The East of England Co-operative’s ‘Sourced Locally’ range

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Anthony Murray, editor of the Co-operative News, reports that rather than adopting the national Co-operative brand, one of the independent co-operative societies, the East of England Co-operative, has developed its own identity, based on its support for local food.

It established a ‘Sourced Locally’ range in 2008, stocking locally grown or produced food in 140 stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. From a handful of local producers it now has 136 suppliers. Sales grew by 30% last year alone, reaching £12m. It has grown from selling locally grown asparagus to 2,400 different products: from beer, bread and bacon to honey, haddock and heat logs.

Most of the products in the range are from within a 30-mile radius of the store they are stocked in, with the exception of a few core products for which there is just one supplier across the region. Business in the Community gave the East of England Co-operative an award in 2013, for ‘transforming a rural business network.

The East of England Co-operative’s website records reflections on what this means for the local community as a whole: through payments to local producers they have been able to plough more than £20 million back into the local economy, helping producers to create more than 100 new jobs, whilst protecting dozens more. 

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

GBSLEP’s spatial plan – grounds for optimism, but let’s see how the tensions play out

Last week I was at Futures Network West Midlands’ (FNWM) event on the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP’s new spatial plan, currently out for consultation.

It would be possible to caricature FNWM as a support group for people who terribly miss regional planning and who get together to mourn its passing and discuss its potential rebirth under a future more progressive government. But actually – hats off to David Thew and other members – it’s a truly useful network, a forum for valuable strategic planning thinking; and it is by no means alienated from those who are involved in the new structures: it was the city council’s Dave Carter who presented the LEP spatial plan to us.

So in the discussion around this new spatial plan participants raised some of those ghosts of progressive planning – reducing the need to travel, urban renaissance, challenges to things like sprawl and south-east-centricity – some reflected well in the plan, others weaker.

There was also some talk of the accountability and transparency of this model of planning. No-one claims regional planning was exactly a community-orientated process, but our local elected representatives were accountable for it at least. The LEP process doesn’t have this, and doesn’t have the other formalities of public participation; but its informality gives it a flexibility that has its own potential. What would happen if local people got together some fantastic radical idea and pressed for its inclusion in the spatial plan?

A couple of things struck me about the plan as it was presented to us (bear in mind I’m yet to read it through in detail):

  • At first glance, better than I expected!
  • It’s been greatly contributed to by knowledgeable people acting on a voluntary basis. Genuine voluntary time from people who want to see something work well, as opposed to for personal gain. Whether or not we like what they come up with, that’s impressive.
  • It’s aware of and to some extent reflects global resource limits – referring to the waste hierarchy, for example, and valuing green infrastructure. I suspect Prof Alister Scott had a hand in this.
  • It talks of urban renaissance.
  • It actually mentions social and environmental justice. In a spatial plan! In a LEP paper!

Still, though, there remains a tension around the LEPs’ Government-imposed growth-at-all-costs agenda, and its stated social and environmental aims. In its “vision” section it says “We are unashamedly biased on growth but we know the ultimate point of creating jobs and wealth is to improve the lives of all the people who live in our area.”

Knowing this purpose of economic activity is good, but of course knowing it doesn’t make it happen.  There will always be tensions here. It’s usually the big projects and the big sites that win favour, not necessarily the collection of smaller ones that improve the lives of local people. Of the consultation’s ‘ten ways to accommodate growth’, eight could look very much like sprawl, with its attendant problems for quality of life, place, and environmental justice.

I’ll be trawling through the consultation paper on the plan over the coming weeks, seeing how these promising guiding principles translate into more “concrete” proposals,  and seeing to what extent the plan maximises local benefit as per our Mainstreaming Community Economic Development work. So I’ll be aiming to write again from a more informed perspective.

Karen Leach

Establishing the Potential of a Transition Enterprise Economy in Herefordshire

Last Thursday I attended a meeting at the Hereford Cider Museum to discuss the work which Nick Sherwood and colleagues from Herefordshire Transition Network are doing on developing ‘a thriving, resilient Herefordshire economy’ that is capable of meeting ‘the challenges of climate change, energy security and economic uncertainty’. They are working with a range of people and organisations across the county, many of whom were represented at the meeting.

The meeting began with a presentation from Fiona Ward of Totnes Transition Network describing the radical economic development plan, they are working on, using the principles set out in the excellent REconomy Programme that has been developed by the Transition Movement.

In Totnes, they had used the three building blocks of Reconomy – developing leadership and a shared vision, seeking to transform existing organisations and starting new enterprises – to look at how localised approaches to economic development could be applied to; food production and distribution, housing retrofitting, local energy production and care and well-being.

They had collected detailed information about how these products and services are being delivered currently in Totnes and they had analysed the balance between local and non-local production in each category. They had then looked at ways in which existing businesses could increase the proportion of local production/delivery, which they undertake, and the gaps, which this would still leave. On this basis they had identified opportunities to establish a number of new local enterprises.

The plan had gathered support from a wide range of partners/stakeholders, including the Local Authority, the Chamber of Commerce and many local businesses, some larger businesses and the third sector. They were now looking to reach agreement with several large non-local businesses, as to how they could improve their local ‘offer’. They were also working with existing local businesses to strengthen their position and they were working on 20 different proposals for new enterprises.

Fiona’s presentation was very well received and sparked a lively debate between the different groups and organisations at the meeting. There was surprising degree of consensus about the need to develop a local economy in Herefordshire that was sustainable and that supported local enterprises that embraced Transition thinking. This included many of the private sector representatives, including a member of the LEP, who was keen to see Herefordshire support innovative ways of doing things rather than simply chasing inward investment.  The Local Authority representatives were also supportive, although they rather suggested that their economic development plan had got there first! There was concern about the lack of co-ordination and the danger of duplication of work. The Bulmer Foundation, which already invests in various projects around sustainability, offered future investment in the project, which was very encouraging.

Localise WM is excited about the REconomy potential in Herefordshire and sees potential mutually beneficial links with the findings of our Mainstreaming Community Economic Development project, which we hope to explore with Transitioners in Hereford and elsewhere soon.

Jon Stevens

Buoyed by a positive attitude to a socially inclusive economy in Birmingham

Some very quick thoughts picking up on earlier tweets on today’s Social Inclusion Process Be Birmingham summit: quick because it’s officially my day off and I want to go and tend the rain-battered swamp that passes for our garden in this particular ‘summer’.

Having spent the last two summits concerned that the social inclusion process might just be churning out the same old thoughts on valuing diversity and raising aspirations that we all say every time (important, but not the root causes), I felt quite buoyant at the end of this one; perhaps because I have been part of the inclusive economy subgroup, and the economy is of course a fairly fundamental place to address social exclusion.

First of the positives – that the new Birmingham administration is considering district-based local economic boards, with private and community/non-profit participation,as a mechanism to drive positive, homegrown local economies with a high local multiplier. Our Mainstreaming CED research has brought us into contact with some fantastic community economic development approaches in America and Canada that suggest this approach has a great deal of exciting potential to create more inclusive and sustainable economies.

Secondly, a hint that as the new administration reviews how best procurement can be used to tackle income equality, it could be prepared to question whether it is always best to procure or commission – as with Birmingham Energy Savers- via a single huge entity which is expected then to subcontract to small local organisations, thus losing a great deal of the potential local benefit from the local economy. Cutting out the middleman and procuring directly from a consortium of local organisations requires careful approaches to risk and finance, but again good practice in Italy and elsewhere shows this is possible.

Thirdly, while a harder nut to crack, income inequality’s elephant-in-room status seems to be changing at last. Councillor John Cotton talked of the need for a more equal society and clearly intends to use his Cabinet post to confront this issue. Where the inclusive economy group had previously pondered how Birmingham seems to celebrate its low wage culture as a boon for inward investment, Lisa Trickett and others talked of how we need to bust the myth that a low wage economy is a good economy.We are no longer just talking about ‘social mobility’ and ‘raising aspirations’ which can so often be euphemisms for preserving high levels of inequality, and more mirroring the fairness commissions of other cities which have identified action on high and low pay as priorities.

And fourthly, the general sense that the findings of our Mainstreaming Community Economic Development research are going to be very timely and will chime with other local thinking, which increases the chance of us together achieving change towards a simply better economy in the West Midlands.

One clear recommendation emerging from my perspective was that Birmingham’s economic development department needs mechanisms to ‘social-outcome-proof’ its decision-making.

