Archives for category: Economy

After the leader of Birmingham City Council welcomed the 2018 Local Government Association Conference to Birmingham (ICC, 3-5 July) Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, spoke.

An extract from his keynote speech, published on the Local Government website

 I know that the state of Council finances keeps many of us up at night. Making the bottom line work for you will continue to be a priority for the LGA’s lobbying.

The money local government has for vital day-to-day services is running out fast. There is also huge uncertainty about how local services are going to be funded beyond 2020.

Councils can no longer be expected to run our local services on a shoestring. We must shout from the roof tops for local government to be put back on a sustainable financial footing.

We’ve protected government for a long time by making sure all the cuts thrown our way were implemented in a way that shielded our residents as much as possible.

But if austerity is coming to an end, then, as we were in the front of the queue when it started, we must also be at the front of the queue for more money when it ends. Only with adequate funding and the right powers can Councils help the Government tackle the challenges facing our nation.

Lord Porter (left) added that the cap on council tax also needs to be lifted: “Let us be clear, every penny in local taxation collected locally must be kept by local government and spent on our public services”.

Stroud District Council is the first council in Gloucestershire to lose its revenue support grant from the Government – a grant that has been paid in some form or another to all local councils for more than 50 years. In 2019/20 it must pay back £549,000, due to a ‘tariff adjustment’. This will be the largest sum paid by any Gloucestershire council and marks a new relationship between central and local government.

In July the FT pointed out that between 2015 and 2020, the Revenue Support Grant will have shrunk 77p in the pound, the Local Government Association the UK government plans to slash their core funding 77%. Almost half of all councils — 168 — will no longer receive any core central government funding in the 2019/20 budgetary year, according to the LGA, adding:

“The LGA says it is impossible to cut any further. It estimates a £5.8bn funding gap in 2020 — even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes”. 

 

 

 

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In a report published this week, the  Centre for Cities, noting that many high streets are full of boarded-up shops, advises local authorities to ‘reimagine’ the space for offices, homes and leisure:

“These places should focus on making their city centres better places to live, work and play in. For example, taking steps to repurpose surplus shops for amenities, housing, public space or parkland, will create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in — which in turn will create more footfall for retail, restaurants and cafes”.

Centre for Cities describes Birmingham as having a strong city centre but low-skilled suburbs

When true socialist Theresa Stewart became leader of Birmingham council in 1993, acting on her belief that the council should spend its money on education, housing and social services, she backed The Living over the Shop (LOTS) project.

It was set up in 1989 to demonstrate the feasibility of using vacant space above shops and offices and ways in which wasted space can be brought back into use, usually for affordable rented housing and creating a range of employment opportunities. It was estimated that at least 250,000 homes could be created from these vacant areas. This would repopulate urban areas that were often empty and desolate during evenings and at weekends.

Though young occupiers were keen to buy into the new wave of urban living and these flats above shops were, on average, 20% cheaper than equivalent sized homes in buildings without ground floor retail premises, families wanted facilities like schools, play areas, doctors’ surgeries and green spaces. Parking was often a problem.

Home reports that overall, 1 in 7 shops in Britain are now vacant. The internet has acquired a massive slice of our regular spending, supermarkets offer a widening range of products, out of town centres have sprung up and shops are now open for more days each week and more hours every day.


In some cities, such as Sheffield and Bradford, over a quarter of shops are empty in areas where the demand for shop premises will never rebound. Home says that, “With the constant cry of a major housing shortage in this country, it seems obvious that …… these shops should be converted into homes. They generally have good ground floor access that is ideal for any wheelchair users and for babies still in prams and offer a challenge to architects to use the infrastructure of the buildings in a more imaginative way”.

More proactive planning procedures are needed in order to convert these spaces to much-needed housing. Local Development Orders can change the designated uses of buildings. Home continues:

“Shop properties could then provide up to 420,000 new homes in Britain. A double success story by any standards and successes in the housing market are rare finds these days!”

 

 

 

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UK aviation policy is primarily predicated on the requirements of airport operators, major airlines and the Treasury – the needs of passengers come last says Steve Beauchampé.

The governments long-awaited – and unsurprising – decision to proceed with construction of a third runway at London Heathrow is fundamentally flawed, supported with redundant arguments and highly questionable financial assessments. If the UK had a comprehensive and comprehensible national aviation strategy Heathrow would not be operating at anything like 95% of capacity.

That it does so is the result of a system that essentially forces millions of UK passengers per annum to travel long distances, often in arduous and stressful conditions, to use both Heathrow and London’s two other main airports (Gatwick and Stansted) at great cost both to themselves and the environment. rather than utilising their local airports, many of which are working to a fraction of their capability.

