Birmingham Council has launched an East Birmingham Inclusive Growth plan. It includes creating thousands of jobs.
- It has a new governance structure comprising the East Birmingham Board and also a Ward Members’ Forum, comprising all 26 Councillors who represent the wards in East Birmingham.
- But the Board has no representation either from residents or from trade unions. They should be directly represented on it by their own representatives.
- The East Birmingham Inclusive Growth plan is an exceptional opportunity for the unions to work together to develop their own vision and policies for East Birmingham, to work on them with the local community, and to campaign for them with the Board and the Members’ Forum, while contributing to the Board as union representative members of it.
The East Birmingham Inclusive Growth plan
The quotes below come from the ‘East Birmingham Inclusive Growth Strategy 2021 Appendix 1’, a 48 page report adopted at the Cabinet meeting on 9 February 2021. (Hereafter referred to as ‘February Cabinet Appendix 1’. See link at end.)
East Birmingham and neighbouring North Solihull has been chosen as an Inclusive Growth Corridor where a new partnership working approach is being pioneered, bringing together public sector organisations, businesses and the local community to deliver growth, to develop new approaches and better ways of working to ensure that this growth is inclusive. (p4)
For the purposes of this strategy, East Birmingham is defined as everything from the M6 and A38 corridor in the north, to the A45 Coventry Road in the south, and from Birmingham city centre in the west to the boundary with Solihull in the east. The area covers around a quarter of Birmingham, affecting all or part of 20 local council wards and 4 parliamentary constituencies, and with a population in excess of 230,000 people, by itself it is larger than many British towns and cities. (p8)
Creating more jobs for East Birmingham
In the near future the East Birmingham jobs market will benefit from a number of significant developments both within the area and nearby:
- At Peddimore near Castle Vale, 6,500 jobs will be created as part of the development of a 71 hectare site for business and manufacturing uses.
- 36,000 jobs will be created by new developments in the city centre including the transformation of the Curzon area in the vicinity of the new HS2 station.
- The development of the former LDV and Alstom sites at Washwood Heath to create the HS2 Rolling Stock Maintenance Depot, HS2 Network Control Centre and a range of other employment uses is expected to create 2,000 jobs.
- HS2 will also facilitate major growth at UK Central in Solihull, near Birmingham Airport, the NEC and the new HS2 interchange station including up to 5,000 new homes and supporting 70,000 new and existing jobs.
- The development of the Wheels site within the Bordesley Park Area Action Plan area for employment and industrial uses creating up to 3000 jobs.
- The Council is committed to revitalising local centres across the city and has published proposals in the Urban Centres Framework for a number of major centres including Meadway, Bordesley Green, Coventry Road, Alum Rock Road and Stechford.
- The Council is working alongside the Birmingham Anchor Institution Network and local employers, so that as many of these newly created jobs are given to people in East Birmingham. (p22)
East Birmingham is the home of Tyseley Energy Park where excellent work is already underway to develop new sustainable technologies, including ways of generating clean energy. This has the potential for significant expansion and will play a key role as the city develops a new waste and recycling strategy. There is an opportunity for this growth sector to be one of the ‘industries of the future’ which will attract future investment to East Birmingham, creating skills and employment opportunities for local people.
At the Economy and Skills Scrutiny Committee meeting on 24 March a 22 page report called ‘East Birmingham Inclusive Growth March 2021 Update’ was presented. (Hereafter referred to as ‘March Update’. See link at end.) It listed four objectives for the East Birmingham plan:
- Improve performance across a range of key socio-economic indicators corresponding with the seven objectives set out in the East Birmingham Inclusive Growth Strategy to at least the national average.