But as I said, just quick initial thoughts; we’ll reflect more on all this potential through our current research activity.

Karen Leach

iSE & LWM win LEAF funding to support social enterprises on household energy-saving agenda

Press Release – For immediate release: 15th February 2012, Birmingham, UK

Two BIRMINGHAM based social businesses, iSE and Localise West Midlands (LWM), are celebrating their success in winning national funding from LEAF.  This funding will resource 10 locally based social enterprises to engage in the energy saving agenda that will result in local householders saving money through energy efficiency.

LEAF (Local Energy Assessment Fund), a national fund managed by the Energy Saving Trust, is intended to be used to support the understanding of energy efficiency issues at a local level.  The BIRMINGHAM programme is one of only 200 awarded across the country. iSE and LWM are delighted to have resources to address issues in BIRMINGHAM of fuel poverty and low energy efficiency in many of the city’s households.

This funding has been made available as the Government gears itself up for the delivery of the Green Deal, the first scheme of its kind in the world around radically overhauling the energy efficiency of millions of homes across the UK.  Sarah Crawley, CEO of iSE, said “our work will enable BIRMINGHAM residents to have a better understanding of Green Deal and what energy efficiency measures they can take advantage of.”

Phil Beardmore from Localise West Midlands said “with LEAF funding, social enterprises will have a better understanding of the energy efficiency issues affecting their area and they will be able to help local people to save money and energy.”

Contact 

Name: Sarah Crawley    Tel: 0121 771 1411            Name: Phil Beardmore Tel: 07791 839025

 

iSE C.I.C

 

Avoca Court, 23 Moseley Road, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0HJ

 

Telephone: 0121 771 1411 Fax: 0121 771 1421 Email: sarah@i-se.co.uk Website: www.i-se.co.uk

www.localisewestmidlands.org.uk

Osborne’s anti-business culture

Osborne said “There are those who are trying to create an anti-business culture in Britain – and we have to stop them. At stake are not pay packages for a few but jobs and prosperity for the many.”

Agreed, but not the way he means it. Large bonus culture is one illustration of how our over- centralised economic structure has to be propped up by the less wealthy majority.

It is anti-business to tailor your economic development funds – such as regional growth fund – your tax regime and your planning system towards inward investment and transnational corporations at the expense of locally owned and smaller scale enterprise.

The multitude of tiny bonuses in the local economy gives true trickle-down. Eye-wateringly large bonuses in the transnational economy only give us trickle-up. Let’s fight the Treasury’s anti-business culture with a coalition for a better economy.

Karen Leach

Localism bill – more on the dog’s breakfast

For our forthcoming sustainable and resilient planning event in Herefordshire, a couple of us from LWM met today with a contact in the Town and Country Planning Association and have been hearing more about the Localism bill than is good for us.

I previously outlined some concerns about the planning aspects of this bill in a previous post. These concerns have since increased considerably. There is little strategy left in strategic planning. It is dangerously permissive, and simply hands planning powers to the already powerful – whether community members or big developers. New concerns for me now are:

1. I didn’t realise that communities have to pay (tens of thousands of pounds) to develop their neighbourhood plans. Clearly the less inherent knowledge, wealth and time a community has, the less it can get into – and out of – this process. Unless of course a developer generously offers to fund their neighbourhood plan, perhaps making some helpful suggestions along the way. How about a nice little Tesco just there?

2. Cross-boundary issues (transport, shared facilities etc) and particularly dealing with perceived ‘bad neighbour’ activities (waste facilities, traveller sites, prisons, social housing, wind farms) will be a complete dog’s breakfast – made worse when communities realise the wafer-thin limits of the powers they are supposed to have been given. By the time the government is forced to get strategic, objective, cross-border planning back into the system, a lot of damage will have been done.

3. I’m told – though I don’t have a source for this -that the first two neighbourhood plan proposals raised by self-selected community representatives in response to the proposed new powers are a) a ban on all renewables schemes and b) a bunch of landowners seeking unrestricted housing on their rural land. Hmmm…

4. Local development frameworks become even more important, but are being both simplified and hurried along. An excellent B44 article on Birmingham’s core strategy demonstrates how the core strategy is dominated by trickle-down thinking, seeing Birmingham’s role as primarily to be ‘world class’ and ‘iconic’ – prostituting ourselves for inward investment, as Neil McInroy from CLES puts it – not about providing quality of life via sustainable economies for local people. Local areas and local economies are mentioned, but not sufficiently prioritised.