.bham airport logo

Birmingham International Airport handled 12.9m passengers in 2017 but could cope with around double that number. Meanwhile, Nottingham East Midlands welcomed a paltry 4.88m whilst major population centres such as in the North East, South West, South Wales and along the south coast are all but bereft of decent flight choices. This is not only down to the London-centric approach which blights so many activities in the UK, but the failure of successive governments to challenge and take on the vested interests of London airports and the major airlines.

Two key arguments put forward in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are particularly fallacious: the first is that Heathrow must continue developing as a ‘hub’ airport, competing for passengers not with Birmingham, Manchester or even Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, but with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin and increasingly Dubai!

So a third (and later probably fourth and fifth) runway at Heathrow is essentially required to allow the airport’s operator Heathrow Airport Holdings to attract passengers who will never leave the airport environs but whose visit is solely to transfer from one aeroplane to another, Great news for HAH, who enjoy increased landing fees as a result, and good news for the Treasury, who collect airport tax each time that a passenger takes a flight.

But it is hardly good news for UK travellers who are not being provided with flights from their local airports to the locations that they want and at a time when they want to fly. Indeed the hub strategy encourages those in the north of England, Northern Island and Scotland to take domestic flights to Heathrow and then transfer planes to reach their ultimate destination.

Yet hub airports may soon be an outdated concept, with technological improvements meaning that modern aeroplanes will be able to fly further (and faster) without the need to refuel (its already possible to fly non-stop from London to Sydney). Point-to-point flying seems more likely to be the way ahead. 

The second argument in favour of Heathrow runway expansion is that many airlines do not want to fly out of the UK’s ‘regional’ airports (with the possible exception of Manchester, which handled 27.7m passengers in 2017) and would be unwilling to give up valuable landing slots at Heathrow.

But this argument is unacceptable. We would not tolerate train operators refusing to serve smaller stations nor bus companies running services only on main routes. To combat this attitude the number of slots available at Heathrow needs to be limited rather than endlessly expanded, whilst the national airport strategy that Conservative MP and anti-Heathrow Runway 3 campaigner Justine Greening called for earlier this week should focus on ways to create an environment which encourages airlines to relocate services outside of London and the South East. This is particularly apposite given that both Birmingham and Manchester airports will be stops on the HS2 network by 2030. And whilst there is a real risk that limiting slots at Heathrow will result in some airlines pulling routes and services out of the UK altogether, the country is a large enough aviation market to offer sufficient paths to profit that most such withdrawals will likely be less than crucial and, in some cases, perhaps temporary.

In agreeing to support Heathrow’s third runway the government have committed to paying £2.6bn in compensation to those communities near to the airport that will be destroyed or significantly affected by the project. To which can be added an estimated £10bn in public funding for the new infrastructure and environmental measures required to support the expansion.

How much better to invest this money throughout the UK to create a national airport infrastructure to meet the needs of the travelling public, and one befitting the worlds fifth largest economy.

 

Steve Beauchampé

June 7th 2018

First published on http://thebirminghampress.com/2018/06/airport-2018/ 

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In 2014, the world’s first research centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage at the University of Birmingham established a five-year research chair appointment under the leadership of Professor Yulong Ding. The Royal Academy of Engineering and Highview Power Storage created and funded the Chair to explore the limits of this emerging technology, which could drive the development of variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, converting excess/off-peak electricity into multi megawatts of stored energy. 

Andy Bounds now reports in the FT that this partnership has developed the world’s first liquid air energy storage plant which will open today in Bury near Manchester:

“The Pilsworth liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant, owned by Highview Power, will act as a giant rechargeable battery, soaking up excess energy and releasing it when needed. This is particularly useful with the rapid growth in renewable energy, which accounted for 29% of all electricity generated in the UK in 2017. It generates excess power when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing but is not reliable at times of peak demand. Coal-fired power stations that typically handled peak electricity demand are being shut down and National Grid, which owns and operates the electricity transmission network, pays small gas and diesel generators to bridge the gap”. According to Gareth Brett, chief executive of Highview Power. “LAES is arguably the only viable, non-polluting, long-duration, locatable energy storage technology available”.

The Highview system has already attracted interest from potential customers, including Enel, the Italian utility. Gianluca Gigliuci, head of energy storage Innovation at Enel Green Power, said storage technologies were needed to “enable renewables to satisfy baseload”. These storage systems need durability, long useful life, flexibility and reliability. Highview’s LAES is one of the more promising solutions we have seen.”

 

 

 

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CoStar reports that through Rothschild & Co (condor.enquiries@rothschild.com), Network Rail has begun to sell its commercial estate and most of this property is located in railway arches.

