Anchoring community wealth

Preston’s skyline: Carl Ji, a Chinese student, at the University of Central Lancashire

Austerity has been devolved to local councils and, perversely, areas with higher levels of poverty have been hit hardest, councils have on average faced 40% cuts in their budgets.

In the face of adversity councils such as Preston have responded by bringing together anchor institutions and working with them to drive through a local programme of economic transformation. The government’s Commission for Employment and Skills defines an ‘anchor institution’ as “one that, alongside its main function, plays a significant and recognised role in a locality by making a strategic contribution to the local economy” and ‘tending’ to be non-profit.

By changing their procurement policies, these anchor institutions were able to drive up spending locally protecting businesses and jobs. They are looking at the council pension fund to see if its investment can support local businesses keeping the money circulating in their town.

A study by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies found that six of the anchor institutions in the area are now spending 18% of their budget in Preston, up from 5% in 2013. So an extra £75 million a year is being spent within the city, with the top 300 local suppliers creating an extra 800 jobs last year alone. And others are watching: Manchester city council has now increased its local spend from 44% of its budget to 70%; Lowestoft and Salford are also interested.

Last year this blog reported that Birmingham City Council was to work with Centre for Local Economic Strategies, with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and support from Localise West Midlands, to see how anchor institutions in the non-profit and private sectors, including Birmingham University, Pioneer Housing and the QE hospital, could use their spending power to increase economic opportunities for Birmingham’s communities, businesses and citizens. Read more on the council website here.

In a separate project, Localise West Midlands has been working with the Midland Metropolitan Hospital (under construction, artist’s impression) which will be the closest adult hospital to the centre of Birmingham. The Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust and LWM are partners in Urban Innovative Actions supporting the development of the local economy. The Trust hopes to spend 2% of the new hospital’s annual budget with local suppliers, adding £5-8m to the local economy. It will provide locally sourced meals and the builder has a target of 70% local employment, aiming to source 80% of construction materials locally.

Alice Thomson in The Times pointed out that making a legal requirement that councils buy and hire goods and services locally is banned by EU law at the moment, so it should be noted that the Preston project operates on a voluntary basis.

She commented: “The government should take the idea and encourage it, particularly in hollowed-out market towns where out of town shopping centres have crushed their sense of identity” adding “But (procurement policies) could also be used for more high-profile programmes such as the rebuilding of Big Ben, where the steel has had to come from Brazil, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, or the V&A which showcases Britain’s greatest designs but where the tiles for the new forecourt came from Holland”.

 

 

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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

Birmingham Newsroom: find it and buy it from local businesses to help the local economy

m-mahmood-small-at-rally-supporting-jcBirmingham Newsroom, Birmingham City Council’s online press office writes about Find it in Birmingham, the city council’s procurement portal where the goods and services the council needs to go about its business are bought, aiming to make sure the Birmingham pound is kept local. 

Councillor Majid Mahmood, cabinet member for value for money and efficiency, has talked about how the city council’s procurement portal is helping boost business and jobs in the city, alongside beneficiary Lightpower, who won a contract with Centro. See the short video here.

He adds that all evidence suggests buying from local small businesses will help the local economy, as local small companies are more likely to employ people locally and spend their earnings locally.

birmingham-pound-kl-hubThis is precisely the awareness expressed by Localise West Midlands (LWM) about helping to set up a ‘dedicated’ Birmingham Pound, which would encourage individuals and businesses to source goods and services within the city region.

Years ago LWM organised a conference exploring public procurement, funded by AWM and the Countryside Agency and attended by those involved in procurement, with representation from most of the region’s local authorities and various health and other statutory bodies (Click here).

Two reports were produced: a summary of local public procurement initiatives, and the report of the conference itself. Following discussions at the conference, a regional strategy group and regional practitioners’ group were set up. These are making progress on a range of procurement issues. LWM continues to contribute to these groups, noting that the WTO’s liberalisation agenda has been contributing to the loss of local and national control of purchasing, which has been keenly felt by those prioritising local public services above corporate profit. LWM added its voice to that of many organisations calling for national government to bring such concerns on procurement to the WTO negotiations.

That earlier initiative related to food procurement: the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility has a wider brief but is also about trying to keep investment local, by making sure that local businesses have the best chance to secure part of the £1bn of investment the Council spends every year on providing services.