Going back to the bill there’s more – much more – but so little time to write about it. I’m no lawyer, but I suspect it will be a legal minefield. No wonder the government took so long to release it.They must be hoping MPs don’t start picking at all the holes in it…

Speaking of which – just a quick campaign plea – if you have the time, please share some concerns about the localism bill with your MP in time for the bill’s second reading on 17th January. There’s a good briefing from Friends of the Earth here, and some stuff from the TCPA here. You could point your MP to either of those.

Interesting times

Karen Leach

Coordinator

The Green Economy and Local Job Creation

On July 12th our latest speaker meeting sparked a lively discussion on green jobs in the West Midlands- Where will they come from? Who will they employ? And how they will shape the future economy?

Keith Budden, manager of Be Birmingham’s Environmental Partnership, kicked the evening off with a short presentation, outlining the potential to create 1.5 million jobs in the UK by de-carbonising the grid, developing the use of green technologies and encouraging green skills. Such advances have the potential to build upon the manufacturing expertise specific to Birmingham, with city- wide initiatives like the Green New Deal facilitating investment into local businesses and training schemes.

However, the expansion of small scale, sustainable employment opportunities is equally important: jobs which we don’t think of as ‘green’ such as driving a milk float are equally part of the green economy in terms of their contributin to a local food supply. Such activities create the diversity that encourages local resourcefulness, a thriving local economy and conserves our ‘city of 1000 trades’. It is therefore important to facilitate the conditions in which there is sufficient funding, coordination and commitment to allow this diversity to thrive.

At present many small businesses do exist but largely in isolation and are made financially viable only by those taking a moral standpoint. Jon Morris expressed that the Government’s Green Investment Bank model would do little to strengthen local linkages, effectively putting our green future into the hands of the UK’s major banks who traditionally have found it much easier to channel investment to larger companies rather than getting involved in small-scale enterprise.

Peak oil will have a major role in the shift towards a more localised approach, as a decline in cheap foreign imports will encourage the re-emergence of local repair industries (with Birmingham City Council currently mapping reuse and repair businesses in the area) and make the innovation, manufacture and marketing of products and services more economic at a local level.

Discussion followed on what needs to be done to catalyse the green economy in order to create green jobs. A need for networking between organisations, businesses and individuals it was felt has great potential. A free networking forum would provide the opportunity to match innovative grassroots ideas with those who could make it happen, whilst raising awareness of possible allies,  funding opportunities and support systems to assist in extending influence and creating employment.

This could spark the creation of a local green directory, much like finditinbirmigham.com but for all things green. The possibility of a ‘Green Dragons Den’ could also be a great way to share advice and empower people’s ideas, perhaps providing the break they need to catalyse local innovation and job creation.

Right now what is needed are enabling activities and structures, coupled with leadership from local institutions, in order to begin a transition to a diverse, sustainable local economy.

Anna Watson

Is there a job in the Green Economy for you? LWM's latest speaker event

Birmingham Green New Deal and beyond: How the green economy can kick-start Birmingham out of recession and create a sustainable local economy.

Localise West Midlands and Birmingham Friends of the Earth would like to invite you to a speaker event discussing the potential of the green economy to boost local job creation.

Speakers:

  • Keith Budden, Environmental Partnership, Be Birmingham.
  • Jon Morris, West Midlands Green New Deal, Localise West Midlands.

Topics discussed:

  • How stabilising financial markets, initiating local job creation and securing our future against peak oil and climate change can be tackled together.
  • Inspiring, locally relevant stories of job creation in sustainable vocations such as energy efficiency, renewables and recycling.
  • The barriers to further green job creation and how they could be overcome.

The event is taking place Monday 12th July, 7pm @  Bertha Wright room, Carrs Lane Church Centre,  Birmingham. Regrettably there is no disabled access, we apologise in advance if this causes any inconvenience.

We hope that you can make it! Any queries please leave us a comment and we will get back to you asap.

Anna Watson