They will be sold as leasehold with Network Rail retaining the freehold to ensure maintenance access rights continue. Project Condor is expected to raise more than £1bn and Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive said: “This deal will bring more investment into the commercial estate for the benefit of the local communities and it will help fund a better railway. I hope to see areas around the railway positively transformed with new and refurbished shops, amenities, and extra facilities for local people and passengers.”

A mailing from the New Economics Foundation recalls that in 2015 Network Rail struck a bargain with chancellor George Osborne: “give us the funds we need for infrastructure upgrades, and we’ll sell off a big chunk of our assets. The railway arches are one of those assets”.

Around 80% of the property is located in London, with much of the rest in Manchester and Birmingham. Occupiers of railway arches include restaurants, bars, offices, retail, leisure operators, breweries, car washes, gyms and healthcare centres.

We were unable to contact Tom Maher, co-founder of Birmingham’s Original Patty Men, who serves locally sourced longhorn beef burgers – and more – to appreciative customers in one of Digbeth’s railway bridge arches (above) in Shaw’s Passage.  Last year the Mail described its expansion plans to expand into the premises on the right, retaining the outdoor seating area in the space between the bar and restaurant with a bakery at the back.

Will the OPM be adversely affected? We hope not.

Network Rail’s sale is expected to attract attention from private equity and sovereign wealth funds who would find the average rents – at around £8 to £9 per sq ft – rather low, but CoStar reports that Network Rail has met stern resistance from small business owners, notably in Hackney, E1, and Brixton, SW9.


Supported by the New Economics Foundation and the East End Trades Guild, a group of arches tenants from around the country (three above and many more pictures here) has formed Guardians of the Arches to oppose the sale and seek a viable settlement for the future.

They are organising an open letter to Chris Grayling asking him to halt the sale and meet them to talk about the future of the arches. Thousands have signed this letter in just the first few days, and the group are planning a lobby of parliamentarians in June. Readers may sign as suggested below.

The NEF article ends: “Like many public asset sales, it makes little sense no matter how you look at it. In financial terms, selling off the asset means Network Rail – and by extension the public – will no longer benefit from the steady annual rental yields generated by the portfolio. And it’s no excuse to say there’s no other way of funding infrastructure improvements. The Government is currently able to borrow at historically low interest rates, but instead they are forcing public bodies to sell income-generating assets to fund investment”. 

 Click here to sign the Guardians’ letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

 

 

 

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Planning for the Future: 1948 – Reflections on What Happened and Why is a paper written for the Black Countryman, the quarterly magazine of the Black Country Society.

*George Morran (right) has been reflecting on the Conurbation Report published in 1948 (Vol.51, No.1, 2017. His account is summarised below and published in full here.

The work on conurbation was supported financially and in kind by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, whose chair, Paul Cadbury, acted as Secretary. Conurbation was non-governmental and purely advisory.

It was produced by a group led by Dr. Raymond Priestley Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University, supported by a steering committee and advisory groups including businessmen, academics and local authority officials from across the West Midlands Region including the shires, Birmingham and the Black Country.

Thousands of new houses were built in the 50s and 60s. In the inner areas a large proportion of the new housing was built by the local district and borough councils for rent. They had the basic amenities which the older housing lacked. In the 60s a high proportion of this new-build was high rise especially around older town centres. The newer housing in the outer areas of the Black Country was in the main built by private developers at lower densities for sale with a greater emphasis on the visual appearance and environment. New single storey industrial estates appeared replacing older multi storey workshops. New industries anticipated by Conurbation did not materialise

1947: central government controls were introduced over new manufacturing development in the Black Country and other prosperous regions – repealed in 1984

They were intended to steer new development to the less well-developed areas. They discouraged new investment and modernisation of the existing industrial infrastructure and the replacement of obsolescent buildings; they hindered enterprise and strangled new ideas in red tape. The profitability of many companies was undermined leading to closures and takeovers.

David Smith – Something Will Turn Up: Britain’s Economy, Past, Present and Future (cover below)

During the 1950s and 60s the flight of residents, businesses, wealth and influence to the fringes and beyond from the inner areas continued. The owners of businesses who had previously lived locally no longer did so.

Conurbation had proposed that the railways be expanded but they were run down and lines closed. The proposed M6 and M5 motorways were well on the way to being built but little was done to improve regional and local roads. Much development along main roads had been blighted by the existence of improvement lines which would never be implemented.

By 1971 80% of the derelict land in the Black Country and most of the open space that existed in 1948 had been developed for housing and industry; the canals which were to have anchored much of the open space were closed, abandoned or left to decay, open to vandalism and abuse. Much of the traditional heavy industries had gone or were soon to close.

