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iSE’s WiSE Wednesday webinars return on 16th September

 
On Wednesday 16th September 2020 iSE’s WiSE Wednesday webinar series returns following an August summer break. 
 
The discussion topic, including open Q&A, will be Digital Transformation — in a low tech environment with Pauline Roche, CIO of award-winning social enterprise RnR Organisation.
 
Pauline, who was also winner of the West Midlands Women of the Year 2016 award: Outstanding Contribution to Technology, will explain the importance of data, digital agility and digital competence in sustainable, successful social enterprises, particularly those that are seeking to diversify, consolidate or transform delivery for new and existing markets. Pauline will discuss:
 
  • It doesn’t happen overnight – start small, don’t lose the personal touch.
  • Who are your people, internal and external.
  • Building on the data.
 
RnR Organisation leads from the front by chairing the West Midlands Funders Network and West Midlands Open Data Forum, along with being listed in the Inspiring Fifty: Europe 2017 and the co-organisers of meet up Net Squared Midlands.
 
Register here: Digital Transformation in a Low Tech Environment: 16th September, 2pm start.  

BECo — the social enterprise that wants employers to steal its staff

Divine chocolate. Belu water. The Big Issue. A comparatively small number of social enterprises are operating at the scale of national manufacturers.

And note that I do call them manufacturers and not ‘brands’ — I mean companies that make things, not brands that pursue maximum profit by outsourcing production to wherever conditions are worst and costs cheapest.

It takes a long time and a lot of marketing resources to reach the scale and capacity required to achieve national recognition. It takes even greater effort and resolve to do this ethically — by which I mean trading for social purpose rather than in whatever way will most enrich shareholders.

I was prompted to think about this this morning by a discussion about ethical, cruelty-free toiletries and I realised that I had come across a name that was new to me: BECo soaps.

In fact, BECo — it stands for Better Considered — is the new trading name for the soaps and toiletries produced by the disability charity and social firm, Clarity & Co, which traces its roots back to 1854. I was familiar with it under its old trading name of The Soap Company, but last year saw a major ‘rebranding’ (there’s no way round the term, I suppose) and BECo now has plans to be the new household name in ethical, cruelty-free toiletries.

80% of BECo’s staff have physical, sensory or other disabilities that disadvantage them in the conventional labour market. There are a million more people with disabilities that the company would like to employ — but unless it sells an immensely greater volume of soap, it can’t. And this is why its website encourages readers to ‘steal our staff‘. That’s right: if you’re an employer and you see someone on the BECo website you’d like to employ, you can email the company with a job offer and they’ll pass it on to the staff member concerned.

All BECo products — organic soap and shampoo bars, liquid hand-wash and other products to come — are made in the UK and create employment for people with disabilities. They are stocked by Boots, the Co-op, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the online Ethical Superstore.

And moreover they are sensibly priced. (I do get sick of seeing products — and social enterprises are not always exempt from this — that are so expensive that their manufacturers appear oblivious both to their own privilege and to real-world financial hardship.) 

The dog-eat-dog scramble of social media ‘influencers’ to ‘work with brands’ is frankly disgusting but here is an aim truly worthy of a bit of ‘influencing’: if BECo products were in every bathroom in the UK, another 45,000 employment opportunities for people with disabilities would be created.

With scrupulous hygiene a key defence against the transmission of Covid-19, surely this is a moment of opportunity.

BVSC state of the sector survey has never been more important

Active Wellbeing Society workers and volunteers distributing food and other essentials during the coronavirus crisis (Photo: AWS/BVSC)

UPDATE 09/09/20: BVSC’s state of the sector ends on Friday 11th September

Further to this post, this is a reminder to say that BVSC’s ‘state of the sector’ survey has never been more important.

This year the survey has been completely redesigned to help gauge the impact of coronavirus on Birmingham’s voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) and the communities it serves.

If you can make fifteen minutes to participate, please do. The information the survey provides will play a critical role in helping plan for VCSE and community recovery.

Read more and survey link

John Taylor Hospice — can you help reunite a family with gallantry medals that may have been donated by accident?