There is also now a welcome emphasis on ‘putting the local back into house building’ and, as Councillor Tahir Ali said when the charter was launched, the city’s more diverse house building programme has large sites where the usual house builders offer the best economies of scale but it now also has an ‘emerging portfolio’ of smaller sites. In accordance with the charter, the council wants to enable small and medium enterprises to secure this type of work in the future. He ended:

“This has strong links to Find it in Birmingham which I hope you are all signed up to so that you can see the range of opportunities that are available to small and medium sized enterprises that are located here in the city”.

 

 

 

A new citywide currency keeping money earned in city in the local economy

karen andy reeve pound

Above: Karen Leach from Localise West Midlands and Andy Reeve from Impact Hub Birmingham who have produced a currency note exclusive to Birmingham – see http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-could-next-city-launch-8810436.

They are planning to follow the model of the existing Bristol Pound, which is currently used by 782 firms and generates £1 million of business each year.

Karen Leach, coordinator at Localise West Midlands, said: “What normally happens is money leaves the area all the time because you spend money in an organisation that isn’t locally based and locally owned. Money is constantly sucked out like water down a big plughole from the local economy. That’s what we’re trying to stop.”

Since its creation more than two years ago, the Bristol Pound has become the UK’s largest rival to Sterling and the first city-wide currency. Brixton, Stroud, Totnes and Exeter have also introduced the scheme – and it is hoped the Birmingham Pound will repeat their success with independent businesses.

bristol poundThe Bristol Pound, a non-profit organisation, is regulated by the Bristol Credit Union and has received backing from Bristol City Council which has discussed plans to pay staff in the currency. Around a quarter of current Bristol Pound transactions are made using paper notes in £1, £5, £10 and £20 denominations while the rest are made electronically by mobile phone text messages or online. Read more here: Bristol Mayor chooses to be paid in Bristol Pounds.

Consultations on developing the idea will be made by a campaign group of local credit unions, trade organisations and businesses following an initial meeting last week.

Theme of top post this year: realising the potential of local economic power

Loc prosp header

Mainstreaming Community Economic Development is a major strand of LWM’s work that explores and supports an economic development approach that is based on making the most of local enterprise, existing business supply chains, networks, community assets and human potential.

Read on: http://localisewestmidlands.org.uk/mainstreaming_ced/

Its second project, Localising Prosperity: http://localisewestmidlands.org.uk/mainstreaming_ced/mced2-reports/

Human-scale, decentralised technologies

small is beautiful latest edition coverIn Lean Logic, the late David Fleming recalls that in in 1995, the Times Literary Supplement placed a book by E.F. Schumacher, the chief economic advisor to the UK Coal Board for two post war decades, among the 100 most influential books published since World War II. Small Is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered has been translated into many languages.

This internationally influential economic thinker, statistician and economist, who advocated human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies, would have heartily agreed with Karen Leach’s observation that the global drive for the mega and mega-complex solution is part of the centralisation drive – where decision-makers can’t see the collective potential of small scale technology, now often called ‘appropriate technology’ (AT).

Fleming records that Schumacher deplored the “countless ‘experts’ who cannot conceive the possibility of any industrial production unless all the paraphernalia of the Western way of life are provided in advance. The ‘basis of everything’, they say, is of course electricity, steel, cement, near-perfect organisation, sophisticated accountancy. . . In blind pursuit of [a] highly questionable utopia, these ‘experts’ tend to neglect everything that is realistically possible“.

 Locally designed using local materials

AT is designed to fit the circumstances of the people who are to use it; people who need a solution which is cheap to build, small-scale, made from local materials, easy to operate, simple to maintain and energy-efficient is often. It does not start a sequence of pollution, with clean-up commitments, repairs and costs extending into the future. We suggest example:

  • micro-hydro turbines, long-lasting and low-maintenance provide enough power for a number of houses or a small community. The nearest example is probably the Beeston Weir project in the East Midlands. Practical Action can offer far cheaper turbines than commercial products in this country;
  • off-grid living can include solar which generates electricity for immediate use, with no grid connection; solar panels convert sunlight to energy which charges the battery built into lights, computers and refrigerators;
  • there are several reed beds in the region used for the water treatment of a single house or a small neighbourhood – water is cleaned by micro-organisms living on the root system; probably the nearest small-scale example is at Ryton Organic Garden near Coventry.
  • straw-bale construction, probably the nearest regional example is the next door neighbour of Dragon Orchard in Herefordshire;
  • see also the simple-to-build, cost-effective low environmental impact office in Moseley.

