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Localise West Midlands (LWM)has just become part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).  The blog post below by LWM’s Co-ordinator Karen Leach, explains how significant this is for LWM and describes the role they hope to play in co-ordinating civil society organisations into the inclusive growth agenda. It was originally posted on the LWM website.

We’re really pleased to be part of the WMCA’s new Inclusive Growth Unit.  It’s an opportunity to go beyond a focus on ‘problem people’ to the systemic reasons why we fail to share prosperity and how this can be addressed regionally.

We will be co-ordinating the input of civil society organisations into the inclusive growth agenda as well as having more general input into the Unit from our 20 years experience of exploring beneficial economics in the region. As part of our Barrow Cadbury funded work we’ve already held a workshop in February for organisations who have some level of ‘frontline’ role in economic justice and shared some initial conclusions with our WMCA contacts.

It will be a challenge for the WMCA and its partners, including ourselves, to co-ordinate the plethora of work strands – and overlaps with the social enterprise task force – into something that has the power to impact on the ‘business as usual’ growth-led approach that we have seen in every strategic economic plan since they were invented. But from what we have seen there is a genuine appetite to see change in how we value and deliver economics – so we are confident this is worth engaging with. The appointment of Claire Spencer as inclusive growth lead is definitely worth celebrating, and many of her new colleagues seem to share her willingness to push the boundaries.

We’re told that the Unit will cover not only public service reform agenda but cross-cuts the whole WMCA remit: it would be excellent to end the silo-ing of anything relating to ‘people’ away from the macho realm of ‘growth’.

From a specifically Localising Prosperity perspective, we’re also hoping to ensure that this agenda focuses on not only jobs but diversifying and democratising economic ownership, and building local economies around its assets and local ‘anchor’ institutions – the story of Preston remains an inspiration on this and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies have worked with anchor institutions in Birmingham on a similar approach. Our recent work with New Economics Foundation on the economic potential of social care in the WM economy highlighted how what’s described as the ‘foundational economy’ (the one that provides what human beings actually need, often based in the places where they actually live) provides a useful driver for inclusive economics.

Of course all this must be underpinned by the right set of values and measures: social care co-operatives hit all the right numbers if you value the goods, services, livelihoods, redistribution and economic power that it brings; less so if you are motivated by GVA (Gross Value Added). So this is the starting point for the work we’re planning.

We’re looking forward to an interesting few months.


Karen Leach, from Localise West Midlands, argues the case for a Birmingham Pound



It’s been fantastic to see all the interest in the potential of a Birmingham Pound over the last few days. Just one tweet following a very first-stage meeting of a few potentially interested people, and the Birmingham Mail were covering the story. I don’t want to belittle my abilities to attract conventional media to the Localising Prosperity agenda, but we’re hardly used to being sought out like that! Thanks Tom Davis – your professional interest is much appreciated.


For those who don’t know: the current new rash of local currencies are worth a look. In our meeting we heard from Steve Clarke of the Bristol Pound. They are taking off in Bristol, Brixton and Totnes particularly – though lots of other places are following, like Birmingham. The local pounds are exchangeable with sterling: for every Bristol Pound in circulation there’s a sterling one in the credit union’s account. Local currencies can be used with locally-owned businesses. Businesses can trade with other local businesses. Bristol council accepts council tax and business rates in Bristol Pounds, and council employees can accept part of their wages in them. There are locally-designed paper notes, which are great for spreading awareness of the scheme, but most transactions are electronic with a handy mobile-to-mobile payment system. This means for example that market traders are enabled to take electronic payments.


You can buy bathrooms, get bikes repaired, have plumbing carried out, as well as buy all the local produce you would expect to be able to buy. Yes, it needs funds to run the scheme, but the returns look healthy, if hard to measure: Bristol Council thinks it’s worth around £100,000 per year in tourism benefits alone. It also raises the profile of local money circulation as an idea: far more people are becoming aware that they can choose to spend their money in a way that supports livelihoods.


One thing I’m going to bang on about constantly as we progress these plans is that we must make this an inclusive local currency: Birmingham is good at ‘superdiversity’ and if this local currency happens we want it to be something everyone in the city feels is theirs to use, in whatever shopping culture they find themselves. I live just off Ladypool Road and would love to see all those great indie grocers taking Birmingham Pounds, and paying their suppliers at the Birmingham Wholesale Markets with them… The credit union also plays a role: electronic transactions happen via accounts with the local credit union, which gives them new members, new capital and higher public profile.