John Taylor Hospice, the UK’s first social enterprise hospice, has been covered extensively on this blog, but today’s story is rather different to the sort of thing we normally cover.

The hospice is asking for help in an unusual cause. A recent donation to its Castle Bromwich shop included a number of Second World War gallantry medals and the hospice wants to make sure that this was intentional. Rachael, the shop manager, says: “We’re hoping someone can help us make sure that these medals were an intended donation. We would love to hear from the gentleman who brought in the donation or another close family member so we can check and either return the medals or thank them.”

The medals were amongst items taken into the JTH shop in Timberley Lane on Saturday 8th August by a man who made no mention of the donation including medals.

Read the full story on the JTH blog and if by any chance this rings bells with you and you think you may know the donor of these items you can contact the shop manager Rachael on 0121 728 6763 (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm) or speak to the hospice media team on 07551 125358.

UPDATE 24th August 2020: The widespread coverage of this story on websites, blogs such as ours and other social media platforms led to local TV and radio news features and family members have now come forward and John Taylor Hospice is in the process of reuniting the family with the medals. Read more here.  Further update 19th October 2020: the medals, originally awarded to Mr Jim Hoverd have now been reunited with the family — read the full story here.

The medals found in a donation made to the John Taylor Hospice shop in Castle Bromwich on the 8th August

Welcome Change CIC is recruiting

Following a successful bid to the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, Welcome Change CIC is seeking a Project Co-ordinator for its Community Hub in Kitts Green.

Welcome Change CIC is seeking an enthusiastic and pro active individual to work on the development and delivery of activities at its Community Hub in Kitts Green.

The job will involve growing an existing food pantry, liaising with local residents and building partnerships with other public and private sector organisations operating in the area to introduce new activities and ensure a co-ordinated approach to meeting the needs of the local community.

This is initially a 30 hour a week, six-month fixed term post, funded through the Government’s Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund. Welcome Change CIC aims to secure additional funding to allow the role to continue beyond six months.

Full details, contacts and application pack.

 

Women’s Enterprise Hub — evolving to meet new needs

Since 2015 iSE has been delivering specialist enterprise support for women from its Women’s Enterprise Hub on Ladypool Rd, Sparkbrook. This was a partnership between iSE and Birmingham City Council.

Things have moved on significantly. In March 2020 iSE secured a fifteen year lease on the building under a community asset transfer arrangement with the council. The audit carried out as part of this process revealed that the Women’s Enterprise Hub creates the equivalent of £4m of social value in the local community every year.

This amply demonstrates the valuable role the Hub has been playing and continues to play — but even this hasn’t remained static. The coronavirus pandemic has created a level of local community need that is beyond anything previously seen in the locality.

The Women’s Enterprise Hub has now been repurposed as the Women’s Enterprise & Community Hub (WECH), reflecting the need to take a much broader and integrated approach that can meet complex local needs of debt, poverty, marginalisation in the conventional labour market and Covid-19-related hardship.

This shift in focus has enabled the WECH to raise additional resources, create two more specialist support roles, and extend its range of services. For example, during the worst of the pandemic, a newly-established food bank swiftly came to support fifty local families.

You can read the story of the evolution of the Women’s Enterprise & Community Hub on the iSE blog.

Bright Enterprise — BE more enterprising, BE more you: helping women entrepreneurs towards their first £1,000 of turnover

iSE has just announced a new women’s enterprise support programme, operating from its Women’s Enterprise & Community Hub (WECH) in Sparkbrook. The announcement reads:

The Women’s Enterprise and Community Hub (WECH), based in Sparkbrook, announces a new enterprise start up programme for Birmingham women, Bright Enterprise.

WECH, part of iSE CIC, is delighted to offer women in Birmingham the opportunity to build confidence, develop skills and start a business with our NatWest funded start up programme.

A dedicated 6 month start up support programme designed to help women bring their business ideas to life, develop a business plan, a marketing plan and target their first £1,000 of turnover!

To join the Bright Enterprise blended learning programme starting in September 2020, simply click to apply here.

Application deadline is Wednesday 19th August 2020, 12:00 noon.

The Bright Enterprise programme start date will be Wednesday 16th September 2020.

More information here.

#BEmoreenterprising 
#BEmoreyou
#BEyourfuture

September 2020 FUSE programme is open to applications now

Further to this post, iSE has just announced that its social enterprise start-up programme targeting new  health and wellbeing-led enterprises has opened for a further enrolment for September.

Applications close at the end of August and the programme will begin in September (date tbc).

Find our more about practical arrangements and how to apply (scroll down to “September 2020 FUSE programme is open to applications now”).

→ Request application from Elizabeth Forrester by email at iSE or download one here (MS Word).

 

 

 

Useful round-up of Covid-19 crisis funding sources

Birmingham City Council’s Neighbourhood Development and Support Unit has produced a very useful round-up of Covid-19 funding sources.

The list is current at August 2020 and contains over 120 sources.

 External Funding — Covid-19 crisis response — view or download PDF

Scottish Government urged to put third sector at the heart of recovery for a “wellbeing economy”

Regular readers will be aware that we have been trying to stay abreast of new documents that have a direct relevance to Covid-19 recovery planning (see all posts).

What this reveals is that in England, Covid-19 recovery planning is still seen primarily as economic recovery, with an emphasis on business. Rather than the government, it is other organisations — ourselves included — that are arguing that economic recovery has to have a more joined-up approach in which economic, social and community recovery are seen as interconnected and on an equal footing.

Contrast this with Scotland, where the Scottish Government’s Independent Advisory Group on Economic Recovery has just published its report, Towards a Robust, Resilient Wellbeing Economy for Scotland (June 2020).

This report argues for what it calls a “wellbeing economy” and recognises the vital contribution the third sector makes to this. It locates social purpose organisations at the heart of economic recovery.

The report says that the Scottish Government must take action “to protect the capacity and financial sustainability of the third sector, in recognition of its important role in building and strengthening social capital” and that this should include examining “the scope for longer-term funding arrangements for services; more flexible and collaborative approaches to procurement; and new ways to incentivise private investment in the sector”.

If only we were seeing such an enlightened approach being advocated by our own government.

Read all posts tagged Covid-19 recovery planning

→ Towards a Robust, Resilient Wellbeing Economy for Scotland: Report of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery: Scottish Government (PDF)

Lloyds Bank Foundation announces £7.4m Covid recovery fund

Lloyds Bank Foundation has recently announced that a new £7.4m Covid recovery fund for small to medium charities will open for applications today.

It is encouraging to see that Lloyds Bank Foundation is recognising the need for this funding to be unrestricted, enabling recipients to use it as part of their recovery and continuation planning rather than being tied to predetermined ‘project delivery’ requirements. It would be wonderful to see more funders adopting this outlook. But it is unfortunate that the funding appears to be restricted to registered charities.

The Foundation’s press release said:

At 10am on 3 August 2020 we will be launching £7.4 million COVID funding aimed at supporting charities to recover beyond the immediate crisis.

From our conversations with small and local charities and the wider sector, we know that to be able recover from this health crisis charities need unrestricted funding and the space and support to adapt their organisational, income generation and service delivery models which have been significantly impacted by COVID-19.

To meet these needs, our COVID Recovery Fund will offer around 140 charities a two-year unrestricted grant of £50,000 alongside a Development Partner to help charities navigate a tumultuous future.

To survive the aftermath of the pandemic, charities have needed to alter the way in which they operate, deliver services and source income. Alongside crucial funding, we know charities need the space, support and resources to be able to do this and become more resilient to future challenges. This kind of work is complex, it takes time and involves the whole organisation and with the COVID Recovery Fund programme, a Development Partner will be appointed to work hand in hand with charities through this process.

*

This fund is open to small and medium sized charities with an income of between £25,000 and £1 million a year that are helping people overcome complex social issues such as dependency, homelessness and domestic abuse.