- Deliver 5,000 homes within the area, of which a minimum of 35% will be at least affordable
- Create at least 6,000 jobs within the area which will pay the Real Living Wage
- To support the Council’s aspiration to be net carbon neutral by 2030, or as soon after as a just transition permits
The Local Community focus
What is distinctive about the East Birmingham plan, as well as its large geographical scale, is the local community focus and the local management structure. Appendix 1 says:
The publication of this draft document for consultation has been the first step of a continuous process of engagement through which residents of East Birmingham will be empowered not only to shape and influence the strategy and decide how it is to be delivered, but also to play a leading role in that delivery. This approach will follow the city council’s principles of Localism: Our overall aim is to move from focusing on the city council and its structures to a citizen focused approach, working with neighbourhoods to make things work better from the point of view of local residents. To help the communities of East Birmingham achieve their aspirations we will support local groups and organisations by:
- Supporting Ward Forums to create Ward Plans setting out their priorities and aspirations.
- Providing information and advice.
- Help communities develop their capacity to actively build the social and economic potential of their area (p7)
The East Birmingham Board
According to the ‘March Update’ the plan will be led by the East Birmingham Board ‘which brings together the Council with key partners’. It will meet four times a year.
In total the Board consists of approximately 20 people, chosen to represent the key partners, service areas and local stakeholders. Members include:
Chair: Local MP [Liam Byrne, MP for Hodge Hill]
Deputy Chair: Leader of the Council [Ian Ward]
Cabinet Member, Transport and Environment [Waseem Zaffar]
Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities [John Cotton]
Ward Members (nominated by WM Forum) [i.e. Councillors]
CeX of the Council
Director, Public Health
Director, Inclusive Growth
Director, Adults and Social Care
National Health Service (Bsol CCG)
Transport for West Midlands
West Midlands Combined Authority
The Board will work closely with the West Midlands Combined Authority, Transport for West Midlands and Solihull Council’s Solihull Together partnership which is responsible for delivering inclusive growth in the North Solihull area. (p4)
There will also be a Ward Members’ Forum, comprising all 26 Councillors who represent the wards in East Birmingham, meeting four times a year.
But there is a crucial flaw in this model for the governance of the Strategy: there is no representation on the Board either of trade unions or of local citizens.
The exclusion of the citizens of East Birmingham from participation in the governance of the Strategy
The Council promises ‘a continuous process of engagement through which residents of East Birmingham will be empowered not only to shape and influence the strategy and decide how it is to be delivered, but also to play a leading role in that delivery.’ But they won’t be ‘empowered’ because they are to be excluded from the Board where the key decisions will be made.
The Council says ‘we will support local groups and organisations by: Supporting Ward Forums to create Ward Plans setting out their priorities and aspirations’. But there are no places for representatives of the Ward Forums on the Board where they could raise the proposals from the Ward Forums and contribute to the decision-making process. This would complement the role of elected Councillors, creating a new combination of representative and participative democracy.
The Council will put ‘Citizens’ voice as the heart of decision-making’. That’s the promise of Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities, in the 170-page Delivery Plan that the Cabinet adopted on 10 November and is now Council policy. Enabling local democratic participation is one of its themes, as Council leader Ian Ward states:
‘People … expect a much greater level of involvement in decisions that affect their lives. Be they the big things that have a bearing across the City as a whole, or the little things that have a big impact in their street or neighbourhood. People want to be heard and when they are not, they will mobilise. We are all activists now. The question for the Council: do we bring those voices in and help shape the fortunes of our city and places; or do we seek to keep them out? We need to bring them in.’
But he hasn’t brought them in to the East Birmingham Board – he’s kept them out, confined and fragmented in the 26 Ward Forums. Genuine participation would mean some elected representatives from the Forums able to participate directly in the Board discussions.
And that could be complemented by regular East Birmingham Citizens Assemblies. In the Delivery Plan Cllr Cotton is committed to ‘Establish a Citizens Assembly or similar body to ensure the diverse voices of all communities are represented and heard’. (The first meeting is due to take place in May this year.) This is on a city-wide scale, but surely it is equally suited to being implemented on the scale of the East Birmingham project?
The exclusion of the unions from participation in the governance of the Strategy
The March Update says that the Board ‘brings together the Council with key partners’, but the Council obviously does not regard the unions as ‘key partners’. The Board consists largely of employers, in the public and the private sector. But there is not even a single trade union representative there to speak on behalf of the tens of thousands of workers and trade unionists in East Birmingham and the thousands of new employees that the Strategy aims to create jobs for.