LWM’s Mission statement

Localise West Midlands is a not-for-profit organisation which exists to promote the environmental, social and economic benefits of:

  • Local trading, using local businesses, materials and supply chains
  • Linking local needs to local resources
  • Development of community and local capacity
  • Decentralisation of appropriate democratic and economic power
  • Provision of services tailored to meet local needs.

This localisation approach makes economic development and government systems more sensitive to local autonomy, culture, wellbeing and the responsible use of finite resources, and is growing in popularity with people and organisations all over the world.

For more information about some of these technologies, contact the Renewable Energy Centre in Kenilworth. See also Localise West Midlands Scoping Study: Decentralised Energy for Birmingham (pdf)

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A different economic model: 2 – a constant, stable,‘steady state’ economy

George Monbiot suggests that it is time for a government commission on post-growth economics which would invite contributions from those already investigating the possibility of moving towards a steady state economy: one that seeks distribution rather than blind expansion; that does not demand infinite growth on a finite planet.

Localise West Midlands is dedicated to advocating and building such an economy

Such a commission, Monbiot points out, should ask the questions that never get asked:

  • Why are we wrecking the natural world and public services to generate growth when that growth is not delivering contentment, security or even, for most of us, greater prosperity?
  • Why have we enthroned growth, regardless of its utility, above all over outcomes?
  • Why, despite failures so great and so frequent, have we not changed the model?

The Constant EconomyAs MP Zac Goldsmith says, introducing his excellent book, the rainbow-titled Constant Economy: how to create a stable society:

“Since the industrial revolution, our economies have grown at the expense of the natural world. But as pressure mounts on the earth’s finite resources, we can no longer pretend that business-as-usual is a realistic option.

“One way or another we will have to change. The longer we delay, the more our societies will be at the mercy of events and the harsher the eventual adjustments.

“There is an alternative: a constant economy. The constant economy operates at the human scale and, above all, it recognises nature’s limits. In a constant economy:

  • resources are valued not wasted,
  • where food is grown sustainably,
  • goods are built to last,
  • energy security is based on the use of renewable sources,
  • and strong communities are valued as a country’s most effective hedge against social, economic and environmental instability”.

George Monbiot points out that, when the next crash comes, these questions will be inescapable.

See also: A different economic model: 1 – money creation, ‘a long-neglected question’

A call for a locally-focused approach, integrated with conventional economic development

george morran mediumIn a letter to the Observer, George Morran, who has a wealth of experience in local government, wrote: the case for a new approach to manufacturing (Observer, Business Sunday 29th December) needs to be taken further.

The Observer article issued ‘a big challenge, but one that must be met’: “Britain must look beyond London, put faith in manufacturing and redress the balance of wealth to benefit the regions beyond the south-east”.

George focussed on the UK’s dependency on the manufacture of arms, while at the same time being forced to import trains, trams and other manufactured goods from abroad. He asked:

“Would it not be possible – with the level of Government support currently given to BAE and its supply chain – to fill some of these more local needs?

“The UK’s manufacturing heritage was founded on local manufacturers meeting local needs, firstly agricultural and later the needs of the coal, iron and related industries. We need to move back to this more localised approach to manufacturing”.

lwm logo clearerHe observed that leaving the future of manufacturing to the global market place is unlikely to lead to local manufacturing responding to local needs and ended by pointing out that:

Localise West Midlands has published a report about Community Economic Development which sets out in some detail a more localised approach to economic development. It demonstrates the significant benefits of more locally-owned economies in creating successful, socially just and diverse places and highlights how a locally-focused approach can be fully integrated into conventional economic development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the systems by which we organise our livelihoods

barrow cadbury blog header

 barrow cadbury karen

 

In this Barrow Cadbury Trust blog, the co-ordinator of Localise West Midlands gives feedback on the opportunity to research the assumption at the heart of Localise West Midlands’ mission offered by the Trust.

The assumption is: “. . .that in a more localised economy, more people have a stake, which redistributes economic power and resilience, reducing disconnection and inequality . . . in need of exploration in the face of growing inequality and economic failure”. She continues:

“There are plentiful ideas around what we have been calling community economic development: social inclusion as CSR, community-led job creation, co-ops and social enterprises, local procurement initiatives. To many economic development practitioners these are very nice projects that go into a little box labelled “voluntary sector” and have little to do with the real economy, which is about big sites, tax breaks for multinational corporations – “prostituting ourselves for inward investment” as the Centre for Local Economic Strategies‘ Neil McInroy colourfully puts it.

