Where does power lie in Birmingham? The role of the Local Enterprise Partnership

This is a summary of a longer article. To read it click 22 8 1 GBSLEP

This is a fundamental question for the trade union and left movement in Birmingham: where does power lie in the city? Of course we know that the policy context is set at the national level by the Government and big business, but it has to be translated into policies, strategies and actions in and for Birmingham. Where are the key decisions made at the city level? And who makes them? Unless the union movement and the left have answers to these questions they are too often reduced to reacting to policies when they are put into practice. This is vital, but it needs to be accompanied by a strategy of engaging with policies in the process of formation and challenging them then where necessary with radical alternatives.

Birmingham City Council is obviously one site of local power. Another, and increasingly so, is the West Midlands Combined Authority. Both operate within the dominant constraints of neoliberal Government policy. But there is a third organisation, largely ignored by the left, which is very closely connected to both of them: the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. The GBSLEP receives government funding as one of the UK’s 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships.

The GBSLEP website sums up its function:

“Our unique triple helix structure of bringing public, private and academic leaders together enables us to make locally informed decisions that drive the inclusive economic growth of the region. We are the only agency to do this.

As a business-led partnership, working closely alongside public sector and educational partners, we have distinct advantages. We are able to take a private sector view of the supply side constraints on growth and provide a forum for demand and supply sides to come together to agree action.”

The GBSLEP Board has 17 members. 8 are business executives, mainly from the finance and services sectors, including Deloitte and HS2. 7 are leading local councillors, including Ian Ward, the Leader of BCC. And there is the vice-chancellor of Birmingham University and the head of an FE college. But there is not a single representative from the trade unions, or from civil society organisations such as the VCSE sector.

The GBSLEP plays a key role in the politics and economy of Birmingham, promoting and managing the interests of capital, which the trade union movement and the left need to be aware of, analyse and challenge, including the key demand that there are trade union representatives on the GBSLEP Board and its committees.

The future of the GBSLEP: integration with the WMCA

Earlier this year the Government announced a fundamental change in its policy of LEPs, aimed at integrating them more closely with the Combined Authorities. The future of the GBSLEP and its various functions, together with the other 2 LEPs involved in the WMCA (the Black Country LEP and the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP) is currently being discussed. The WMCA Board is dominated by business interests and the leaders of the 7 core WM Councils. There is just one trade union representative: Lee Barron of the WM TUC. It is vital that the trade union and labour movement in the West Midlands seizes the opportunity to have its voice heard forcefully in the planning process for the merger, and to play a much more assertive and proactive role in future in whatever arrangements are decided.

Richard Hatcher

1 August 2022

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