In fact in neither the 48 pages of the February Cabinet Appendix 1 nor the 22 pages of the March Update does the word ‘union’ even appear, except with reference to the Grand Union canal.
This is part of a pattern in Council strategy documents of excluding any mention of trade unions. The Council’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy report was adopted by Cabinet on 16 March. (See link at end.) But there is no mention of workers and their unions. In fact the word ‘union’, as in trade union, doesn’t appear once in the 48 pages of the report. Apparently they aren’t regarded as “partners and key stakeholders”. This has to change.
The unions in Birmingham need to work together to develop their own vision and policy agenda for East Birmingham
The union movement needs to take full advantage of the opportunities opening up in East Birmingham to create jobs and improve services, and to do that they need to work together not separately. What is needed is a shared local collective strategic vision for East Birmingham by the trade union movement in Birmingham. Unions are used to dealing with individual employers, whether in the private sector or the public sector, including the council itself. But unions are much less accustomed to working together to develop their own transformational plans for economic development at the local area level.
The example of the Council’s Climate Emergency Task Force
An example of what can be achieved by collective union pressure was shown recently by the experience of the Council’s Climate Emergency Task Force. Over the past year a number of policy reports were produced for the Task Force by consultants Anthesis and by the Task Force itself, culminating in the Council’s final report ‘Route to Zero Action Plan – Call to Action’ in December 2020. These reports covered the whole range of climate-related issues, all of them with important implications for jobs, including the creation of green jobs. It was an exceptional opportunity for the unions to develop and make the case for their own collective vision and policies. But regrettably there was no attempt to do this.
It is true that there was only one place for a union representative on the Task Force, from the Midlands TUC, but that wouldn’t have prevented a collective plan being presented on behalf of the local union movement (as well as pressure for more representation). But it wasn’t: in fact no union representative was in attendance at many of the meetings and no distinctive policies were put forward.
Yet the potential that collective pressure from the unions could achieve was demonstrated effectively by the one occasion on which there was joint action. A few days before the Council meeting on 15 September the Council published its plan for tackling the climate emergency, though it had not been seen or discussed by the Climate Emergency Task Force beforehand. The Council’s plan provoked a lot of opposition for several reasons: the date for Zero Carbon Emission had been postponed from the original 2030 to 2041, the policies proposed were far too weak with no worked-out plan of action, and there was no public participation in the whole process.
The criticisms were summed up in a ‘Community Call to Action on the Just Transition’, published a few days before the Council meeting jointly by Councillor Lisa Trickett and Climate Action Network West Midlands (CANWM). The Call to Action was supported by more than 30 climate and union organisations including Midlands TUC, FBU, GMB WM, Unison WM, Unite, and Birmingham District NEU. It had an immediate effect. Speaking in the Council meeting Cllr Zaffar agreed to reinstate 2030 as the target date for Zero Carbon Emissions and to produce a new action plan in December 2020.
What a collaborative joint union plan could achieve in East Birmingham
The Update report lists the following workstream areas that the East Birmingham plan covers:
Health and Wellbeing improvement
Skills review and investment plan
Schools and Early Years improvement
Expand business support
Local places and green spaces
Housing and development
Climate change and green technologies
Localism, community development and engagement
Social value and community wealth building
Every one of these is a priority for the union movement in Birmingham. Just think what a collaborative plan of action by the unions working together could achieve in East Birmingham! It would put into practice what the New Lucas Plan working group are saying: ‘The Lucas Plan sets out a plan for socially-useful production within one organisation but this approach can be used to produce plans for new jobs for one local area, such as at a community or city scale.’ This is the approach that the unions should take now, working together in and for East Birmingham.
21 April 2021
East Birmingham Inclusive Growth Strategy Appendix 1
East Birmingham Inclusive Growth March 2021 Update
COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy