Skip to main content
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



The scale of Traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the general population is only now beginning to be understood.  The T2A programme has published three reports on the TBI and young adult offenders: Repairing Shattered Lives: Brain injury and its implications for criminal justice (October 2012 with University of Exeter), Traumatic brain injury and offending – An economic analysis (July 2016 with Centre for Mental Health) and ‘Young people with TBI in custody’ (July 2016 – with Centre for Mental Health and Disability Trust Foundation) as well as currently supporting screening pilots in prisons.   In December 2016 Andy Bell at the Centre for Mental Health, the writer of this blog, organised a roundtable for experts from the West Midlands at the University of Birmingham to discuss the implications of CMH’s recent research on TBI.  Here he blogs about how early action in addressing TBI could have huge social and economic benefit.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a common and serious health issue. It affects millions of people and carries an economic and social cost of £15 billion a year nationally. People who have sustained a traumatic brain injury have a greater likelihood of mental ill health and of offending, as well as suffering from many other life difficulties.

Barrow Cadbury Trust and Centre for Mental Health recently organised a roundtable for experts from the West Midlands, hosted by the University of Birmingham, to discuss the implications of recent research about TBI and how support might be improved in the West Midlands region.

Addressing TBI in an effective (and efficient) way requires collective action across public services. No agency or sector can deal with it alone. We need a comprehensive approach that includes prevention, early identification and effective support from early childhood and throughout life.

West Midlands Devolution

The West Midlands devolution deal presents a unique opportunity to take a ‘whole place’ approach to TBI. The Combined Authority has already prioritised mental health and youth justice as cross-sector issues it aims to address across the region. Developing an effective response to TBI would contribute to both and to the overall wellbeing of the population.

Preventing head injuries is challenging but action to reduce risk would include measures to tackle domestic violence (the cumulative impact of physical abuse has been noted as a significant problem for women in prison), to promote positive parenting and to tackle bullying in schools. These also have a major impact on emotional wellbeing and future life chances. Improved support for children with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders can also reduce the heightened risk of TBI in these groups of young people. All of these actions should also reduce health inequalities by addressing the greater risks among people in the most deprived and marginalised communities in the West Midlands.

For those who do sustain head injuries, and particularly those who have experienced multiple traumas, identification is vital to ensure that effective support is offered and adjustments are made to reflect their vulnerability. Schools, hospitals, police stations and prisons can all ask simple questions to screen for head injuries. This can help them to ensure they offer support where it is needed, for example to manage a child’s behaviour in school and avoid excluding a young person whose behaviour results from a head injury where some additional support might be of benefit.

TBI and the Criminal Justice System

It is estimated that up to 60% of prisoners have sustained head injuries. It is therefore vital that the whole of the criminal justice system works with an awareness of TBI and an ability to respond effectively. Liaison and diversion teams, for example, can screen for TBI alongside other vulnerabilities. Prisons can offer all of their staff (including not just prison officers but education and other workers) training about TBI as part of becoming an enabling environment. Specialist linkworkers in prisons have also been found to provide effective support to individuals with TBI. And for people leaving prison, robust support is essential to help them to adjust to life outside and cope with the demands and difficulties they will face.

There are a number of initiatives already in place to build upon: HMP Drake Hall provides all staff with training in working with trauma and supports women prisoners who have experienced abuse and violence. The Geese Theatre Company provides ‘safe spaces’ for prisoners to explore their emotional wellbeing and what would help them to get back in control of their lives. And there are specialist services for offenders in the community, including for women, that offer peer support and help with health issues,  that could provide more bespoke support for those with head injuries.

The significance of TBI is only beginning to be understood. But it is now clear that joint action that brings together local authorities, NHS organisations, schools, the criminal justice system and voluntary and community bodies (among others) will be essential to develop an effective response. From public health teams including TBI in local needs assessments and Health and Wellbeing Strategies to schools providing extra support to children who have sustained head injuries, we can bring about a bigger focus on prevention and early help. And by working across the justice system, we can enable some of the most vulnerable and prolific offenders to get their lives back on track.


