Archives for category: Manufacturing

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controls were introduced over new manufacturing development in the Black Country and other prosperous regions – repealed in 1984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.







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.


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”.






There is a substantial and interesting article about the work of Joseph Chamberlain on the website of the Centre for Retail Research.

It ends with the reflection that Chamberlain’s ideas about the need to protect people in lower income groups from oppression and bad faith seem resonant today and continues:

What does Chamberlainism mean for Mrs May and industry?

Probably a recalibration of policy with a much greater focus on work, opportunities and living standards using an expansionist industry policy. We can discern five themes relevant to today:

  • A comprehensive industrial strategy, based on local needs and using local knowledge intended to replace imports and create the vital supply chains needed by British business.
  • New housing, potentially a provider of 1mn new jobs and a swift way of improving the living standards and opportunities. 
  • For education, an increased focus on science, maths, technical subjects and foreign languages; abandoning the current emphasis on university as the only useful goal for young people; and increased focus on vocational training, retraining and part-time study for adults. 
  • A concern for manufacturing industry and jobs once again, rather than assuming that retail, service industries, banking and the City of London are all one needs to worry about to provide work.
  • Requiring Government permission before a significant UK business is purchased by a foreign company.

Read the whole article here:




People passing the illuminated Bournville factory buildings late at night will have noted its 24-hour operation – evidence of a thriving enterprise.

The factory buildings in 1932: unchanged exterior

The FT’s John Murray Brown (paywall) reports from Bournville that Mondelez has completed a two-year modernisation programme, investing £75m in the chocolate maker’s flagship factory: “Shiny new production equipment has been installed at the “factory in a garden” built by Quaker George Cadbury in 1879 alongside houses for its workers who had relocated from Birmingham’s industrial belt.

Under the agreement, 1,300 workers at Bournville and two other Cadbury factories in the UK will receive a pay rise of 3.2% in 2017-18, and an increase in line with inflation in 2018-19. Joe Clarke of Unite says this is considerably higher than other recent settlements in the food and drinks industry, which have been about 2.4%.

Mr Clarke highlighted the chocolate maker’s “strong ethical traditions: “Cadbury has a long history of good industrial relations. We’ve got records which go back to the tea break agreement of 1922.” Cadbury established works councils, with management and employee representative meeting to discuss company plans, back in the 1930s. It was also one of the first companies to offer sick pay and pension rights for women.

The improvement in industrial relations at Cadbury came after controversy when the company was bought by Kraft Foods of the US in 2010. The Takeover Panel, the custodian of UK rules on mergers and acquisitions, after reneging on a promise not to shut Cadbury’s Somerdale plant at Keynsham near Bristol but it was made clear that the original decision had been made by Cadbury in 2007.

There have been 200 voluntary redundancies at Bournville under the modernisation programme, bringing the manufacturing workforce down to about 800. The four new production lines have led to ‘dramatic’ productivity improvements closing the gap with Mondelez’ German plant. In an embedded video, David Bailey, professor of industrial strategy at Aston University business school, said, “We hadn’t seen significant investment at Bournville for a long time. It was pretty dilapidated. Old plant and equipment. The focus on productivity is the only way any company manufacturing in a relatively high-cost economy can survive in the long run”.

The changes at Bournville mean manufacturing is assured “for a generation not just for the short term”, according to Glenn Caton, president of Mondelez’s northern Europe operations.  





Time-pressed residents of Birmingham, Solihull, Cannock, Dudley, Coventry, Lichfield, Sandwell, South Staffs, Tamworth, Walsall and Wolverhampton who regularly scan their section of the Brummie site, appreciate the free service it gives, whatever their interests. Main news items covered, include a range of locally run websites, music and the arts, sport and business.

Links to them give those sites a wider readership than would otherwise have been possible. Until the final few months Mark was a helpful and courteous correspondent and this later lack of response was ascribed to pressure of other work, which involved travelling abroad. We now can see that there may have been health concerns claiming priority.

Three of many interests served: Our Birmingham, West Midlands Producers and Localise West Midlands thank him and hope that a way will be found to maintain the Brummie.





At the BMI recently it was a pleasure to meet Fiona Joseph from Acocks Green (right), who wrote BEATRICE The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune (2012) and Comforts For The Troops (2015). I wanted to hear more about her forthcoming book, focussing on the life and work of Godric Bader, remembering a visit to the company’s headquarters some years later and in particular his ad hoc hand account of thoughtful ethical/environmental decisions as we strolled round the grounds – and a reassurance about the nature of the chemicals used.

The title of Fiona’s book will be HELD IN TRUST: The Life of Godric Bader and the Scott Bader Commonwealth. It will describe the lifelong struggle of a socially-responsible CEO to defeat harmful capitalist practices and transform the business world into a fairer, peaceful and more just environment.

Part social history, part business primer, HELD IN TRUST will also be a manifesto for the ‘Common Trusteeship’ model, a bold alternative to unethical business practices which, all too often, place shareholder values over true social responsibility to the people and the planet.

Until 1951, Scott Bader Ltd was a traditional family-owned chemical company, specialising in polymers for plastics and paints, and competing ruthlessly against its rivals like Bakelite. But Godric Bader’s father Ernest decided the capitalist model of industry promoted greed and selfishness and set about transferring the ownership of Scott Bader to the workforce so the company could be run collectively as a Commonwealth (wealth-in-common).

Shortly afterwards Godric Bader was appointed as MD and Chairman of this new experiment in industrial democracy. So began his struggle to transform Scott Bader into a viable, profitable company, whilst trying to defeat the forces that threatened to undermine the values and vision of the Scott Bader Commonwealth.