The so-called slums in and around the old townships had been cleared and replaced by new housing. Many historic cottages and other housing which were structurally sound or could have been upgraded were demolished because of their lack of modern amenities.

1948: The West Midlands Plan

The West Midlands Plan was produced by a team of town planners and academics led by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Professor of Town and Country Planning at University College, London University. The political and business elites were directly or indirectly involved; residents were not. There was very little if any public involvement – and an absence of any regional or local civic forums and pressure groups to challenge the established way of doing business and to offer any alternatives. Although it related to the whole of the West Midlands conurbation, it focused on the Black Country which the Plan identified as having the most challenges. Central to its proposals for the Black Country were the maintenance and further intensification of industry in the inner areas; the location of new housing in the peripheral areas and beyond, outside a statutory Green Belt including towns and villages in South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire.

1955: the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee

In 1955 the shire and urban local authorities set up the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee to produce, deliver and keep up-to-date an agreed regional plan to manage overspill from the urban to shire areas consistent with approved Development Plans with formal agreements for overspill to particular locations within and beyond the Green Belt. The agreements focused on new housing to be allocated for occupation by families moving from the Black Country and Birmingham. The Shire Counties also argued for the relocation of industry from the conurbation to balance the increase in population in the shires. Pressure for the peripheral development of the urban areas onto Green Belt land continued into the 1960s

1965: The Government set up a West Midlands Regional Planning Council

The Regional Council was supported by a Regional Board of Civil Servants and representatives of central and local government and business to make recommendations to Government on the economic and physical development of the whole West Midlands Region including the shire and conurbation areas. It identified substantial economic and population growth that needed to be accommodated in the region and proposed that New Towns should be developed based on Redditch and Dawley and that New Town Commissions be established responsible to the Government for bringing forward and delivering detailed plans. The Government accepted these recommendations.

1962: report issued by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England

It made proposals for the future of local government in the West Midlands Region abolishing the system of boroughs, county and district authorities and replacing it with five all-purpose county boroughs. This new system came into force on the first April 1966. The Royal Commission and the government thought that the new arrangement would strengthen the Black Country’s ability to respond to the challenges it faced. Less importance was attached to the local community identity or the social and economic links which existed between the Black Country and the adjoining areas of Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

1966: a further Royal Commission was established to make recommendations on the future of local government across the West Midlands

It reported in 1969, proposing that a directly elected provincial council be established for the whole of the West Midlands Region to deal with strategic planning. In the Black Country the Commission proposed four all-purpose local authorities responsible for all planning matters together with responsibility for major services in particular education, and social services. The Commission also proposed that local community councils be established but district councils consistently blocked local campaigns for powers and representation to be made more local and took little or no action to encourage their establishment.

The Black Country Society responded to the Royal Commission

In its 1971 pamphlet it proposed that local government in the Black Country and the wider West Midlands region be built on directly elected community or town councils responsible for local services and providing a voice for local communities. It accepted that some public services needed to be provided across a larger area and proposed the establishment of a directly elected West Midlands Region body – a strong political voice which could engage with Westminster and Whitehall.

1974: The establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority

In 1973 the Conservative Government agreed a new round of reorganisation which led in April 1974 to the establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority stretching from Wolverhampton to Coventry and including seven all purpose District Councils for Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

In the last 50 years many new challenges and opportunities have come along which have shaped what has happened to the Black Country more recently and its future prospects. That is another story.

*George Morran: BCS Member 1968 to Present and Committee member 1968-76. Formerly Director the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities and Assistant Chief Executive, Dudley MBC.

 

 

 

 

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TUESDAY 13 MARCH from 6.00p.m at Locanta restaurant, Ludgate Hill, St Paul’s Square B3 1EH

All welcome

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Enemy of the People?

Did your grandmother use phrases such as ‘Make do and mend’; or ‘waste not want not’?   In which case she was clearly an enemy of the people.  Why?  To quote Peter York FRSA, “this language is fundamentally anti-growth.   We all know that our future depends on us consuming like mad.  The engine of our economy is property prices and footfall in Next and M&S”. 

Yet on Tuesday our guest, Woody, (Planet Centred Forum), is proposing a 25% reduction in our CONSUMPTION as a counter balance to global population growth.

Woody’s “Population Equivalent” thesis weighs consumption against numbers.  He calculates that 25% of ‘Western’ consumption equates to the global average consumption of 3 billion people.

The thorny issue of population control is dealt with by comparing the environmental impact of different levels of CONSUMPTION rather than focussing simply on numbers.