Applications will open from 10am 3rd August 2020 and will close at 5pm 11th September 2020.

Find out more.

→ Lloyds Bank Foundation is holding a Q&A webinar with its grants team on 11th August between 2pm – 3.30pm you can register here.

 

BSSEC publishes eighth annual report

For many, 2020 will for ever be associated with the coronavirus crisis, despite the fact that the full scale and implications of the pandemic only became evident as the financial year drew to a close.

But much of the year — had we only recognised it at the time — now seems a golden age of normality and we were able to make significant progress on a variety of fronts: influencing key policy-makers in favour of social enterprise, planning the next moves for Birmingham Social Enterprise City, publicising the news, events and services of Birmingham’s busy social enterprises, looking for new collaborations and partnerships that will help create opportunities for the sector and a positive environment for social enterprise.

But looking forward, it is clear that our emphasis for perhaps the foreseeable future will be on recovery planning and ensuring that social enterprise and the principles of trading for social purpose and social value are not forgotten in the rush to a ‘business as usual’ economic recovery.

Download the report

See all annual reports

‘A new life for the high street’ — report from the Social Market Foundation

Again, I’m indebted to David Alcock of Anthony Collins Solicitors on whose LinkedIn feed I saw mention of this.

The Social Market Foundation has just published an extremely interesting report called A new life for the high street.

Some will know that I have been trying to keep up with the reports, statements and documents now emerging that have something to say about long-term prospects and strategies for post-coronavirus recovery. This report by the SMF sells itself somewhat short, I think, if one goes only by the title. It sounds as if it couldn’t help but cover the same ground as the recent Bill Grimsey report that I covered in this post and this really isn’t the case.

To my mind, it does significantly more. It isn’t all that long and yet it manages to consider:

  • Repurposing of town and city centres — permanently reduced demand for retail and city centre office space could unlock massive house-building programmes.
  • Writing-off local government debt and increasing the borrowing levels under the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) — making it possible for local councils to invest in community infrastructure and arrest urban decline.
  • The renaissance of the suburbs.
  • A permanent shift to home- and remote-working — but will this only widen inequalities for those whose accommodation is too small for successful home-working, those with families, those in lower-paid jobs and service industries not amenable to home-working?
  • The impact on social capital.
  • Permanent shrinkage of bricks-and-mortar retailing and service sector jobs with disproportionate impact on younger workers and women?
  • Poorer prospects for those ‘divorced’ from their offices?
  • A much more variable picture of the benefits of home-working and individual attitudes to homes-working than some of the headlines now in the media suggests.
  • New waves of entrenched, structural unemployment as some sectors — retailing, service industries, leisure and hospitality — permanently shrink?
  • Who handles the retraining and reskilling workloads?
  • Are Economic Growth Areas (EGAs) the answer?

 

As I have said in all the other posts, if you are simply trying to keep abreast of at least some of the relevant reports now coming out, or if you are assembling arguments as you try to influence post-coronavirus recovery plans, then this is well worth reading. I’ll be honest: I expected it to be pure boosterism for home-working and rise of the remote, digital white collar professional, but it is a far more nuanced take than that. It is also very well written.

See all posts tagged Covid-19 recovery planning

Birmingham City Council launches important public health survey to assess impact of Covid-19 on city’s residents

Birmingham City Council has launched an important public health survey aimed at gauging the personal impact of Covid-19 on Birmingham residents.

The survey asks about your background, your understanding and views regarding Covid-19 and the impact that lockdown measures have had on various aspects of your health and wellbeing, such as mental health, physical activity, employment and relationships. It should take about 15-30 minutes to complete.

The data collected through the survey is anonymous, so you cannot be identified from what you have said. BCC plans to publish the findings from the survey at a population rather than an individual level (for example in tables or graphs using summary results) and any quotes used from answers will remain anonymous.

This could be an important source of data in the city’s recovery planning.

READ MORE & COMPLETE THE SURVEY

Wales sets out plan to put social enterprise at the heart of Welsh economy and society

Social enterprises, support organisations and the Welsh government have worked together to produce a bold and ambitious vision for the sector in Wales. Transforming Wales through Social Enterprise, published by Wales Co-operative Centre, significantly raises the bar in terms of sector development goals and we can all learn from this well researched and clearly written document.

In 2020, the Welsh social enterprise sector has grown to more than 2,000 social enterprises employing 55,000 people and contributing over £3bn to the economy. By 2030, the report says, social enterprise will be the business model of choice for entrepreneurs delivering solutions to social, economic and environmental problems in Wales. And by working as a broad movement in ‘ethical alliances’ with other socially responsible businesses and organisations, social enterprises will be at the heart of a fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable Wales.

It clearly sets out the socio-economic problems Wales faces:

» Parts of Wales have levels of deprivation and inequality that are worse than the rest of the UK, with the added complexities of rural areas and former coalfields. Disabled people in particular are being denied the right to independent living. It has an ageing population.

» Workers on zero-hour contracts have been the worst affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

» The fourth industrial revolution — emerging digital technologies being deployed at unprecedented speed and scale — offers immense potential for good, but the Welsh government is also concerned that this could further widen inequalities, with automation substituting for labour.

» Wales, like the rest of the world, faces a climate emergency. 

» Many communities feel excluded and disenfranchised: local resources and assets — including language and culture — are under-valued.

» Forty years of economic planning based on the rule that ‘markets know best’ has concentrated wealth, ownership and power in the hands of small, self-serving economic elites.

» Health and wellbeing are declining.

» Wales sees the need to further strengthen and extend the role of social enterprises in public procurement, with the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015  having somewhat similar aims to the UK Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012.

In describing these entrenched socio-economic inequalities, one could say much the same of the rest of the UK.

The difference here, however, is that the Welsh government sees social enterprise models as absolutely central in offering solutions to these systemic problems and the document sets out the case for social enterprise being at the heart of long-term Welsh recovery.

The document identifies nine key outcomes that should guide efforts to support and grow the social enterprise sector in Wales over the next decade:

  1. More people will choose to engage with social enterprises –- as customers, employees, volunteers or leaders.
  2. More people will choose a social enterprise model to start a new business.
  3. Policy makers will prioritise social enterprise solutions when considering how to address problems and will create conditions which help social enterprises to rebuild and thrive.
  4. Social enterprises will be better connected to each other and will speak with a more unified voice.
  5. Social enterprises will play a greater role in tackling the climate emergency and protecting the environment.
  6. Social enterprises will adopt Fair Work practices, pay the Living Wage and increase diversity amongst their employees and volunteers.
  7. Social enterprises will be better able to exploit digital technology for social good.
  8. The range and value of finance options tailored to the needs of social enterprises will multiply.
  9. Good quality specialist business support tailored to the needs of the sector will be available to everyone who needs it.

 

How familiar some of these goals are. And yet taken together this is as far-reaching a national commitment to a social enterprise future as we are likely to see. One might even say it offers a blueprint for a ‘social enterprise country’ — and that really does take the idea of ‘social enterprise places’ to the next level.

→ Read more on the Wales Co-operative Centre website and download full report.

Read more in Pioneers Post.

Free WiSE Wednesday webinar from iSE — Recovery, Innovation & Growth: 22nd July

 
iSE CIC announces the expert speaker for the next WiSE Wednesday webinar on Wednesday 22nd July 2020 at 10.00am. She is award-winning social entrepreneur Daniella Genas, founder of She’s The Boss and international speaker on innovation, motivation and growth, and Daniella will be speaking on Recovery, Innovation & Growth.
 
In this session, we learn more about real-time #socialenterprise  #innovation and #growth with Daniella — what it is, how to do it, learnt lessons, tapping in to your motivation and defining your pathway through enterprise recovery to ‘new world working’.
 
Topics include: obstacles as lessons for growth; innovation for growth; and strategies for growth.
 

New BVSC survey seeks views of voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise sectors on impact of Covid-19 and recovery prospects

BVSC‘s chief executive Brian Carr has just announced that the organisation is launching a major new survey to help gauge the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise sectors in Birmingham.
 
