Tomorrow: Thursday 29th September. 5-7 pm WM New Economics Group

wmneg 2

BFOE warehouse

Open meeting: 5 – 7 pm. 

FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

With the UK political landscape becoming clearer after a tumultuous summer the WM New Economics Group is meeting to exchange views on the way forward for some of the economic policies and ideas members have discussed over time.

All welcome




phd-student-monitoring-emissionsProfessor Thorne’s colleague monitoring air pollutants at Grand Central

As reported earlier this year a WHO study of air pollution was undertaken by an international team of scientists. Dr Annette Pruss-Ustun, a co-author, presented findings that countries around the world were spending millions of dollars each year treating lung disease, heart attacks and strokes exacerbated by air pollution and that  much of this money could be saved if governments reduced levels of soot and smog.

Today Pilita Clark of the FT points out that limits on particles above 2.5 micrometres, known as PM2.5, are met in much of the US, Canada and other industrialised countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

Though the EU has pioneered many environmental policies, parts of the UK, France and Germany exceed WHO limits for PM2.5, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system.

According to the study more than 90% per cent of the UK’s population lives in areas where levels of air pollution exceed WHO limits. The higher levels of pollution in Europe could be due to the number of EU countries encouraging the use of diesel cars compared with North America. “Certain countries have a relatively old diesel car fleet that is heavily polluting,” she said. “In North America they have fewer diesel cars.”

There is a question mark over the levels of diesel-generated air-pollution on Grand Central platforms experienced by commuters like Professor Rex Harris (Birmingham) whose work includes the promotion of a hydrogen fuelled transport system – road, rail and waterways.

In February we were told of research conducted by Professor John Thornes (Birmingham) finding almost seven times the annual average EU limit of particulate matter on one platform. The TV programme Dispatches then visited New Street Station with its own monitors and found “high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates on one of the platforms… way above EU annual limits”.

Network Rail told the programme it wanted the station to be a “safe and healthy environment” and that in the coming years it “will shift to less polluting electric trains”.

Until then, how many people will contract lung disease, or have heart attacks and strokes due in large part to pollution generated by air, road and rail transport?




One-party rule for the foreseeable future?

On Sunday evening two of our readers were considering the future and seeing no possibility of anything other than an elective dictatorship, after boundary changes expected to boost the Conservatives by 20 English seats.

The younger generation and their children will bear the brunt

trickle-downAs yet, people in their 20s and 30s in the Birmingham-Solihull area merely express mild concern about this prospect – they don’t seem to realise the implications of such apathy for all who are not wealthy, not of Oxbridge/Russell Group ability or not in good health.

Award-winning journalist Matthew Norman has asked three questions:

How long do you think it will be before a party other than the Conservatives is in position to form a government?

Can you imagine it within two decades, or three?

Can you envisage it in your lifetime at all? 

An article he wrote last February referred to “our enfeebled democracy” and his sense that “Britain is shuffling on its Zimmer towards one-party statehood”. The points made included:

  • Labour is politically wounded by its huge losses in Scotland.
  • Labour has also been financially weakened by the Government’s Trade Union Bill halving what it gets from the unions.
  • Government will continue to sidestep the Commons by using statutory instruments and
  • threaten to create new peers whenever the Lords don’t rubberstamp cruel and oppressive measures.
  • Government will inflict more austerity on the poorest, continue to award beneficial concessions for the richest
  • and allow the health of city dwellers and the climate to be even more affected by many forms of pollution which benefit big business. 

Matthew Norman finds it “incredibly depressing . . . that no one gives a damn”

The writer puts it more mildly, like Yeats she finds that: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”. 


Democracy appears to be doomed – unless the cross-party alliance to promote electoral reform gains ground.




 stirchley-bathsThe Birmingham Cookbook was launched at Stirchley Baths earlier this month 


In his foreword, Birmingham born and bred chef, Glynn Purnell, explains that this book highlights our regional food, from the provenance of ingredients from farms on the outskirts of the city, through to breakfasts on offer in suburban café, lunches from delis and ‘proper gastro pub fare from real ale houses’.


The event was hosted by Birgit Kehrer of ChangeKitchen, a social enterprise which offers award-winning locally sourced organic vegetarian and vegan food. Two of her helpers (above right) welcomed and served all-comers – the first to arrive being a representative from Citylicious Birmingham. Citylicious is a dining guide which offers a choice of restaurants and introduces the newest artisan producers and focusses on provenance – farm to plate.


Sanjay (right) from Spice Kitchen, has set up a family business which offers fresh, authentic spices by mail order. He explained:

“We source the spices in their raw state, like cloves, curry leaves and cardamom pods, then we roast and grind them by hand. Everything is fresh, made in small batches within a week or so of the order, unlike the stuff in shops which has been hanging around for a long time and gone stale”.