All very well, but what about the economy? Join us on Tuesday evening at Locanta to find out.

General information on the web page  http://www.greendrinks.org, then go to  http://www.greendrinks.org/West%20Midlands/Birmingham

You don’t have to have a meal in order to join in, but if you do, it helps us to have an idea of meal numbers in advance.  Erkan, provides an excellent menu, plenty of choice, including vegan and vegetarian dishes.  Dishes can be tailored to individual tastes

 

 

 

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The West Midlands Economy: Why We Need a Strategy for Inclusive Growth’, BTUC Conference

10 March 1.30-4.30,

Unite offices, Birmingham

See website for slightly clearer print.

 

 

 

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Localise West Midlands recently commissioned a video which highlights four local projects that stimulate local economies and decentralise economic power. It was filmed, produced and edited by Susan Jones, Redhead Business Films with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

After seeing the video people who want more information should go to the LWM blog which has details of the four projects and the people involved.

The new Midland Metropolitan hospital ‘anchoring prosperity in the community’ hopes that one of its retail units will be taken by a social enterprise; it would not only sell locally produced goods but act as a “concierge” type service for busy staff and visiting families, to access the services they need from local businesses. It would aim to make stronger links with local people and help towards regenerating local neighbourhoods, Ladywood, Soho and Smethwick in the same way as Citizen Home in the Jewellery Quarter.

Inclusive business support ecosystems in Balsall Heath: Citizens UK and the Centre for Research on Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship have been working together with business people in Lozells, Small Heath and Sparkbrook to achieve better engagement with support agencies, aiming to generate an inclusive business support ecosystem in these areas. 

Energy Capital is about collaborative sector development, in which energy innovation delivers on the needs of real people and the environment, with locally owned businesses involved at every level. RentE Cars is one of the local businesses that is taking advantage of electric car charging innovations.

Social care, rather than being a problem, can be a positive force for inclusive economics that could help the West Midlands Combined Authority achieve its stated aims of sharing prosperity more widely – as a report by NEF for LWM outlines. Crossroads Care is an example of a locally accountable and adaptable enterprise delivering social care and economic opportunity.

Localise West Midlands explores better ways to do economics – creating an economy which is lively and diverse & in which more people have a stake – meeting local needs with local resources.

 

 

Birmingham’s Professor Rex Harris (FREng) is drawing attention to a recent article in the Guardian Review on wind energy giving an up-beat view of off-shore wind farms which, he agrees, are showing a lot of promise, particularly compared with the very expensive and increasingly problematic nuclear option. He comments:

“However, in this article, there was no mention of the vital role played by NdFeB-type permanent magnets in the direct drive generators provided by companies such as Siemens”.

The untutored writer consulted a second engineer who said that readers may have noticed wind turbines of rather different shapes starting to appear. The more traditional ones have a nacelle behind the rotor – the gearbox to convert slow rotation to a higher speed required by the generator.

He continued: “These gearboxes are expensive and heavy, bringing new problems to solve. One solution is the turbine with NdFeB, otherwise known as rare earth magnets. They eliminate the need for the gearbox, driving the generator directly at the speed of the blades. They can be recognised by a large ring structure behind the blades. (The traditional gearbox opposite has the low speed shaft to the left. It makes the high speed shaft to the right turn approximately 50 times faster than the low speed shaft.)

Stanford Magnets reports on the emergence – over the last two years – of commercial-scale & direct drive permanent magnet generator systems with the hub directly connected to the generator (right). Being direct drive, these turbines have significant advantages over the geared variety:

  • significantly increased reliability,
  • reduced maintenance costs,
  • reduced downtime for maintenance
  • improved efficiencies in the power conversion process and
  • greater efficiencies when wind speeds are not at full rating.

The second engineer warns that “engineering is always a compromise and there is a clue in the name RARE earth: these generators need a large quantity to make the magnets required. There is a limited amount of these materials and they are predominantly found in China”. 

Mineral reserves: resources known to be economically feasible for extraction economically and technically feasible to extract. Note that the New Scientist reports that in what is said to be the first detailed report on the country’s supply, the US has 13 million tonnes of rare earth metals –  but it would take years to extract them.

Source: https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/critical-metals-investing/rare-earth-investing/rare-earth-reserves-country/.

Professor Harris and his colleagues David Kennedy and Adrian Arbib end: “With this medium to long term threat to the magnet supply very much in mind, the West, including Europe and the USA, should recreate its previous manufacturing capacity for the production of NdFeB-type sintered magnets, start to exploit alternative rare earth reserves and develop and support NdFeB-type magnet recycling. Simply leaving matters to market forces will certainly not be sufficient”.

 

 

 

 

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