“Our project, Mainstreaming Community Economic Development, is an attempt to take localised economies out of this little box. Firstly, to see the social potential not only of voluntary sector initiatives with social objectives, but also of private sector activity that is locally controlled and based, where the community’s participation is as owners, investors, purchasers and networkers . . . ”.

To read the whole article go to the Barrow Cadbury Trust blog

 

“Humanity is conducting a huge, uncontrolled and almost certainly irreversible climate experiment with the only home it is likely to have”: Financial Times

We summarise the thoughts of Martin Wolf, the FT’s chief economics commentator here, because Localise West Midlands’ aims and policies are designed with his ‘politically sellable vision of a prosperous low-carbon economy’ in mind. He wrote, yesterday:

“Last week the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was reported to have passed 400 parts per million for the first time in 4.5m years. It is also continuing to rise at a rate of about 2 parts per million every year. On the present course, it could be 800 parts per million by the end of the century. Thus, all the discussions of mitigating the risks of catastrophic climate change  have turned out to be empty words.

“Collectively, humanity has yawned and decided to let the dangers mount . . . clutching at straws “

“(H)umanity is conducting a huge, uncontrolled and almost certainly irreversible climate experiment  with the only home it is likely to have. Moreover, if one judges by the basic science and the opinions of the vast majority of qualified scientists, risk of calamitous change is large . . . ”

Meanwhile, Wolf notes, ‘deniers’ clutch at straws: “It is noted, for example, that average global temperatures have not risen recently, though they are far higher than a century ago. Yet periods of falling temperature within a rising trend have occurred before”.

Bequeathing a planet in climatic chaos is a rather bigger concern than leaving a burden of public debt

“What makes the inaction more remarkable is that we have been hearing so much hysteria about the dire consequences of piling up a big burden of public debt on our children and grandchildren. But all that is being bequeathed is financial claims of some people on other people. If the worst comes to the worst, a default will occur. Some people will be unhappy. But life will go on. Bequeathing a planet in climatic chaos is a rather bigger concern. There is nowhere else for people to go and no way to reset the planet’s climate system”

So why are we behaving like this?

  • The first reason is that, as the civilisation of ancient Rome was built on slaves, ours is built on fossil fuels.
  • A second reason is opposition to any interventions in the free market. . . to admit that a free economy generates a vast global external cost is to admit that the large-scale government regulation so often proposed by hated environmentalists is justified. For many libertarians or classical liberals, the very idea is unsupportable. It is far easier to deny the relevance of the science.
  • A third reason may be the pressure of responding to immediate crises that has consumed almost all the attention of policy makers in the high-income countries since 2007.
  • A fourth is a touching confidence that, should the worst comes to the worst, human ingenuity will find some clever ways of managing the worst results of climate change.
  • A fifth is the complexity of reaching effective and enforceable global agreements on the control of emissions among so many countries.
  • A sixth is indifference to the interests of people to be born in a relatively distant future. As the old line goes: “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?”
  • A final (and related) reason is the need to strike a just balance between poor countries and rich ones and between those who emitted most of the greenhouse gases in the past and those who will emit in the future.

What might shift such a course?

Wolf: “My view is, increasingly, that there is no point in making moral demands. People will not do something on this scale because they care about others, even including their own more remote descendants. They mostly care rather too much about themselves for that . . .

“A necessary, albeit not sufficient condition, then, is a politically sellable vision of a prosperous low-carbon economy. That is not what people now see. Substantial resources must be invested in the technologies that would credibly deliver such a future . . .

Institutions must also be developed that can deliver it

Neither the technological nor the institutional conditions exist at present. In their absence, there is no political will to do anything real about the process driving our experiment with the climate.

Yes, there is talk and wringing of hands. But there is, predictably, no effective action. If that is to change, we must start by offering humanity a far better future. Fear of distant horror is not enough.

martin.wolf@ft.com


Read the whole article here (free registration):  

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c926f6e8-bbf9-11e2-a4b4-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2TLKEQjvu

Note also news of the sea-levels forecast submitted to the IPCC from ICE2Sea, a four-year programme of study by scientists from 24 leading EU institutions.