhile some might have been wittering on about the wonders worked by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market, hands were visible reaching down to co-ordinate production, strategic subsidy and government policy – if one knew where to look. This would not be lost on the big banks – who were generous with overdrafts to the businesses so close to Downing St. There was also a Kenrick on the board of Lloyds Bank during those years. So credit got co-ordinated too.

Such strategic planning has more in common with the political economy of China in recent decades, then with the visions of Adam Smith and his invisible hand.  And it is worth bearing this in mind when one examines a further twist in this story.

Confronting the Brick interests

The interwar expansion of the English suburbs was based on bricks rather thanbrickwork any other building material.  And brick is so energy inefficient that it is now a major challenge for today’s suburban life. However, the brick economy was in the 1920s a major drag on the housing boom. Labour tended to blame profiteering on the part of brick manufacturers, while the conservatives tended to blame the bricklayer’s monopoly in the face of the laboriousness of  bricklaying.  But – whichever – this was hampering the flow of Birmingham’s supplies to a housing boom and the rewards.

However, in the late 1920s the brick industry came to have to accept less favourable terms.  It had been during a Labour interlude in office, that their housing minister, John Wheatley began a review of whether new building methods could speed up the delivery of cheap popular housing.  But when Neville got back into the ministerial driving seat he pushed this debate even further.

Houses built from bigger concrete ‘breeze blocks’ were encouraged. But even more radical options were ‘promoted’ by Neville.  He even fostered a scheme to use elements of the Glasgow shipbuilding industry to mass produce the panels for steel bungalows. Pushing such discussion so far, worked its effect on the brick interests, and delivered more profit thereafter for Birmingham than for Glasgow.

Drawing the right/wrong lessons

Since Chamberlain was displaced from power in 1940, the only city that Heseltine   has been able to tug so regularly upon the levers of power has been the ‘City of London’.  The lessons that can be drawn from the rise and fall of Birmingham are legion. However, our purpose here is to weigh up the agenda that Lord Heseltine has been pressing.

Heseltine began life as a ‘buy to let’  landlord who used his profits to become an advertiser/publisher. After going into politics he was a sort of Viceroy for Liverpool for Mrs Thatcher, whom he later sought to replace with himself. Liverpool did build its position on slavery and what went with it. Maybe that is where he gets his notion of a bucaneer capitalism.  But that label also fits himself. And fits him better than it does any inland city, and certainly better than Birmingham.

Birmingham’s experience would really highlight notions of planning, local committment, addressing social need ….

Andrew Lydon

An analysis of one of our rival cities can be found here

 

 

 

Birmingham’s budget dilemmas: defences against the vandalism of austerity

I’m just looking at the Birmingham City Council service reviews and budget consultation to make Localise West Midlands’ response – emphasising ways in which the Council can maximise local multiplier to reduce its whole system costs.
As a citizeSaveMRBn it’s incredibly frustrating to see the city forced into making such ridiculous choices. In my own area the likely closure of the much loved Edwarding swimming baths is painful to think about, but I know this is mirrored by similar swimming losses and threats to other vital local facilities across the city.  Then, talking to officers,  it’s clear that many of the procurement staff who were dedicated to maximising local returns from procurement are no longer in post: the cost saving of each salary needs to be set against the value of the contracts they would have brought in to the local area. I don’t think Birmingham City Council are yet calculating net costs and gains in this way, but hope I’m wrong.
Then of course there are the few who are still convinced by the false economy logic of the austerity agenda. In the collated responses to the inclusive economy part of the service review, I found the following perplexing little extract – albeit thankfully a lone voice:
“I object in the strongest terms to the whole idea of an inclusive economy. Do not spend my money on “addressing inequalities ” because you should treat all your residents equally. Every time you redistribute wealth you are incentivising dependency and failure. Your review has missed the point. Let people alone and they can work their way out of poverty. If you ‘ensure’ people have ‘skills and opportunities’ you are just going to treat them unequally and that is wrong. I think the review is deeply biased to outdated socialist notions and you need to modernise your approach.”
Someone obviously doesn’t quite understand that the inequality status quo didn’t arrive by laissez faire but by public intervention of the wrong sort.
Worth posting to demonstrate why it’s important to have some more progressive engagement with this agenda!
By contrast, Enfield Council are tackling the same set of problems by mobilising pension funds and persuading companies with large local markets to employ local people, and Preston Council are promoting employee buyouts to safeguard jobs and increase local control over the economy. Further afield, the advantages of municipal utilities are being rediscovered.ShitCreekPaddleStore Plenty of scope for Birmingham to learn from these and take them to a new level.
So – despite the vandalism of austerity, there are things we can do….
Karen Leach

Public meeting – future of the markets

As part of the SAVE OUR MARKETS campaign a public meeting is being held by the market campaign in St. Martin’s Church (in the Bullring) on Friday 14th October at 2pm – 4pm.

Carl Chinn, local historian and newspaper columnist will be talking on the history of the markets and how important they have been and are to Birmingham’s communities.

Michael Ward, regeneration and public policy expert, supporting the renewal of places and communities, will be talking more generally about how important markets are for the UK and why.

Then of course we’ll be there talking about our campaign and what has been happening so far – and what next.

Please come along and let others know who might be interested.