In the West Midlands, an interesting group of new economy ‘practitioners’ from across the city region met in Birmingham and agreed that collectively we want to influence the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) towards a more inclusive economic model.
This is the next stage of the Good City Economies work which looked at emerging approaches to local economics in 10 cities across the UK. Participants came from across the West Midlands and from diverse organisations including community groups, Citizens Advice Bureaux, universities, local authorities and business.
The Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit’s recent infographic nicely outlines the difference between inclusive economics as a bolt-on to business as usual, and inclusive economics integrated into the mainstream approach.
Our work under Localising Prosperity has always emphasised the significant socio-economic benefits of integrating local economic ownership and local demand and supply initiatives as mainstream economic priorities. Such an approach is arguably the most effective way to ‘take back control.’
We recognise that the WMCA, or at least many of those working within it (and at least some of our mayoral candidates!) actively want to pursue this integrated approach, but that, as ever, the Treasury pressure is for a narrow, GVA-obsessed definition of prosperity that pays little attention to who benefits. This Treasury approach has inevitably shaped the Devo Deal and how the WMCA plans to deliver on it.
We identified health and social care as the sector for which to best research how the foundational economy can drive inclusive prosperity – a highly challenging agenda which could potentially provide economic solutions. This is a sector that can provide a wide range of jobs and career progression in areas of employment need, and providing services to meet an evident and sustained need at the same time.
The dismal state of work conditions – stability and pay levels – at the poorer end of the sector also provides an impetus to solve the problem. Piecemeal attempts to develop training and skills in the sector have failed to address the wider issues, and instead have left the sector at risk because other sectors such as retail can offer less unsocial hours for more regular pay. A strategy specifically addressing inclusive prosperity can resolve these conflicts.
So if we are serious about inclusive prosperity rather than GVA, as the driver of our West Midlands strategy, we could start to treat health and social care as a key sector for investment in inclusive economics, rather than as a cost.
In the West Midlands combined authority area, in a very different sector, we have the new Energy Capital venture, which brings together service users, policy makers, innovators, service delivery organisations and the public sector to deliver ‘demand-led’ collaborative innovation in energy.
It would be fascinating to try this approach to sector innovation in social care, bringing together positive small initiatives and service users under a more united and stable policy environment.
Our work will be examining what this approach would look like in practice, the economic and social case for it (using inclusivity indicators) as an economic not just social issue, the extent of the WMCA’s ability to promote this approach, significant barriers nationally and how these can be overcome.
We hope that our work with NEF and CLES and partners will help the WMCA both to shape what is within its power and to provide evidence as to how a more progressive national agenda could enable it to take a greater role in an inclusive economy.
- Karen Leach is co-ordinator at Localise West Midlands
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine