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.

Can you help us to inspire and catalyse a better economy?

Can you help us to inspire and catalyse a better economy?

Join LWM’s board

We know our work towards localising and redistributing prosperity resonates with a lot of people. We’d love some of that resonance to draw people to get involved in governing our future – the small but crucial ‘lynchpin’ organisation in the region’s progressive economics!

After the summer we will be embarking on a fourth phase of our Localising Prosperity programme, which came from our groundbreaking research into the benefits of a localisation approach and how it can be integrated into mainstream economic development. We are now focusing on delivery of this agenda in practice. The main strands of work will be:

  • Maximising the local benefits of the new hospital development in Smethwick, including with partners through the EU-funded USEIT project
  • Enabling more of a voice for economic justice organisations into the Combined Authority agenda
  • Supporting and challenging regional and local economic agendas to go beyond ‘growth’ to ‘who benefits’.

We will also be putting some time into diversifying our activities and will be planning for this over the summer.

To help refresh and strengthen our thinking we’re looking for two new active, committed board members with commitment to our concept and values, understanding of the tactics and communication for effecting change, and relevant knowledge and contacts.

We are also very aware that the age, ethnicity and gender profile of our board does not reflect the population of the West Midlands, and we are keen to address this in order to benefit from a wider range of perspectives and ensure we do not inadvertently exclude anyone from our group. So we particularly welcome applications from women, younger people, and people from a variety of cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds.

Please read our Board member role description and browse our website for more information. If you’re interested, please email us outlining how you meet the above criteria and why you are interested in getting involved, attaching your CV. We’ll then be in touch to arrange a meeting.

Please also pass this on to contacts who could be interested!

Karen Leach

Smile, you’re on TV! A West Midlands Combined Authority meeting is filmed

As Localise West Midlands, we are playing an important role in pressing for and enabling a civil society voice about the West Midlands Combined Authority, bringing together people and organisations that have knowledge and experience around economic issues, transport, housing and health.  We have blogged before about the West Midlands Civil Society Forum.

West Midlands Combined Authority Board meetings are held at different venues around the region, but are not livestreamed.  Even when the meetings are held in rooms equipped for webstreaming, the facility is not used.  As WMCSF, we’ve asked why this isn’t happening, and been told it probably won’t happen till the mayor is elected.  Until it does, we try to get to each meeting, to observe proceedings and to make the point that people are interested in the combined authority.

But last Friday’s meeting was held at Nuneaton Town Hall.  Again, the chamber has cameras but in this case they aren’t set up for webstreaming.  Uniquely though, local Green Party councillor Keith Kondakor has been using the right to film meetings to put proceedings on a YouTube channel.

So here for the first time is a WMCA Board meeting for the wider public to see:

 

 

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

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

News from the Combined Authority AGM

The West Midlands Combined Authority intended to hold its inaugural AGM last Friday, 10 June, but a little local difficulty in the House of Commons meant that the legislation hadn’t been completed in time.  They went ahead with the planned business, intending to ratify it once the powers had been vested in them.

The meeting was held in Hall 4 at the ICC, around a huge table to accommodate the council leaders, chief execs, LEP and others.  There had been very little publicity for the event, but there were a number of interested people in the public seats.

Much of the agenda was formal acceptance of constitutional matters – the agenda and papers are here:

https://westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/committee-papers/west-midlands-combined-authority-board/

Cllr Bob Sleigh from Solihull was elected chair and Cllr Pete Lowe from Dudley was vice-chair.

The reports pack does include the governance structure at p37, which is worth a look as it indicates the areas of future work. The portfolios were not allocated though: this was deferred/delayed to an unspecified future date.

There was an intervention from David Jamieson, the Police and Crime Commissioner about the powers of the mayor and the potential for the WMCA to veto the mayor’s decisions.  He felt he couldn’t support the transfer of police powers to the mayor on that basis.

The Strategic Economic Plan was not available in advance: despite being launched before the meeting, it was not handed out until the relevant item was reached on the agenda.  The online version is quite hard to find but this is the link:

https://westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/about/strategic-economic-plan/

Some of the diagrams do require a measure of caution – see Ravi Subramanian’s take on one of them:

The idea was repeated that this was part of a nest or set of SEPs which incorporates the three LEP SEPs.  The versions shown for this were the 2014 ones, so no formal updating has yet taken place.

Martin Reeves, the “Head of Paid Service” and Chief Exec at Coventry CC, introducing the SEP, said that the dynamic economic impact model was the most exciting part of the strategy.

The Strategic Transport Plan was also presented – this was part of the papers circulated in advance, as above.   The chair of the transport delivery committee will be Cllr Richard Worrall from Walsall, but the decision on a vice-chair was deferred.

There were also updates from the three commissions:  Norman Lamb MP gave an interesting verbal update on the work of the Mental Health Commission.  While he did emphasise that their work was about reducing the cost of mental ill-health and addressing the impact on productivity, he talked about the West Midlands leading the way nationally and that it was not a one-off exercise but the start of a journey.  They have looked at the work of Thrive NYC, which is led by the Mayor of New York,and favour a similar concordat approach.  He also mentioned the criminal justice system and that they have identified that mental health treatment orders are not being used.  The full report from the commission will be launched in September, but there were no notes or slides from his update.