Not that I think any of the new currencies are as ‘exclusive’ as some critics think they are. It’s not the disposable income brigade shopping in trendy independents that have brought about the massive global rise in inequality and environmental injustice, is it? It’s the corporate shareholder model, sucking out the value from the real economy that gives us our livelihoods.


And to despise the ‘trendy independents’ aspect of local currencies because of their exclusivity, overlooks how local money flows can work.  Surely when some have more disposable income than others, we want that income to be going to the ‘livelihoods economy’ not the ‘parasitic economy’? Spending money at Glynn Purnell’s restaurant sends it into the Birmingham wholesale markets, whose vital role in providing jobs and affordable fresh food is well documented: better  than some big chain providing a fraction of the local livelihood value. Trickle down is a myth – until you decentralise money flows.


No scale of economy automatically generates equality and inclusion, but tackling the concentration of wealth in so few hands has to be pretty crucial.


So we’re meeting again in a couple of weeks to start to make some plans – for fundraising, promotion, getting signup, organisational models, banknote design competitions, partners to involve. People involved so far are from a credit union, the new Impact Hub, the council, Birmingham Friends of the Earth, Kings Heath Transition, Equality West Midlands, academics and business organisations. There’s a good buzz about it. Watch this space.


This blog was originally published on the Localise West Midlands website

Karen Leach of Localise West Midlands blogs about progress so far on establishing local economic models in the region


The biggest levers for real social change are in economic development. Whether it be campaigning for a living wage, getting social value into public procurement, or taking the principle of maximising the local reach of prosperity into how we operate our economy.


The idea that prosperity could be localised led to our work this year to generate practical changes locally, based on the findings of last year’s research into the social outcomes of a more localised approach to economics.   There is a need to appeal not just to those of us for whom social issues are our bread and butter, but also to those whose primary role is mainstream economics and who tend to dance to the trickledown tune – that any growth is good growth, and the faster the better, with the question of ‘who benefits?’ being overlooked.


The Localising Prosperity web resource is Localise West Midlands’ attempt to capture this wider appeal. It describes the ‘virtuous circle’ relationship between more locally owned businesses, more local power, better social outcomes and more widespread prosperity. It outlines how this virtuous circle can be fostered through economic interventions, procurement and community activism. It gives some tactics and guidance for these different audiences, and some inspiring case studies and evidence for how effective this model is from the UK and abroad.


We’ve been working with Right Care Right Here, an excellent health sector led partnership across Sandwell and West Birmingham with a strong awareness of the need to tackle the broader social issues that affect health, such as housing and employment; the procurement process is as important as A & E is as a tool for looking after local people’s health.


We’ve also been working with locally-owned businesses to develop a model for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to win business in the retrofit sector (the transformation of buildings to make them more energy efficient), with the aim of localising prosperity and encouraging social inclusion – learning from case studies of business co-operation in Italy and Spain.


These Black Country and Birmingham collaborations have been very encouraging. The Black Country has a ‘needs must’ track record of work on localising prosperity; Birmingham perhaps less so – its global/second city status historically giving it a rather blinkered fixation on inward investment, conferences and iconic buildings. But more recently, Birmingham has been rediscovering its own potential for generating prosperity.   The City Council has seen the need to use new levers to ensure greater fairness within its economy as welfare or grant safety nets are removed. One of its innovations is the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility, to which its supply chain is required to sign up with its own individually tailored action plan. The Charter requires socially responsible behaviour including commitments to buying and employing locally. From our perspective the real strength of the Charter is its demonstration that if we all share this commitment, we will all prosper.


Leading on from these innovations in the West Midlands area, and mindful of devolution developments across England and of case studies from abroad, wouldn’t it be brilliant to form a ‘Lepa-like’ – a Localising Everyone’s Prosperity stakeholder partnership for the conurbation, with explicit social objectives, and built on local private sector commitment to the area? Matching up local business needs and skills; encouraging local financing models and buying local commitments, at the same time as basing our sense of identity on the enterprise that we own and making work for our collective benefit.