Archives for category: West Midlands

The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently announced that Warwick Manufacturing Group (University of Warwick) has been awarded £100m in Government funding for WMG’s work in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

It forms part of a £780 million announcement of which £270.9 million has been awarded to the West Midlands (to WMG and The Manufacturing Technology Centre, below) for their work in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and the Energy Systems Catapult in Birmingham.


The WMG centre’s HVM Catapult focuses on Low Emission Mobility, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) and the supply chain. This is directly aligned to the Government’s ‘Road to Zero’ vision for the transport sector of zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion, underpinned by WMG’s digital manufacturing capability that drives improvement in productivity and competitiveness across sectors.

The Warwick press release reports that in their first five years the catapults have supported around 3,000 small businesses to develop and exploit new technologies. They operate more than £850m world-class facilities and are also training hundreds of apprentices and doctoral students. Last year 900 apprentices gained valuable practical experience with cutting-edge technologies used in modern manufacturing at HVM Catapult.

A more cautious account was given last November in The Register, by Andrew Orlowski. Citing a report by Ernst and Young’s Catapult Review Steering Group to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, he summarised some of its conclusions.


The catapult agencies (aka the government’s elite network of Catapult Centres), which are formally private sector “independent research and technology organisations”, hoover up public money via Innovate UK.

The UK government’s network of “Catapult” innovation and technology agencies fall under its R&D spending umbrella – show dubious value for money. Governance structures are unhelpful the report finds. Innovate UK – the operating name of the government’s Technology Strategy Board, is an arms’-length body that falls under the Department for Business. Innovate can’t sit on Catapult boards or recommend appointments because “There are private and public sector clashes e.g. when Catapults are asked to deliver for Government, report on performance, and comply with government accounting rules”.

Orlowski adds that the report suggests the manufacturing and biotech catapults have had a positive economic impact. But the others? Not so much. three of the seven catapults have been put in the Last Chance Saloon: the “Transport Systems”, “Future Cities” and “Digital”.

EY adds: “With the Catapult network’s overall lack of a clearly articulated set of objectives, or a framework for measuring impact, and the current level of operational performance, it is unlikely that the impact of the network overall has been significant so far. . . “

“The “Transport Systems”, “Future Cities” and “Digital” Catapults urgently need to draw up new plans to justify their existence: funding should be halted if they can’t “prove confidence” with a clear new plan”.

Dr Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK, has a more positive view:

“In their first five years the catapults have supported around 3,000 small businesses to develop and exploit new technologies. They operate more than £850m world-class facilities and are also training hundreds of apprentices and doctoral students, such as at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult where in the last year 900 apprentices have gained invaluable practical experience with cutting-edge technologies used in modern manufacturing.”

 

 

 

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West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 25th October 5-7 pm

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

A round table discussion

All welcome.

The Zero Waste Economy: Is it possible? 

Hazel Clawley shares with the group the main themes of Paul Connett’s book The Zero Waste Solution as an opening to a group discussion on reasons for the successes and failures of the international Zero Waste movement.

The aim is to steer the discussion away from the individualistic approach (what one dedicated ‘greenie’ can do to slim down her/his ‘residuals’ – the non-reusable, non-recyclable bin contents – admirable though these pioneers are), and towards ways in which whole communities are being drawn in to the ZW solution in some unlikely parts of the world e.g. Sicily.

A previous WMNEG session (by Jane Green) showed how the drive towards incineration in the West Midlands stymies the ZW approach here (as in so many places) – so is there any hope for a Zero Waste West Midlands? 

 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire.

 

 

 

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Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham (KONP) says, “It looks like we’ve won our campaign for a publicly-funded (non-PFI) Midland  Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick/West Birmingham!”

The construction of the Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick collapsed after Carillion crashed spectacularly in Jan 2018 leaving the hospital half built. Then the bankers behind the ‘private finance initiative’ pulled the plug on the deal.

KONP Birmingham immediately organised a protest outside the hospital site demanding that the Treasury, health ministers and the Government should fully fund the hospital and run it properly under government and NHS control! Supporters included Birmingham TUC (BTUC), Unite the Union West Midlands, Unite the Community Birmingham, West Midlands Pensioners Convention and Birmingham Against the Cuts.

