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.

Make social care an economic ‘engine’ of the West Midlands

Press release for our inclusive economics & social care report with New economics Foundation – launched today

Social care may be on the brink of crisis but the sector has the potential to become a driver of the West Midlands economy.

A report for Localise West Midlands as part of the Good City Economies programme, has called for a re-framing of the sector, away from large-scale providers towards community and cooperative care models.

Prioritising and promoting community-scale care provision could transform the sector, creating high quality jobs and improving standards of care across the region.

Following calls by the new mayor of West Midlands Andy Street for greater diversity in the provision of all public services, this timely report sets out the benefits of a more localised social care system.

The report, Social Care as a Local Economic Solution in the West Midlands, was scoped by a group of organisations active in the region on inclusive economics and social care.

Social care is a ‘dysfunctional system dominated by “too big to fail” companies’, the report says. For while the ‘big five’ care providers appear to offer lower costs, almost a third of their spend goes to shareholders.

Data cited in the report shows that the UK’s five biggest chain social care companies offer big returns to investors, taking up 29% of their costs —the second-biggest drain on expenditure after staff wages.

It calls for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to prioritise new models of care and establish a community care innovation unit.

Community-led care providers tend to keep money in the local economy and offer more personalised care for the same cost. A regional ecosystem of smaller-scale care businesses, such as West Midlands-based Crossroads Care, could ensure public investment in social care is re-invested in communities.

This re-framing of social care models a new approach to local economics, one that is aligned with the assets and needs of communities rather than focused on economic growth and inward investment. This ‘foundational’ approach to local economies could be extended to other sectors such as housing, food and utilities.

David Powell, subject lead at the New Economics Foundation and author of the report, said, ‘Social care is on a cliff-edge. New ideas are desperately needed. The West Midlands can transform the perception of the care sector in the region: a growing economic sector with the potential to meet a diversity of skills, employment and economic needs for communities that aren’t helped by GVA-driven economic strategies.’

Localise West Midlands, who commissioned the report said: ‘The West Midlands coordination role and the election of its first Mayor – who has committed to not-for-profit models of public service provision – places it in a unique position of leadership.

‘The region has an opportunity to be visionary if it understands how sectors like social care can provide careers in places where people live meeting local needs. To deliver its commitment to inclusive prosperity the WMCA will need strategies like this based on real local needs and assets, and to create an economy in which we all have an ownership stake.’

 

Notes:

Social Care as a local economic solution for the West Midlandsis part of the Good City Economies project, a partnership between New Economics Foundation and Centre for Local Economic Strategies, with funding from Friends Provident Foundation.

Localise WM works towards local supply chains, money flow and ownership for a more just and sustainable economy and will be focusing on policy opportunities such as this at the regional level over the coming years. Its work on this has been funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

Download the report here

 For more information contact:

 Author and primary contact:

David Powell: David.Powell@neweconomics.org

 Co-ordinator of Localise West Midlands:

Karen McCarthy: karenm@localisewestmidlands.org.uk

@localisewm 0121 685 1155

Good City Economies: @GoodCityEconomy

 

Notes:

Localise West Midlands: http://www.localisewestmidlands.org.uk

Good City Economies: https://newstartmag.co.uk/good-city-economies/

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:

 

 

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