Keeping the flame alive for future generations was never easy but Godric Bader has somehow managed it.

HELD IN TRUST is the frank and compelling account of this lifelong battle.

 “For me, there are no heroes in business – other than Scott Bader”. Anita Roddick, late founder of The Body Shop

“Godric Bader has clung with barnacle tenacity to the notion that one can be fair, moral, widely informed and behave with propriety – and still be successful – in the frequently ruthless groves of big business.” John Swinfield, former Business Columnist Evening Standard.






Young people in the West Midlands considering a manufacturing and engineering apprenticeship and their parents are invited to attend an open day at the EEF’s manufacturing and engineering at the Technology Hub in Aston, Birmingham.

From aerospace to automotive to robotics, EEF will connect best in class employers with young people to discuss a range of apprenticeships in a wide range of sectors. As well as getting a tour of the multi-million pound facility, the open day will offer people the opportunity to talk to trainers and current apprentices to find out what the training offers.

EEF currently trains 300 apprentices at the centre and is aiming to increase this to 400. Christine Chapman, centre manager, said: “Engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships provide a highly-skilled career in a sector which is thriving right across the West Midlands and beyond. Employers have a strong demand for skills of this type and this day presents an ideal opportunity for young people and their parents to see the training centre in action and to discuss career options with a variety of employers.”

Check EEF’s apprenticeship vacancies database to keep an eye on available positions or ring 0121 331 3930

EEF was formed in 1896 as the Engineering Employers’ Federation and merged in 1918 with the National Employers’ Federation. In November 2003 the EEF rebranded itself from the ‘Engineering Employers’ Federation’ to ‘EEF The Manufacturers’ Organisation’.




john-clancy-3A search on this website will bring news that – as well as looking further afield – our relatively new council leader is caring for those in most need – not only in the housing sector but in education and social welfare.

For more information see the Newsroom site:

The council is joining forces with the Aston Reinvestment Trust (ART) and the ThinCats Community Chest peer lending platform to assist start-up firms and social enterprises from the poorest parts of Birmingham that find it difficult to obtain loans from high street banks. ART and the city council will jointly underwrite loans of between £10,000 and £150,000.

Based at Innovation Campus, Birmingham, ART has lent over £20 million since its launch, helping small firms to grow and creating thousands of jobs. Loans are available for any purpose including supporting cash-flow. One of ART’s best known beneficiaries is Birmingham Michelin-star chef Glynn Purnell who took out a loan to open his first restaurant.


The writer declares an interest as a founder share-holder. She watched Pat Conaty (receiving award, first left) then working at the B’ham Settlement), gradually convince people, notably Sir Adrian Cadbury, that a reinvestment trust, such as those Pat had seen working in America, could be set up. After years of painstaking effort it was launched, headed by Steve Walker who has worked ever since to promote its success.

Two sister sites carry references to ART’s work and one focussed on it in 2011, ‘The Aston Reinvestment Trust: helping small and medium businesses’. It is also featured in the services section of a website set up to focus on SME manufacturing in and near Birmingham.

Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy is appealing to Brummies to support a fund-raising scheme that could generate £3 million to help small businesses get off the ground:

“This is a pioneering local investment opportunity and a chance for people to not only get a financial incentive in the form of a tax relief, but also a social return.  Small and medium sized enterprises are the life blood of the local economy and their ability to grow, create inclusive economic growth and preserve jobs impacts on everyone who lives and works in Birmingham.”

For details of the investment process go to

Or directly to




Programmes on Sky News and the BBC have shown bombing, mass starvation and collapse of medical facilities in Yemen. British firms have supplied military hardware and British military officers have helped to direct the Saudi military campaign.

In October the Labour Party submitted a parliamentary motion which opened: “That this House supports efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities and provide humanitarian relief in Yemen, and notes that the country is now on the brink of famine; condemns the reported bombings of civilian areas…”

The government voted against this disloyalty to our ‘special friend’ Saudi Arabia, as did some Labour MPs, including Gisela Stuart and Shabana Mahmood.

Hall Green MP Roger Godsiff and human rights lawyer Kim Sharif will speak at this public meeting in Sparkhill organised by Stop the War Coalition, which does not support either side in Yemen’s civil war but condemns outside intervention and bombing by Saudi Arabia with the support of British and American military personnel.


 Roger Godsiff has raised six concerns in parliament after the government – via Tobias Ellwood, a minister at the department – issued ‘corrections’ to six statements on the Yemen crisis dating back almost six months:

  1. The government admitted issuing six statements misleading parliament on whether Saudi Arabia committed war crimes in Yemen.
  2. Saudi Arabia is in fact committing war crimes by targeting civilians and non-military infrastructure in Yemen.
  3. The UK is continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and these weapons may be used to commit war crimes in Yemen by the Saudi regime, which is a dictatorship with no regard for democracy or human rights.
  4. Continuing to sell arms to the Saudi regime both enables and condones violence against civilians.
  5. The UK’s standing in the world is diminished by these actions and strongly urging the government to urgently reconsider its arms export policy to Saudi Arabia.
  6. And the safety of civilians in Yemen and the UK’s reputation in the world should be prioritised over the profits of arms companies.


Contact Stuart Richardson: email or see





Saturday 26th November 2016 9am – 5pm

At: BVSC (Birmingham Voluntary Service Council) 138 Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 6DR


The Lucas Plan was a pioneering effort by workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. It remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change. Read the Plan here.

Today, in 2016 — 40 years after the Lucas Plan — we’re facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weaponsclimate chaos, and the destruction of jobs by automation. These crises mean we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did. Our conference will aim to re-open the debate about industrial conversion and democracy.