Archives for category: Devolution

Peter Madeley (Express and Star) writes, On the face of it, £392 million sounds like a fair amount of money to fire up the Midlands Engine”. This is, however, covering four years’ expenditure spread thinly across the Government-defined Midlands area which takes in the entire middle of England, stretching from The Marches close to the Welsh border to East Lincolnshire on the North Sea coast.

Sajid Javid who will be overseeing the Midlands Engine

George Morran’s first comment on this article is that without the right investment the so-called Midland Engine will soon begin to stutter and run out of steam. He suspects that for the vast majority of people in the West Midlands it hasn’t even started. He continues:

The proposals announced last week which gave the chancellor some photos opportunities are tiny in relation to the region’s needs and the cuts in public expenditure already made since 2010 and more to come.

The measures are the creation of Whitehall and their business-led agents working behind closed doors. They have absolutely no local ownership outside the political and business elites. I suspect most local councillors haven’t a clue what’s going on so what chance have voters?

Whitehall’s support for a Midlands delivery agent for its ideas goes back to the 1990s as a counter to New Labour’s aim to establish eight Regional Assemblies and Development Agencies across England outside London including the West and East Midlands. Whitehall’s motive was and is to keep control and not to allow real power to be put in the hands of those it regards as unsafe.

The needs of the West Midlands and the other English Regions will only be realised if there is a real transfer of power and elected representation from Westminster to the regions and a far more localised local government underpinned by a more proportional voting system to ensure cross party and geographical support.

Voters in Scotland look likely to have another chance to go independent. A counter would be to offer the nations and the English Regions equal status in a new Federal UK

And a refocused and smaller Westminster.

A significant omission

This letter was published in the Express and Star but a key paragraph (above, in bold) was omitted. George wrote again:

These measures were edited out of my original text and may have implied taking government away from the local. My intention is that powers and representative Government have to be moved from London to the Region and the local as part of a new democratically accountable settlement replacing the increasingly opaque, distant and anonymous government taking decisions about our future.

I would be grateful if you would correct the impression that was given.

 

 

 

 

West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 23rd February 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

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What are the economic policies of the mayoral candidates for the West Midlands Combined Authority? – presented by Ann Wackett.

The election takes place on 4 May. Are the candidates promising anything different from the parties that they represent?

All welcome.  

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire

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Received: news about an invitation to an open meeting on March 27th 5.30pm in Colmore Row. This updates information about the Attwood award on this site. The news included this dialogue box:

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Browsing the website as invited we learn that there will be ‘an opportunity to  collectively identify how to progress the Birmingham Pound after hearing about the inspiration for and potential of the project and the nuts and bolts of how the currency could be run’.

The meeting will then be opened to discussion, with questions, comments and hopefully agreement on whether the Birmingham Pound goes ahead.

This will involve agreeing on what model is used and who can commit to taking it forward. It will only go ahead if there is a robust way of making it self-sufficient and that it will be effective in its aims of making an inclusive, equitable and diverse Birmingham economy.

Book your place here.

 

 

 

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A Bournville resident draws attention to a research-based brief, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent organisation working to inspire social change through research, policy and practice, which is summarised here.

Setting the scene:

“The West Midlands faces significant challenges to creating an inclusive economy: just under 600,000 people are income deprived and three in ten children are growing up in poverty. A significant minority of businesses report vacancies they cannot fill due to skills shortages – ranging from 18% in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership area to 28% in the Black Country (across England it is 22%). The challenge is not simply to get more people into work: in the UK today 55% of people experiencing poverty live in working households. Creating more and better jobs and connecting people in poverty to opportunities are at the heart of an inclusive growth agenda . . . The West Midlands mayoral area has a low employment rate and high unemployment . . . Ultimately, poverty is harmful to those who experience it, scarring their prospects, worsening mental and physical health and shortening lives. Healthy life expectancy is seven years shorter in Wolverhampton compared to Solihull for men, and nine years shorter for women.”

Advantages of a more inclusive West Midlands economy

For inclusive growth, the quality of jobs created and the skills and capabilities of local residents to take them up is every bit as important as the number of jobs. More jobs with decent pay and prospects, bring economic benefits: each time an out-of-work benefit claimant moves into a job paying the voluntary Living Wage (which is set with regard to the cost of essentials) the local economy is boosted by £14,400 on average.

Inclusive growth that helps to deliver lower poverty would also release resources that could be put to more productive use. An estimated £1 in every £5 spent on public services is linked to poverty, with the costs falling heavily on the health service, education and the police and criminal justice system.  

Education and skills are vital for people to make the most of economic opportunities, but children from low-income backgrounds achieve worse results at every stage of their education compared to those from better-off homes. This deprives businesses of talent. It also reduces people’s earnings potential, reduces the tax take and increases the risk that poverty will be passed from one generation to the next. JRF’s team could with advantage read Hatcher on the relationship between schools and the labour market

JRF has examined the relationship between deprived areas and local labour markets

In the West Midlands mayoral area the proportion of working age adults who are economically inactive (not looking for work because they are studying, looking after family, disabled or sick – 30%) is eight percentage points higher than the national average, and higher than other areas electing mayors.

The vast majority of deprived areas are geographically well connected to local job opportunities particularly in Birmingham, where 99% of deprived neighbourhoods either contain more jobs than working age people or are well connected to other areas with many jobs. This analysis suggests that the primary challenges are barriers to work such as lack of skills, caring responsibilities, health and disability are, rather than access issues such as transport.

An agenda requiring use of the Mayor’s soft power

Inclusive growth is an agenda, not a new policy initiative – and it is an agenda that will require strong leadership from the Mayor, involving:

  • raising ambition,
  • shaping strategy,
  • inspiring action,
  • marshalling resources,
  • drawing in collaborators from the public, private and voluntary and community sectors,
  • holding central government to account for actions that impact on poverty and prosperity in the West Midlands Mayoral area
  • and continuing to fight for the devolution of powers and resources to enable the Mayor to solve poverty.

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The Mayor will have some powers over employment support for people with significant barriers to work (the Work and Health Programme, above, due to be launched in 2017), and more significant powers in relation to adult skills and training. This is an area where the Mayor can make a difference.

The Mayor should help to champion a direct role for citizens too. An inclusive growth strategy must draw on the ideas and direct experience of local people, communities and voluntary and community sector organisations. Inclusive growth is not just the job of the Mayor, but the whole city region – its businesses, employers, institutions, service providers and communities.

To read the 13 page briefing, click here

To discuss in more detail, please contact info@jrf.org.uk

There will be an international conference sharing innovative policies and practice on Tuesday 24 January 2017 – 09:30 to 16:30. Central London, UK – Read more here.

 

 

 

Seven Combined Authorities have already been established and a further seven proposed – read in detail here.

Why government – and employers – want a directly-elected mayor

A directly-elected mayor is a presidential form of local government, accountable only in direct elections every four years with no right of removal.  It means the government can deal with a single leader and one not tied to local political parties as a council leader is – an arrangement that suits the private sector too. Directly-elected mayors offer the possibility of a Tory mayor, or at least an independent, being elected in Labour-dominated urban areas. And they are ideally suited to the media’s fondness for reducing politics to personalities.

Democratise the Combined Authorities: London has an elected Assembly – why not the West Midlands?

 

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Richard Hatcher points out on BATC’s website that there is a precedent, the scrutiny arrangements in London: “There ongoing public accountability of the directly elected mayor and the Greater London Authority is ensured by a directly elected London Assembly.  The London Assembly has 25 elected members. They are not just existing councillors drafted onto a Scrutiny Committee, they are elected by citizens who vote for them specifically because they are going to fight for their interests. And they aren’t just reactive to policy, they act as champions for Londoners proactively investigating concerns through not just one but 15 issue-based committees and raising their findings and their policy demands with the Mayor and with the government itself”.

The Constitution of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) does not exclude the option of an elected Assembly, Hatcher asks “If it’s right for London why isn’t it right for the West Midlands?”. Three principles are laid down and seven positive steps – read on here.

Scrutiny?

His article written earlier this month describes the WMCA Scrutiny Committee as being ‘seriously incapable’ of carrying out that responsibility: “The Scrutiny Committee only has 12 councillor members. It is scheduled to have only four meetings during the year, for two hours each.  It is inconceivable that the Committee can engage with the huge range of activities of the WMCA, select issues to scrutinise and carry out a serious process of scrutiny in that time. (Each set of documentation for the monthly CA Board meetings typically amounts to a hundred pages or more, let alone those from the other dozen or more committees.)”

Be aware of conflicts of interest

The Scrutiny Committee allocates 3 places to representatives of the 3 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the employer-led bodies representing business interests. Hatcher comments: “This is an extraordinary decision which seems unique among Combined Authorities”. For example, there are no LEP representatives on the Greater Manchester CA Scrutiny Committee. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report into devolution and Combined Authorities, published in June 2016 said:

“It is alarming that LEPs are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public.