Orders are coming in briskly after Spice Kitchen exhibited at the recent Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2016 held at Olympia.

b-kerre-3Kerre Chen from Meze Publishing spoke about the Birmingham Cookbook to the gathering. She conducts public and press relations for Meze, which has published sixteen regional cookbooks. Meze Publishing recently won ‘best new-comer’ at the Independent Publishing Awards and issued the cookbook in collaboration with Dine Birmingham. Contributions came from Adams, Purnell’s, Simpsons and independents such as Cherry Reds, Loaf and Original Patty Men.

Tom Maher is co-founder of The Original Patty Men, another independent, which was often seen at Birmingham’s street food events like Digbeth Dining Club, serving locally sourced longhorn beef burgers. OPM has now opened a Digbeth base in Shaw’s Passage in one of the railway bridge arches (below).


There were people representing a good ‘mix’ of establishments from different areas including, Stirchley, Edgbaston, Digbeth, Ladypool Road, Kings Heath and Wythall.

b-nathan-eadesThey included the following contributors:

Nathan Eades (left), the new head chef at Simpson’s, Edgbaston’s newly refurbished Grade II listed Michelin starred restaurant

Sadie Williams – formerly with MAC, who came from Beckett’s Farm, Wythall, Orange Kitchen Cookery School .


Sadie came with her colleagues Hannah (marketing) and Rachel (conferences)

b-ali-imdad-headAli Imdad, Great British Bake Off contestant, opened a 60 seat dessert parlour in Ladypool Road last year.

Artisan desserts offers a mix of Asian and traditional English fare in an Asian area, where people don’t just want to have a kulfi after their curry – and some customers travel from as far afield as Manchester.

And Tracy Fletcher (below, far left) from the Kitchen Garden in Kings Heath came with Charlotte from Stirchley. She joined others who attended the launch, relaxing after the event.


More detail about the cookbook is given on Spice Kitchen’s website.


Thanks are due to Shirley Institute’s Ann (cameraman) and Malcolm Turner (escort & moral support) for stepping in at the last moment to take photographs.





As the potential dangers of nuclear road convoys were highlighted in a report launched yesterday in the BMI’s John Peak room, international negotiations are moving forward which – if successful – would eventually make the nuclear weapons industry obsolete.

Following a landmark recommendation last month by a UN General Assembly working group Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, has announced that his country is to join other UN member states in tabling a resolution next month to convene negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons in 2017.

nuclear-hazard-signConcerns were expressed on this site in March about the failure to label vehicles carrying nuclear materials with hazard warnings (see left) and the decision not to alert councils, police, fire and ambulance services when such loads are being carried in their area.

ICANW, which was set up by concerned medics sets out the hazards clearly in the report – the lead author being Rob Edwards (above, centre), a name familiar to long-term readers of the New Scientist. It listed serious failings revealed in the MoD’s emergency simulation exercises and described in some detail the implications of actual nuclear convoy accidents (2002-2016). We list the more alarming items below, but many other incidents listed which would not have led to fires or contamination, were failures of communication or key equipment which would have made the convoys far more vulnerable to a successful terrorist attack. 

May 2003 fuel leak from rear of bomb carrier engine.

May 2003: bomb carrier engine overheating

October 2003: smoke after excessive use of brakes during descent

May 2004: bomb carrier brake not working

December 2004: oil leak from engine on bomb carrier

January 2005 smoke issued from bomb carrier fuse box

September 2008: escort vehicle brakes overheating

December 2009: convoy off route due to commander error

January 2009: bomb carrier fuse box failure

December 2009: escort vehicle transmission failure

July 2011: command vehicle fuel system failure

January 2012: fire tender brake fault

January 2012: escort vehicle gun port flap opened inadvertently

March 2012: load-securing system damaged during offload

June 2012: manhole cover collapsed under escort vehicle

September 2012: escort vehicle reported smoke and fumes in cab

May 2013 road traffic collision involving two convoy vehicles

May 2013 collision with a parked civilian vehicle

January 2014: collision with a car at an MoD base

November 2014: bomb carrier breakdown

May 2016: electrical equipment failure on support vehicle

MPs and MEPs are being asked to take these issues as seriously as MP Paul Flynn, who raised the issue in parliament in January and call for the reinstatement of all labelling of vehicles carrying hazardous substances and alert councils, police, fire and ambulance services when such loads are being driven through their area.

Download the report here:




A cross-party alliance is being proposed in some quarters – see MP Clive Lewis and Jonathon Porritt, who responded to a call from Neal Lawson of Compass. 

On the 5th July, Clive Lewis joined Caroline Lucas, Sir Vince Cable, Tommy Sheppard (SNP) and 1,000 audience members at a sold-out Progressive Alliance event, in Westminster. 

MEP Molly Scott Cato suggested contacting Neal Lawson of Compass. She recommended this article.