Karen Leach of Localise West Midlands, which promotes a localised approach to supply chains, money flow, ownership and decision-making for a more just and sustainable economy, explains why communities need to have a stake in their local economy.


Voluntary sector irrelevance or key to a successful and inclusive economy?


When we saw the “new ideas in economics” strand of the Barrow Cadbury Trust’s Poverty and Inclusion programme [now the Resources and Resilience programme], we were surprised, and pleased. It’s long been an ironic state of affairs that charitable trusts have shown limited interest in exploring the systems by which we organise our livelihoods that cause the social problems the trusts exist to solve.


To us, it was an opportunity to research the assumption at the heart of Localise West Midlands’ mission: that in a more localised economy, more people have a stake, which redistributes economic power and resilience, reducing disconnection and inequality. Not, perhaps, a ‘new’ idea, when you consider 1960s Schumacher – but newly in need of exploration in the face of growing inequality and economic failure.


The chasm between charity and economic development thinking is mutual. There are plentiful ideas around what we have been calling community economic development: social inclusion as CSR, community-led job creation, co-ops and social enterprises, local procurement initiatives. To many economic development practitioners these are very nice projects that go into a little box labelled “voluntary sector” and have little to do with the real economy, which is about big sites, tax breaks for multinational corporations – “prostituting ourselves for inward investment” as the Centre for Local Economic Strategies‘ Neil McInroy colourfully puts it.


Our project, Mainstreaming Community Economic Development, is an attempt to take localised economies out of this little box. Firstly, to see the social potential not only of voluntary sector initiatives with social objectives, but also of private sector activity that is locally controlled and based, where the community’s participation is as owners, investors, purchasers and networkers.


And secondly to challenge what is given economic priority. Given the benefits of localised approaches, shouldn’t we try to integrate them better into our economic interventions? Shouldn’t they get a fair crack at subsidies and support structures? Shouldn’t we use cost benefit analysis to see which types of activity most maximise the returns to the local area and to those in disadvantage? It doesn’t fit into a little box, it’s just a consideration in all good decisions.


Localised economies are more successful and inclusive


In its first stage, a review of the literature evidence for the benefits of localised economies, we found good evidence that local economies with higher levels of SMEs and local ownership perform better in terms of employment growth (especially disadvantaged and peripheral areas), social inclusion, income redistribution, health, civic engagement and wellbeing.
Such economies also support local distinctiveness and diversity, which we see as positives because of their contribution to economic resilience, economic options to suit a diversity of people, sense of place and belonging, area quality, added interest and richness of experience.


Absentee landlords vs local commitment


We found that a local economy largely controlled by ‘absentee landlords’ – distant private and public sector controllers with little understanding of the local area – is a recipe for economic failure. Locally-inappropriate decisions and ‘footloose’ businesses leaving the area for better economic conditions seem to combine to weaken local businesses and create a self-reinforcing cycle of decline and exclusion.


Many of our private sector case studies showed local commitment. From Birmingham Wholesale Markets to renewable energy consultancies, they demonstrated ‘enlightened self-interest’ in understanding their interdependency with local communities. Their role in an inclusive economy can’t be underestimated. If only their voices were louder than those of absentee landlords in today’s ‘pro business’, London-centric political environment.


Mainstreaming and scaling up localisation


Informed by this and our case studies we set out proposals for a strategic approach centred on local supply and demand chains, participation and control. Taken strategically, every regeneration project, every economic development decision, every spatial plan, would be based on maximising benefit to and ownership by local people, and particularly its excluded communities.


While much can be done locally, to enable CED to scale up requires national change to decentralise economic and governmental power and make changes around policy, support services, subsidies, tax, banking, infrastructure and measures of success, creating a level playing field for indigenous economic activity.


Politically, it’s helpful that localisation approaches are inherently pro-business, but also respond to public concerns over the concentrations of wealth and power that created the 2008 Crash. As we take it forward, civil society interest, international examples like Mondragon and careful use of language may help this agenda to stay out of that little box long enough to contribute towards a better economy.