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Cross-party think tank Demos has published a new report on how to secure a ‘just transition’ to net zero in the Black Country.  The report, Net Zero to Level Up, is based on over 40 local and regional stakeholder interviews and meetings, reveals that the transition could leave 20% of the Black Country manufacturing workforce (12,000 jobs) long-term unemployed by 2032.

  • Manufacturing is a traditional strength of the Black Country’s local economy, where 14% of jobs are in the industry, compared to a national average of 8%.
  • Net Zero to Level Up comes in the wake of the government’s ‘trailblazer devolution deal’ which gave the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) enhanced powers to influence the region’s economy
  • The report predicts that if the new powers are used correctly, up to 20,000 net zero jobs could be created by 2032 in the Black Country, opening up new employment opportunities for residents, and that the 12,000 manufacturing jobs could be saved
  • The report sets out recommendations for how local and regional institutions should use their powers to secure a just transition, defending existing jobs and maximising the new opportunities of net zero
  • Recommendations include targeted support for vulnerable SMEs in manufacturing, and creating pathways for local residents to get the training they need to access new net zero jobs.

Demos has urged West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Mayor Andy Street to use the new powers in the recently-announced ‘trailblazer devolution deal’ to secure a just transition to net zero in the Black Country – defending existing jobs in manufacturing and maximising new employment opportunities connected to net zero.
According to Demos’s research, a significant number of small businesses in manufacturing will face enormous challenges as a result of the transition to net zero. The think tank has sought to define a framework for achieving a just transition – one that increases opportunity while reducing deprivation – that can be replicated across the UK. The Black Country is a key geographical area for the government’s levelling up agenda, with all four local authorities identified as ‘priority 1’ for the Levelling Up Fund.

The report, Net Zero to Level Up, highlights the high number of energy-intensive businesses selling into threatened supply chains such as internal combustion engine markets, despite the transition to electric vehicles already being well under way, with 20% of UK car sales in 2022 either battery electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. It also points to an existing business support system which fails to reach many small companies as another leading cause for concern.

Net Zero to Level Up also references age demographics, outlining that future investors are unlikely to employ a large number of older workers, even if they replace some of the jobs lost. With two thirds of the manufacturing workforce in the Black Country already over 40, they may struggle to find jobs of comparable quality if made redundant, the report warns.

Despite the risk of job losses, the report finds that a just transition is achievable: the 12,000 manufacturing jobs could be saved and up to 20,000 new jobs in industries such as housing and transport could be created, provided the necessary action is taken and that pathways are set up to enable people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access some of the new jobs.

To support a just transition in the Black Country, Net Zero to Level Up has produced a number of policy recommendations for regional institutions to implement, including the WMCA, the Black Country local authorities and the Black Country Chamber of Commerce. These include, but are not limited to:
1. Distributing government funded business support products through the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, alongside the banks, solicitors, accountancy firms and brokers that businesses have existing relationships with
2. A regional mergers and acquisitions service to facilitate purchase of firms which are too small to respond effectively to the challenge of net zero by larger firms with greater human and financial resources
3. Communication to businesses of the likely future demand for low-carbon infrastructure, including what any development of central government policy will mean for the West Midlands
4. Active co-ordination of public and private sector investment

A new report from the Fawcett Society calls for women’s voices to be heard in devolution. The report comes in the light of the Government’s promised shift of power to city regions in
a pending White Paper. New data from Fawcett shows that:

  • Women make up just 21% of all members of the boards of Combined Authorities;
  • Only one of the 95 members of these groups is a woman of colour;
  • Some boards have as few as 1 in 10 female members;
  • Not one of the eight ‘Metro Mayors’ are women.

The new report, ‘Including Women’s Voices’, is the result of two years spent working with women in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands to put gender onto the devolution agenda. It calls
for changes to get more women around the top table, while also highlighting the need to get the voices of ordinary women heard in policymaking. The report calls for each Metro Mayor to create
a permanent, resourced, and diverse Women’s Commission that can engage the grassroots and scrutinise policy decisions.

Gemma Rosenblatt, Fawcett Society Head of Policy and Campaigns, said: “Devolution is looking like old politics not new – with power in the hands of men. All eight ‘Metro Mayors’ are men. And men make up four-fifths of those at the top table. Devolution still presents an opportunity – but only if big changes are made to bring women in. If devolution fails to engage with half the population, it risks the success of the whole project.”

Fawcett’s report calls for:

  • More to be done now to get women round the top table – councils should introduce opposite-gender assistant cabinet members so that more women are involved in key discussions – as has been done in Greater Manchester
  • Government to change Combined Authority constitutions to require that they are gender equal Metro Mayors to create a diverse and sustainable Women’s Commission in each area to
    scrutinise policy
  • Metro Mayors to use data to understand how policy affects women, including publishing high quality Equality Impact Assessments for policy decisions.

Download ‘Including Women’s Voices’Find out more about the project



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.