A month later, the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust Board voted to tell the Government that the only viable option for the completion was direct government funding, a full vindication of the KONP Birmingham campaign argument.

The Government and Hospital Trust has now reached an agreement to finish construction work with the Government providing funding for the remainder of the building work at Midland Metropolitan Hospital – which will see the new hospital built by 2022.

Birmingham Against The Cuts (BATC) says: “We believe that the Midland Met fiasco is a final nail in the coffin of successive governments’ love affair with PFI /2”

BATC gives a very cautious welcome for a publicly funded Midland Met Hospital in Smethwick/West B’ham (no PFI!) and expresses its  continuing concerns:

Firstly, there is a delay in starting completion until early summer 2019, partly because the half built hospital was rotting away without any protection for 6 months and an additional £20m worth of work will have to be done from this September.

Additionally, the Hospital’s Trust Board Chief Executive has been dropping in phrases to his announcements such as “making cost improvement programmes above national norms”, “limited reconfigurations”, etc, which reflect the concern in Dr John Lister’s 2016 review (right) of the privately financed hospital published by KONPB and BTUC when the Midland Met was first mooted.

Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham Secretariat will continue campaigning to defend the NHS and BATC will share news of government cuts, the implications and alternatives.

 

 

 

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With the government’s own economic impact assessments for the West Midlands making grim reading – the worst case scenarios reminiscent of the early 1980s recessions that devastated the social and economic fabric of the region – it is vital that policy makers, institutions and individuals prepare for what is likely to be a disruptive period for the UK economy.

There is a high concentration of leave voters in the de-industrialised areas of the West Midlands. Economically and politically disempowered, these areas have performed poorly, in orthodox economic development terms, since the 1980s. They have experienced comparatively low levels of private sector and government investment and entrenched social issues linked to poverty. Put simply, the West Midlands hasn’t fared well out of the last 40 years of UK economic policy.

It seems that for the West Midlands, Brexit could be a perfect storm, with:

 . a lack of political power to shape national policy to meet its specific needs,
• job losses after opening its markets to intense global competition, leading to.
• lower state investment likely to affect the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

So the most important questions are “what next?” and “Are the changes being planned for us, not by us, really in our interest?”

It seems that two options exist….

More of the same?

Much of the hype around Brexit from government and its main advocates has been around the notion of a ‘Global Britain’, the narrative about this uses snappy messaging like ‘freedom’ ‘something new’ and ‘we will all benefit’. In reality ‘Global Britain’ is simply a rebranding and upscaling of the of current economic model we have followed for 40 years – the one the West Midlands hasn’t done particularly well out of.

Take food as an example of what this ‘Global Britain’ might mean. Early reports about potential ‘free trade’ deals have focused on cheaper food imports from places such as America, New Zealand and Australia. The result of this is that smaller UK farmers and food producers won’t be able to compete and could go bust, coupled with the enormous environmental costs of shipping food and goods long distances. So it appears behind the snappy title, Global Britain will be bad for local producers, but a bonanza for massive corporations, with capital and jobs leaving Britain in return for environmentally unsustainable food products and in some cases lower quality food.

In this scenario it seems more apparent by the day, that a real danger of Brexit will be to open Britain up to a free trade ‘free for all’ that could result in lower food, safety and environmental protections.

Something different?

Let’s be radical! If any situation called for creative thinking and new solutions, Brexit is it. Another Brexit mantra is ‘Taking back Control’ an amorphous phrase that in practice will most likely entail a further concentration of power in one place, Westminster.

Even with the devolution deal secured by the West Midlands, economic policy is generally created for the benefit of one part of the UK economy – London and the Southeast – and if this trend continues it will probably lead to further divergence between London and the rest of the UK, without the power to set policy that works locally.

So how about a radical redistribution of economic and political power, not only devolved to regional but right down to the communities we all live in?

Getting Local; Community Economic Development 

Imagine a new style of economy that values people and creates a resilient and sustainable West Midlands. An economic model where local people lead and participate as owners, investors, purchasers and wealth creators. Far-fetched? Not really. Community Economic Development (CED) exists in practice in communities across the world, from hyper local food networks, energy co-operatives, complementary currencies and larger private, trade union & public-sector partnerships that grow localised economic activity for the benefit of communities.