His statement, issued today, reads:
 
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen exceptional upheaval and loss across the world, changing the way that people live, work and socialise.
 
We know that in Birmingham and across the UK the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise (VCFSE) sectors have been key partners in leading the local, regional and national response to the pandemic, responding to the existing and emerging needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
 
We want to capture the fullest possible picture of how the sector in Birmingham responded to the crisis, as well as understanding more about the short and long-term implications for the sector in a post-Covid recovery landscape. Our latest State of the Sector survey has been completely redesigned with these aims in mind and we now urgently need your input.
 
The survey will evidence what is happening across Birmingham’s VCFSE sector and enable us to share this crucial information at a strategic city-wide level. Specifically, it will be possible to provide detailed findings regarding:
 
  • The way in which services responded and adapted to meet the needs of service users during the crisis.
  • The immediate impact of Covid-19 on the VCFSE sector in terms of income, staffing levels and volunteers.
  • The current capacity of the sector in the wake of Covid-19.
  • The anticipated longer-term impacts of Covid-19 on sector capacity, service delivery and sustainability.
  • The anticipated support needs of the sector as we move into recovery and beyond.
 
The information gathered will be fed back to all participants and to policy-makers at city, regional and national level, and will be used to frame BVSC’s sector support offer in the months ahead.
 
 

National Lottery and partners announce £18.7m Social Enterprise Support Fund

This terrific news, just in…

The Social Enterprise Support Fund, a brand new £18.7m support fund for social enterprises, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, has just opened and is taking applications now.

The Social Enterprise Support Fund is delivered by The School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE), UnLtd, Key Fund, Resonance and Big Issue Invest. It is taking applications from ventures aiding those at direct health risk from Covid-19, or those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. For example, supporting people through loneliness and isolation, or supporting BAME communities who experience health inequalities. Read the full eligibility criteria and FAQs here.

The Fund particularly encourages applications from enterprises led by those with direct lived experience of the social issues they are trying to solve.

The first round is now live and will close for new applications and submissions on Monday 20th July at the very latest, but may close earlier if the maximum applications for each round are reached. You are therefore strongly encourage to submit your application as early as possible.

There will be another opportunity to apply over the next three months, reopening in August.

Key eligibility criteria include the following but you should be sure to read the full details:

  • Your organisation must have been incorporated for at least one year to be eligible for this fund.
  • Your social enterprise must be incorporated.
  • It must have:
    • A clear social purpose.
    • A restriction on distribution of profits, to the extent that at least 51% of surpluses are reinvested for its social purpose.
    • An “asset lock” — there must be a clause in your constitution or articles which prevents assets, such as cash or buildings, from being distributed for private benefit when the organisation is wound up.
  • Your income EITHER in your last financial year OR the year up to 31st March 2020, must be between £25,000 and £1.5 million. This means all income, not just trading income.
  • Your social enterprise must have been financially stable before COVID-19 and specifically on December 31st 2019. 

 

Eligibility criteria and FAQs.

Full details & applications.

 

 

New CIC formed to fight for support for 3m self-employed workers excluded from government’s Covid-19 support schemes

I know that as social entrepreneurs, voluntary sector workers, leaders of charities or activists in community groups, the plight of social enterprises and the wider third sector is what is really at the forefront of our concerns.

But like many I have been following the news regarding the estimated 3m self-employed people who are ineligible for either furloughing or the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS). Typically, these are freelancers who do not earn at least 50% of their income from self-employment, those who employ themselves through limited companies and those in new-start self-employment.

I can only begin to imagine the anxiety these people are experiencing. Especially affected are freelancers in the arts, creative and cultural industries, where short-term PAYE contracts for freelance self-employed people are apparently commonplace — meaning that many freelancers are ineligible for SEISS because they earn more than 50% of their income from short-term PAYE contracts or were between contracts when SEISS came into force.