LEPs are led by the private sector, and stakeholders have raised concerns that they are dominated by vested interests that do not properly represent their business communities”.

So far two of the three LEP places have been taken up by named representatives. One is Sarah Windrum, founder and CEO of Warwickshire technology company The Emerald Group, on behalf of the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP. The other is Black Country LEP Board Member Paul Brown, Director of Government Services for Ernst & Young, a global accountancy company.

Ernst and Young serves as auditor and tax adviser to Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – the businesses which have come under the most fire for avoiding taxes. As its website says, it is closely involved in the formulation and delivery of policy “across a wide range of central Government departments”.  Given the controlling role of government in the WMCA, Hatcher thinks it inevitable that Paul Brown, as Director of Government Services, would be exercising scrutiny on behalf of the CA over policies which his employer, Ernst and Young, would have been involved in formulating and delivering.

Other members of the Black Country LEP have a direct interest in investment in land for construction. The Chair of the BC LEP is Simon Eastwood, Managing Director of Carillion Developments, Carillion Plc. Carillion plc is a British multinational facilities management and construction services company with its headquarters in Wolverhampton. It is one of the largest construction companies operating in the UK. Among its projects in the West Midlands is the redevelopment of Paradise Circus in Birmingham city centre. Read on here.

Hatcher concludes: “In the absence of an elected Assembly, the Scrutiny Committee is the only instrument of public accountability of the WMCA. Its credibility depends on there being no suspicion in the public mind that there are actual or potential conflicts of interest. For that reason we believe there should be no representatives of LEPs on the Scrutiny Committee”.

 

 

 

The small but vibrant suburb of Stirchley is being invaded by supermarkets in a manner reminiscent of the long-resisted Asda development in ‘supermarket capital’ Shirley, which has sadly failed to deliver its undertaking to regenerate the high street.

In Stirchley, already served by a large Co-operative store, Aldi has applied for permission to build on a site less than a mile away and a Tesco store is being built nearby.

Two weeks ago the council’s planning committee had sensibly voted to reject plans to knock down the Fitness First gym and bowling alley in Pershore Road in order to build a Lidl store.

Many councillors and residents argue that the site would add to traffic problems and that knocking down a popular gym, the only one in the area, for yet another foodstore, sends out the wrong message.

It is now reported that officials fear the council would be vulnerable to a costly legal appeal by the supermarket.

The majority of councillors have reversed their decision, agreeing with officials’ advice that a refusal would not stand up to a challenge and voted by six to three in favour of the Lidl plan.

Is the well-being and preference of local residents less important than building yet another supermarket?

Is devolution a hollow undemocratic sham and corporate rule a reality?

See pages about Stirchley on this site

First response by email: “But how else will the starving people of Stirchley eat without another supermarket in the area?”

 

 

In his paper, ‘The WM economy needs a public investment strategy for inclusive growth based on social priorities’, Richard Hatcher points out that the Resolution Foundation report. Midlands engine trouble: The challenges facing the West Midlands Combined Authority’, only tells half the story. It defines the problem of the WM economy in terms of the characteristics of the unemployed: low qualifications and skills, and demographic factors – age, ethnicity and gender – and says almost nothing about investment.

The report proposes three solutions:

  • Support groups with low employment rates, shaped to respond to their needs and to overcome the barriers they face, including racial and gender discrimination.
  • Develop an industrial strategy for the WMCA that acknowledges the importance of manufacturing but puts a new emphasis on high-end (defined as technically sophisticated) service jobs.
  • Third, and going hand-in-hand with priority two, the WMCA must seek to retain more of the city region’s graduates and improve skill development more generally.” (p 34)

The third point is based on the claim that there is a skills deficit. While it is true that there are skills shortages in some sectors, it is not true of much if not most of the WM economy.

ukces-coverIn Birmingham for example, according to the government’s UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ (UKCES) Employer Skills Survey, only some 7% of employers say they have hard to fill vacancies due to skills shortages while some 30% say they have staff whose skills are not fully utilised. In other words, under-utilisation of existing skills is a much bigger problem than skills shortages.

The reality is there is no industrial strategy for the WMCA, because that would require a government strategy for investment (a public investment bank, in John McDonnell’s terms), and there isn’t one. Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, acknowledges in a recent speech that low public investment by government is one of the problem.