The Land Commission update really just identified that they are not under way yet.  The one which worried me was the Productivity and Skills Commission report.  Sarah Middleton, the chief executive of the Black Country Consortium, gave a brief report.  The chair of the commission would be announced shortly.  Desktop research had been done re mapping and research, and there would be a workshop on 4 July for regional and national experts to identify lines of enquiry. This would be business-led with support from the universities.    There seemed to be very little planned to involve local groups or to allow the voices of young people and seldom heard groups to be heard.  Nick Page, chief exec at Solihull MBC, seemed to be the lead on that, so organisations who feel they should be there should probably contact him.

Overall, it was difficult to tell if the less than inclusive approach was deliberate, or accidental given their timescales and resources.  We do need to keep reminding the Combined Authority that civil society expects them to make some of the effort to engage.

Karen McCarthy

Roundtable meeting: Shaping the Combined Authority’s economic agenda

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Leach (LWM) and Ted Ryan (RnR)

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.

George Morran: Why Regional Government?

 

George Morran, LWM’s vice-chairman, writes:

George Morran -1Devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has brought greater proximity and therefore ownership of decision-making to those communities.

Increasingly different approaches to public policy have developed, reflecting local circumstances and aspirations, rather than Westminster and Whitehall’s one approach fits all – in particular the interests of those in London and the south east.

In Europe a federal system of government has underpinned economic and political vitality for decades as it has in North America and elsewhere.

There is widespread agreement that economic and political decision-making is far too centralised and incapable of leading and supporting moves to more localised and sustainable economies.

Reform is urgently needed, but the power brokers at Westminster, Whitehall and our existing large Local Authorities are tied into defending their positions and resisting change. That is why we need community action.

 

Regional Government for England has to be part of wider constitutional reform:

 

  • the downsizing and refocusing of Westminster and Whitehall;
  • the establishment of an inclusive sub national government in England based on democratic local community and regional government,
  • working as an equal partner with a reformed Westminster and Whitehall and existing devolved administrations elsewhere in the UK

 

George Morran has had extensive experience in local and regional affairs, being Director of the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities (1991-98), Assistant Chief Executive Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and currently consultant specialising in regional governance, Vice-chair of Localise West Midlands, research associate at Aston University’s Business School and project director of the West Midlands Constitutional Convention 

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forum of regions 13 header

 

June 6th, 2013, news of the  Second Forum of Regions, Lyon, Rhône Alpes, France:

REGIONS: ACTORS FOR CHANGE:

The Organization of Regions United FOGAR (ORU – FOGAR) and UCLG, The Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional Governments in conjunction with the Rhône Alpes, invited regional representatives of the world to gather in Lyon. The Forum’s theme was: “Regions – actors for change; a recognition of the richness of diversity for an economic and innovative development”.

It highlighted the importance of regional governments in raising the voice of the people through the exchange of experiences on the role of regions in a sustainable development perspective.

 

Working to ‘bring power to the people’

Localise West Midlands Vice-Chair, George Morran, continues his work to ‘bring power to the people’, building on a wealth of experience in local government.

He recently submitted a response on behalf of Localise West Midlands to a House of Commons Select Committee about the Coalition Government’s decision to revoke and abolish Regional Spatial Strategies [RSS]. 

There has been coverage of his submission on the New Era and Thomas Attwood websites  and the full seven-page text is available on request.  

The submission ended with a summary of LWM’s views. Recent events have confirmed that a focus on global economic competitiveness and credit-driven economic growth is not sustainable and very high risk in terms of social, economic and territorial cohesion across regions. Of particular concern is the impact of this approach for employment.  

The idea that we can out-compete China and India in future high tech markets is a delusion. While they have, and will continue to have far cheaper wage rates, they are already developing very large graduate workforces, and increasingly we are seeing many higher skilled jobs moving to these and other countries with their workers able effectively to deliver many professional and administrative services via the Internet.  

From the final section: 

  • The way out of these problems is to decentralise fiscal and monetary policies so as to connect them more closely to the local and to focus on bringing together the demand and supply of goods and services so as to strengthen social, economic and territorial cohesion. 
  • Interest rates need more accurately to reflect local and regional inflationary pressures. 
  • New sources of finance such as local and regional bonds need to be promoted to finance local and regional investment, including housing, which could generate a huge number of hi and lower tech jobs, substantial new businesses. 
  • Most importantly regional and local action has to tackle climate change by cutting carbon emissions.  

The relevance of the new Green Deal/Birmingham Energy Savers [pilot project in Birmingham] was highlighted in the final section. 

George Morran: Director of the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities (1991-98), Assistant Chief Executive Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, currently consultant specialising in regional governance, Vice-chair of Localise West Midlands, research associate at Aston University’s Business School and project director of the West Midlands Constitutional Convention.