Evidence proves this approach is a better way to grow jobs, harnessing the assets of local communities, rather than relying on distant private and public-sector owners with little understanding of the local areas. LWM’s research has found that higher levels of small and micro businesses and local ownership lead to higher levels of economic success, job creation, social inclusion, civic engagement, wellbeing and local distinctiveness.

So maybe the right question should be ‘How do we make an economy that works for everyone, in which we all have a meaningful stake?’

Why?

We could spend another 40 years following the current economic model, sending profits into the offshore accounts of multinationals, damaging our environment and generally carrying on regardless, or we could spend the next 40 years working together to ensure the West Midlands is at the forefront of a new social and economic revolution.

Anything else is simply unsustainable . . .

Visit Localising Prosperity, a LWM programme funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, to read about activity based on making the most of local enterprise, existing business supply chains, networks, community assets and human potential.

David Viney is Administration & Communications Officer for LWM. His professional interests include asset-based community development, regional economic disparity and how discrimination impacts on minority health outcomes.

 

 

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The People’s Weapons Inspectors blockaded the gates of Anglo-French arms manufacturer Roxel in the West Midlands on 7 April. The company makes and supplies several countries with propulsion systems and related equipments for all types of rockets and tactical and cruise missiles for air, sea and ground forces. 

The protestors attempted to inspect the Hartlebury site because they believe it is supplying weapons components, including the Brimstone air-to-surface missile, to be used by the Saudi Arabian military in its war in Yemen.

Some protestors blocked the gates by locking their arms together inside fortified drainage pipes and one who entered the site despite the large police presence, aiming to question Roxel’s directors, said:

‘By licensing arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the British government is escalating the conflict. ‘We felt compelled to act. We call upon the British government to refuse applications to licence further arms sales to Saudi Arabia.’

Wyre Forest Labour’s Stephen Brown, known for his voluntary work in Birmingham, visited the site during the protest and backed the group’s actions. He said:

“The protestors raised a very important issue that deserves wider attention. Labour has called for the U.K. Government to be held accountable as it is supplying arms and personnel helping the Saudis. We have seen civilian infrastructure hit resulting in thousands dead and injured including children. This is morally reprehensible and many view it as war crimes.”

 

Main source: http://www.kidderminstershuttle.co.uk/news/16152530.Anti_war_demonstrators_blockade_Hartlebury_rocket_factory/

 

 

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WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

Date: Thursday 26th April, 5pm-7pm

Carol Martin who will be opening this session, will do a brief introduction. She has circulated notes to members of the group. An extract: 

I believe that Council Tax is no longer fit for purpose. I propose a Land Value Tax based on the 1948 Town & Country Planning Act. It would not be linked to the old rates system which was based on a “notional” rental value of that property. People rent/buy where they can afford to.  They consider factors such as proximity to work, schools, shops, places of worship, transportation links.

In large cities such as London, but especially in South Birmingham, it throws up some bizarre rents. The rental on a 3 bedroom property in the inner City can be as high as in the suburbs . . .  

Venue: The Community Hub room, Level 4, John Lewis, Birmingham Grand Central Railway Station aka New Street Station.

The John Lewis Community Hub is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over the station (lift and escalator), immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

 

Anyone not on the mailing list who wishes to receive Carol’s notes beforehand should contact comments on the WMNEG website.

 

 

 

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The rational case against metro mayors ably set out by local commentators, Richard Hatcher, George Morran and Steve Beauchampé, has been shattered for the writer by the media-feeding chaotic, emotion-led, vicious, counterproductive squabbling in the Labour & Conservative ranks.

Still, evidently, a tribal people, we appear to need the ‘high-profile leadership’ extolled by Andrew Carter, chief executive of the Centre for Cities , largest funders Gatsby Charitable Foundation (Lord Sainsbury) and  Catapult network, established by Innovate UK, a government agency. (see report cover right)

As yet, the announcements made by the West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street, respected even by most opponents of the post, with a business record seen as a guarantee of efficiency, are provoking little dissension.