Paul Mason writes: “Carney’s solutions, though couched in language eviscerated in order to avoid offence, boil down as follows […] he says, we have to stimulate growth by relying less on creating money, and more by creating growth: governments have to start using taxpayers’ money to invest, and redesign the economy so that our dire productivity is reversed.“

The fundamental need for investment is almost entirely absent from the Resolution Foundation report’s 46 pages, which is why I say it only tells half the story

There is just one mention: “In recent years the wider West Midlands region and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP in particular have performed strongly on attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), with the third highest number of FDI projects after London and the South East. However, not enough of this has manifested itself in the overall growth figures or […] in employment.” (p14).

But that raises the question, why? Where has this investment gone? What is being invested in? How many good long-term jobs are being created? What social needs are being met? And how much is in prestigious property development for short-term profit?

The crucial issue of investment is ignored in the WMCA’s Strategic Economic Plan (SEP), published in June and written not by the CA itself but by the LEPs. In contrast to the prominence of the need for skills development in the SEP there is virtually no data or analysis at all of current investment in the West Midlands economy.

Yet without investment in new technology and new work processes increasing the qualifications and skills of the workforce only results in more over-qualified workers with under-utilised skills.

The task now for the WMCA should be to draft a completely revised Strategic Economic Plan, drawing on independent expertise, which provides an honest detailed analysis of the current situation of the WM economy, including its gross inequalities of geography, social class, age, gender and ethnicity, and realistic plans and strategies for inclusive growth, a sales pitch based on evidence-free aspirations.

Finally, Hatcher examines the ‘Mayoral WMCA Function’ – an important subject calling for a separate paper.

Read the whole paper here: https://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/the-wm-economy-needs-a-public-investment-strategy-for-inclusive-growth-based-on-social-priorities/

And here:

https://ourbirmingham.wordpress.com/papers/the-wm-economy-needs-a-public-investment-strategy-for-inclusive-growth-based-on-social-priorities/

Richard Hatcher

13 December 2016

 

 

 

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The Attwood Awards were inaugurated by Sir Adrian Cadbury and economist James Robertson in 2002. They celebrate work done in this country to further any of the three aims of the city’s first MP, Thomas Attwood. Seven of the fourteen recipients came from the West Midlands: brief summaries of all 14 may be seen here.  

Ridhi Kalaria (Ort Gallery) received the 15th award last week at a meeting of the West Midlands New Economics Group in The Warehouse, Digbeth. She has been working in her spare time to set up a local currency. One of several advantages is its potential to enable and encourage local businesses to source locally wherever possible, shortening the supply chain, strengthening local economies and furthering the common good.

ridhi-videoTo see the video, click here

As Bev Hurley, CBE, CEO of YTKO says: ‘Smaller businesses remain engines for growth, creating 60% of all private sector jobs and £1.6 trillion of revenue . . . The success of a small business doesn’t only impact its owners; it has a ripple effect throughout the local economy. The whole point is if we can make [small business owners] more resilient and grow, and improve their profits and turnover, they will take on new people and create new jobs”.

Many awardees have lived further afield, but recent local recipients include:

2010: Birmingham Energy Savers: https://thomasattwood.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/2010-attwood-awards/the innovative Birmingham Energy Savers scheme

2013: Architect and urban designer Joe Holyoak: https://thomasattwood.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/2013-attwood-award-city-architect-and-urban-designer-joe-holyoak/

2014: Karen Leach, Localise West Midlands: https://ourbirmingham.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/karen-leach-2014-attwood-award-for-working-to-strengthen-the-regions-economy/

2017?  Possibly a celebration of WM hydrogen transport pioneers

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 The West Midlands Combined Authority:

what it is and what it should be

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A People’s Plan for the WMCA: 4th October 7pm, Birmingham Council House  

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The West Midlands Combined Authority means:

  • An economic agenda driven by private profit not local need.
  • ‘Public service reform’ – service cuts and attacks on workers’ jobs and conditions.
  • Top-down decision-making with no local democratic participation.

A small group of powerful/wealthy people will have control over our money, our jobs, our services and our future, without being democratically accountable to us. We do need devolution. We do need a regional framework. We do need social, egalitarian and green development, but the WMCA is not about this. We need:  

  • Sustainable economic growth for social needs and well-paid jobs, not just private profit
  • Improved public services, not more cuts
  • Democracy – public participation in decision-making, not top-down diktats

Individuals, community groups, trade unions and all those across the region who wish to see a democratic regional structure set up—one that reflects the diversity of the region and prioritizes our needs— are invited to speak at or attend the meeting:

 

Birmingham Against the Cuts Public Meeting

 

 

 

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See: http://www.local.gov.uk/devolution/combined-authorities

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’.