That the Chancellor’s statement of the 8th June did nothing at all to offer any hope to these people seems an injustice that desperately needs addressing. There is a very good piece in The Guardian explaining the dreadful impact of this injustice and another on the This is Money website that better explains the technicalities. 

A new CIC called Excluded UK was formed in May specifically to fight for the rights of these workers. An All Party Parliamentary Group of Excluded UK led by Jamie Stone MP has also been established and now numbers almost 200 MPs.

If this concerns you or someone close to you, then you can do something to help:

Get involved in Excluded UK.

→ Donate to Excluded UK.

→ Write to your MP (via the excellent WriteToThem website which offers authentication and digital signature of letters).

‘Recharge the West Midlands’ — does this offer the kind of economic, social and community recovery we all hoped to see?

Click for report PDF

In earlier posts I have been trying to keep abreast of a variety of recovery planning initiatives, including recent proposals and reports.

Up for consideration today is Recharge the West Midlands — Kickstarting the West Midlands Economy. This is West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) business case to government for a £3.2bn investment package that will ‘reset, rebuild and recharge’ the region’s economy as part of post-Covid economic recovery planning.

The plan — backed in a collective letter to the Chancellor by 600 signatories from business, institutions, trade unions, the region’s Chambers of Commerce, local authorities and LEPs — was submitted to the government at the end of June 2020. Mayor Andy Street is hopeful that the scale, approach and ambition of the West Midlands plan will not just find favour with the Chancellor but will also inform the government’s national recovery strategy.

The WMCA strategy has three main pillars:

  • Creating green manufacturing jobs by harnessing clean technology and electrification.
  • Turning HS2, Coventry City of Culture and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games into jobs for local people by accelerating major infrastructure investment.
  • Investing in healthcare innovation, capitalising on the region’s existing strengths as a centre for health research, and using this to improve the region’s health.

 

The scale and ambition cannot be denied. But is this really about ‘resetting’ the West Midlands economy? There still seems to be a massive emphasis on transport, infrastructure, capital projects, and brownfield regeneration. What seems less evident is the Combined Authority’s much-repeated commitment to inclusive economic growth. It is also difficult to see a comprehensive approach throughout the document to addressing inequalities — and especially to measures that will ensure that a massive economic kickstart won’t widen existing inequalities or further exacerbate those the virus has exposed.

If you take as an example the first pillar, creating green manufacturing jobs, it is perfectly true that this includes a £100m programme of retrofitting to take 50,000 households out of fuel poverty, and £30m to decarbonise Black Country industry. But these sums are far exceeded by the £484m dedicated to capital projects (Gigafactory battery production facility), transport (very light rail), electric vehicle charging infrastructure and automotive R&D.

Similarly, maximising local job creation via HS2 and other WM opportunities devotes around £225m to capital projects — the HS2 interchange; Curzon St/Digbeth regeneration; and the redevelopment of Birmingham’s Square Shopping Centre, King’s Parade and Dale End/High Street car park as a new mixed-use ‘destination’ called Martineau Galleries. And while an £80m ‘Cultural Catalyst Programme’ is included to enable critical business transformation in the cultural sector, even this sum includes £50m for ‘shovel ready’ capital projects for arts and cultural venues. Surely this isn’t what the arts and cultural sector in the region needs right now?

Investing in healthcare innovation shows a similar emphasis. This includes £10m for reducing health inequalities through radical prevention and £13m to create a community-based health diagnostics hub at Grand Central, but again these sums are significantly less than the £127m dedicated to capital spend on construction of a Precision Health Technologies Accelerator, and planned diversification and business transformation programmes in MedTech supply-chains.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not rubbishing the plan because I am certainly not qualified to do so. I understand that this has to be a plan for the entire economy, and it is a complex document, but in its overwhelming emphasis on capital projects, regeneration and high-growth/high-profit sectors I can’t help but wonder whether it will offer the kind of  inclusive economic, social and community recovery we are all hoping to see.

I would love to know what others make of this plan. Do you see it as a transformational ‘reset’ for the region’s economy that is in keeping with the new world of Covid-19 recovery? Do we have any economic analysts out there who can help us better understand this?