Dan Jarvis, who is expected to win the Sheffield election becoming Britain’s seventh metro mayor, intends to continue to sit in the House of Commons to work for a better devolution deal and speak for the whole county. (map, regions in 2017)

His desire to stay in parliament while serving as a mayor is thought, by the author of FT View to reflect a recognition that the real authority and power of these positions is limited:

  • The six mayors have no say on how taxes are raised and spent.
  • Outside Greater Manchester, the mayors have little control over health policy.
  • Major spending decisions on transport policy are still taken by central government.

Days after taking office in Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s announcement of a new fund to tackle the region’s homelessness problem was backed by ‘a chunk’ of his own mayoral salary.

Andrew Carter points out that England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent, compared with their counterparts in other countries.

FT View describes this extra layer of government as yet merely creating cheerleaders, adding:

“Voices alone will not be enough to shift economic and political power to the regions. England’s mayors need more control. If the government is serious about devolution, the mayors need the powers to match that ambition”.

 

Could well-endowed, unsuborned metro mayors out-perform successive corporate-bound national governments?

 

 

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Some time ago West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street travelled to Finland – thought to be the only country in Europe where homelessness is falling.

He said: “We have got to be realistic about this. This can’t be about a sticking plaster. We have got to ask ourselves the question, are we prepared to make a similar commitment?”

Emmaus has the answer to rehabilitation of the long-term homeless, offering both accommodation and work of a socially useful nature.

As its website says, “overcoming homelessness means more than a roof over your head”. Without a purpose formerly homeless people placed in ‘permanent accommodation’ become lonely and still feel like ‘outsiders’ and eventually have to leave because of alcohol, drug or debt problems.

Mayor:  travel to Cambridge Emmaus to see the homeless rehabilitated

The mayor of Birmingham may visit the Coventry Emmaus, probably the nearest, or better still, go the centre in Cambridge, the ideal aimed for by Emmaus, where housing and workshops are on the same site – and also a place where locals can come and buy restored goods at modest prices from restored people.

The secular Emmaus movement flourishes on the continent where it was started in 1945 by a French priest to help homeless ex-servicemen to repair war-damaged houses.

Men and women come off income support, collect, refurbish and repair goods and offer them for sale. In exercising a skill and offering goods at quite a low price they meet a need and know that once more they have a useful role to play.

Those who had an alcohol addiction, go out for a drink but are expected to behave acceptably. Even if they are asked to leave because of bad behaviour they know that they can always return after a while.

The four storey Trinity Centre (a former church, a listed building) in Camp Hill near the city centre, highlighted on this site in 2014, would offer a suitable site, as Emmaus prefers to have the residential, working and retail activities on the same site.. It housed many homeless ex-servicemen and workers displaced by machinery.

The ground floor was a dormitory, with three aisles, like the one below and the centre led up to the chantry altar in which a Sunday service was held each week. All meals were cooked in a splendidly fitted kitchen, there was a recreation room, a visiting library (taken round by the writer) and a rehabilitation flat on the top storey.

When the Centre was put up for sale some local people suggested that this converted four storey Anglican ‘Commissioners’ church and the land nearby would be perfect for an Emmaus Community.

 

Could Trinity Centre become the city’s first Emmaus?

Bishop David Urquhart is a Church Commissioner: should the Mayor contact him?

 

 

 

enquiries@emmauscoventry.org.uk

 

– though in Coventry this has not been possible.

Mayor Andy Street and Bishop David Urquhart could begin to address homelessness

Some time ago West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street travelled to Finland – thought to be the only country in Europe where homelessness is falling.

He said: “We have got to be realistic about this. This can’t be about a sticking plaster. We have got to ask ourselves the question, are we prepared to make a similar commitment?”

Emmaus has the answer to rehabilitation of the long-term homeless, offering both accommodation and work of a socially useful nature.

As its website says, “overcoming homelessness means more than a roof over your head”. Without a purpose formerly homeless people placed in ‘permanent accommodation’ become lonely and still feel like ‘outsiders’ and eventually have to leave because of alcohol, drug or debt problems.

Mayor Andy Street:  travel to Cambridge Emmaus to see the homeless rehabilitated

The mayor of Birmingham may visit the Coventry Emmaus, probably the nearest, or better still, go the centre in Cambridge, the ideal aimed for by Emmaus, where housing and workshops are on the same site – and also a place where locals can come and buy restored goods at modest prices from restored people.