Neal Lawson would like to plan another meeting in Birmingham to focus on building a progressive alliance to promote electoral reform. He spoke at the discussion initiated by the Green Party on building a progressive cross party alliance at the University of Birmingham on 2nd September. He said this went well – almost 1000 came.

All those satisfied with the status quo would support the argument made by Conservative former minister John Penrose that electoral reform would harm our democracy rather than help it and the issue should be left alone for a “long, long time”.




A picture conveying a message its target readership doesn’t want to hear. Instead the Post presented a belittling exercise by Neil Elkes headlining the Bakeoff.


Meanwhile social media is resounding to #neweconomics messages like these:



Will the safety flaws in a French nuclear power station design put us all at risk or was it just Murdoch mischief ?

As concerns are freely raised about expense, security and waste disposal, the warning from the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety about the Hinkley reactor’s design safety is no longer being discussed, despite evidence recently reported in the Times and the Telegraph.


The Flamanville vessel being lowered into position

The institute warned France’s top nuclear safety regulator that there were “multiple failure modes” that could have “grave consequences” on the safety relief valves on the Flamanville pressure vessel, which play a key role in regulating pressure in the reactor. Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor of the Times, reported that EDF may have to cut output or walk away, as the same design is earmarked for Hinkley Point in Somerset.

The regulator is concerned that the French manufacturer of the pressure vessel, Areva, used the wrong manufacturing method, allowing for the creation of weak spots in which there is too much carbon in the steel. The pressure vessel was placed inside the main reactor building in 2012. It is surrounded by thousands of tonnes of hardened concrete as well as other components, from which it would need to be cut.

The pressure vessel for Hinkley Point has not yet been manufactured. Should we adopt the Finnish decision to use a safer Japanese product – or ditch the hugely expensive project and redirect money into reliable tidal power now gaining ground in Scotland?






Richard Hatcher, professor of education (Birmingham City University) has written an article, ‘Skilled and ready: what Combined Authorities want from schools’.

He summarised the argument made in his conclusion:

The purpose of Combined Authorities, driven by government, is private sector economic growth and public sector reform. Economic growth requires improved productivity. The main obstacle, it is claimed, is a “skills deficit”, which schools need to address.  Combined Authorities, driven by funding and governance imperatives, will seek to put pressure on schools to do so.

However, the evidence provides little support for the “skills deficit” claim. The real problem, I argue, is a structurally low skill low investment economy.

A local reference: Jaguar Land Rover, based in the WMCA area, is a case in point: it has an annual investment of approximately £2.75 billion a year but faces critical skills shortages in engineers, designers and technicians. The explanation for this shortage offered by Begley et al (Coventry, 2015, paywall) puts Wilshaw’s claim into context.  In part responsibility lies with the employers themselves: it is “a legacy of the engineering sector being locked into a low-skills equilibrium caused by a long-term failure to educate and train its workforce” (p594). It is also the result in part of the failure of government to ensure sufficient qualified maths and science teachers.

skilled-logoWhat employers want from “non-academic” school leavers are basic skills, “soft skills” and positive attitudes to work. But the Conservative government has a very different project for schools, exemplified by the dominance of the E-Bacc. This contradiction creates a space for “employability” programmes such as Skilled and Ready – more detail here.

The extent to which Combined Authorities will seek to extend their reach into the school system and how effective they will be in gearing schools more closely to their agendas, remains to be seen. In that context it also remains to be seen the extent to which schools, especially those which are not high-performing in terms of government targets, will turn to “employability” programmes such as that offered by Skilled and Ready, and the extent to which Combined Authorities may promote them.

What can be predicted, I think, is that as Combined Authorities spread and develop they will add fuel to the debate about the relationship between schools and the labour market, resulting in more questioning of the E-Bacc curriculum and more pressure to validate a pre-vocational and vocational pathway. But it also opens up the opportunity to argue the case for a unified and critical common core secondary curriculum for all.

Ed: a very different case has been presented by Theresa May in her recent speech about ‘new grammars of the future ’in ‘our increasingly diverse schools system’.





Showing confidence in the project as HS2’s chief executive leaves, the FT reports that Jim O’Neill, the Treasury minister, has urged Number 10 to consider enlarging Birmingham airport – which would be less than 40 minutes away from London after HS2 reaches the Midlands in 2026. 

O’Neill, a former chief economist at Goldman Sachs, has told Number 10 that opting for a big expansion at Birmingham would send “a massive signal on rebalancing the British economy”, according to officials close to the talks. 

The minister’s representations on Birmingham’s future role are being taken seriously by Mrs May’s co-chief of staff, Nick Timothy, born and bred in the city, who wants the government to focus more attention on the Midlands. 

FT journalists George Parker and Jim Pickard say that the proposal is being considered by Theresa May as a possible solution to the capital’s aviation congestion, but others in Mrs May’s administration believe it is too late for Birmingham to be reintroduced into the debate and it could be identified for expansion as part of a longer-term airports strategy.