The Emmaus movement flourishes on the continent where it was started in 1945 by a French priest to help homeless ex-servicemen to repair war-damaged houses.

Men and women come off income support, collect, refurbish and repair goods and offer them for sale. In exercising a skill and offering goods at quite a low price they meet a need and know that once more they have a useful role to play.

Those who had an alcohol addiction, go out for a drink but are expected to behave acceptably. Even if they are asked to leave because of bad behaviour they know that they can always return after a while.

The four storey Trinity Centre (a former church, a listed building) in Camp Hill near the city centre, highlighted on this site in 2014, would offer a suitable site, as Emmaus prefers to have the residential, working and retail activities on the same site.. It housed many homeless ex-servicemen and workers displaced by machinery.

The ground floor was a dormitory, with three aisles, like the one below and the centre led up to the chantry altar in which a Sunday service was held each week. All meals were cooked in a splendidly fitted kitchen, there was a recreation room, a visiting library (taken round by the writer) and a rehabilitation flat on the top storey.

When the Centre was put up for sale some local people suggested that this converted four storey Anglican ‘Commissioners’ church and the land nearby would be perfect for an Emmaus Community.

 

Could Trinity Centre become the city’s first Emmaus?

Bishop David Urquhart is a Church Commissioner: should the Mayor contact him?

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

Two Sandwell community swimming pools to close to help fund Commonwealth Games Aquatics Centre, reports Steve Beauchampé

The true cost to Sandwell residents of hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games aquatics events became clearer on Tuesday with the announcement that community swimming pools at Thimblemill Road, Smethwick and in Langley would be closed to make way for a new £60m swimming centre, to be constructed on the Borough’s Londonderry Playing Fields.

The new centre will feature a 50m pool, 25m diving pool, 125-station fitness gym, 12-court sports hall, seats for 5,000 spectators. Details of how the facility will be funded, and by whom, remain unclear., as do issues such as its ongoing running costs and long-term financial viability in what might be described as a somewhat ‘off’ location.

Sandwell Council reported that whilst the facility at Langley would likely be demolished, a new (though as yet unspecified) public use will be found for the Thimblemill Lane building. The Council also started that the lost playing fields at Londonderry would be replaced by ‘adequate alternative spaces’, but were unable to explain what this somewhat vague and ambiguous phrase meant in real terms.

The Grade II listed Thimblemill Road Baths (above) were designed by Chester Button and Smethwick Borough Engineer Roland Fletcher and opened almost 85 years ago on March 30th 1933. The building underwent a major restoration around a decade ago and is amongst only three swimming baths in Britain built in the Moderne style (the others are located in Northampton and Aberdeen). A much-loved and well-used community resource, in November 19th 1962, when the swimming pool was still boarded over during the winter season for dances and other social events, the venue hosted a performance by the then largely unknown Beatles (with both the Kinks and the Who following in later years).

The pool and sports centre in Vicarage Road, Langley, whilst of considerably less architectural merit, nonetheless remains a vital amenity whose loss will be keenly felt by many in the community. As swimmers in other many locations beyond the West Midlands will testify, replacing a small community pool with a 50m leviathan rarely results in a satisfactory outcome for the wide range of swimmers and swimming needs previously catered for.

Tuesday’s announcement is the first occasion that threats to the future of either the Smethwick or Langley facilities has been publicly discussed and calls into question the Birmingham Games bid team’s claim that hosting the Games would improve the region’s sporting infrastructure. Since reports first emerged that the 2022 aquatics events would likely be staged in Sandwell, councillors and council officials have been keen to portray the prospect as uniformity positive news for the borough, with no mention of any possible downside.

Requests both to Sandwell Council and Birmingham Games bid organisers last year for information about the new centre were met with the same intense secrecy that has characterised many crucial elements of the Games bid. Given the short (four and a half year) lead in time to the Games, Sandwell’s announcement of a public consultation with residents and businesses on the plans, following their approval by Sandwell Council Cabinet next week, seems little more than cosmetic, and it is hard to imagine local councillors risking any delay to the project, meaning that once again effective public scrutiny and accountability of the 2022 Games is likely to be minimal.

First published in the Birmingham Press

 

 

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