Repair, refurbish and maintain buildings using council in-house resources

WMNEG member Peter Beck wrote to the Birmingham Post on Thursday December 6th 2018:

While agreeing that “the Paradise Project is a fiasco” (no name and address Post letter 29 Nov 2018) I draw a somewhat different conclusion as to who is to blame. I also think that Jonathon Walker’s article (Post 29th Nov) should perhaps have been titled “Council anger with Amey”.  However Carl Jackson’s article (Post 22 Nov 2018) is very revealing and there is so much for us to learn from this disaster of a development.


It is of course questionable as to whether Birmingham City Council (BCC) should be seeking partnerships with, or to employ the likes of Capita, Carillion, and Amey.  They have proved a very costly exercise. 

And why should we trust Argent, the present managers of this development?  Such companies and unelected organisations such as the LEP and PCLP (mysterious bodies to most of us) are out of BCC control, and unaccountable to the residents of Birmingham.

It does beg the question as to why we continue to demolish perfectly good existing buildings and spaces (offices, hotels, parking spaces, public spaces, shops, restaurants and cafes etc) only to replace them with the same.

After all, this requires a huge amount of embedded energy and contributes to climate change.  A good example is the Central Library. The original plan of architect John Madin for its setting was ignored, it was done on the cheap, and then successive administrations (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour) neglected and failed to maintain it.  Even so, the cost of refurbishing was estimated at £38m while the new one has so far cost more than £100m.

The new one has resulted in a drastic reduction in staff hours with an opening time of 11.00 a.m. – hardly a “world class” facility/service as originally claimed!  Further, it has led to the closure of the unique Brasshouse Languages Centre building and the transfer of its language classes (with the recent loss of English as a Foreign Language classes).  The fee payments are presumably helping to fund the Library but the classrooms do not adequately meet the students’ needs.

Another farcical aspect of the Paradise Project is its treatment of public spaces.  Centenary Square is being dug up yet again but the new version will be quite inferior to its original “gardens” ancestor.

My conclusion is that BCC should avoid private/public joint ventures and it should restrain those senior officers who currently work hand in glove with developers. We should once again give the councils the in-house resources they need to carry out the restoration, reuse, recycling, repair, refurbishment and maintenance of existing buildings. Lots of permanent jobs would then be created. 






Local Futures: one week until we converge in Bristol!

Join us in Bristol on October 20th for our 18th Conference

Moderated by writer and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby.

Other events 19th-21st

Details here

Readers new to this organisation please note two of its sterling projects:

Planet Local – a web series showcasing diverse examples of localization in action in such areas as community renewable energy, local food and farming, local economy, eco-villages, alternative education, radical democracy, the local commons, and more.

The International Alliance for Localisation (IAL) was originally conceived as a way to formalise and expand this informal network of groups and individuals who are working on issues that fall under the broad umbrella of this global-to-local shift network. The hope is that the IAL will help to catalyse a powerful global movement for localisation. The general public and even most local groups themselves are often unaware that they are, in fact, part of a rapidly growing worldwide localisation movement. We believe that linking together these groups that are currently operating in isolation can greatly strengthen them all.

              People and groups from 58 different countries have joined the International Alliance.

A few IAL members

At the conference, we will address one of the most pressing questions of our time:

How do we move forward to create healthy and inclusive economic models that work for people and planet?

Local finance, ethical banking, local business alliances, local food strategies, big picture activism, national and international networks for a new economy, connecting with nature, building community, empowering youth, direct democracy and inclusion…this is just a taste of the topics we will cover.


Get your tickets today

Illustrated coverage here: Another World is Possible





Prevent another economic meltdown with a European Green New Deal

Social Europe is a digital media publisher which examines issues in politics, economy and employment & labour and is committed to publishing cutting-edge thinking and new ideas from the most thought-provoking people. It recently published this paper by Colin Hines (left), Convenor of the Green New Deal Group, former Co-ordinator of Greenpeace International’s Economics Unit and  author of several books, including Localization: A Global Manifesto (Earthscan). 


In the acres of recent coverage about the causes of the Lehman Brothers collapse and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again, there was much emphasis on changing the EU’s economic imperatives away from austerity policies that contributed to Brexit, the rise of the extreme right, increasing opposition to immigration and sluggish economic activity, particularly in the Eurozone. What was absent was detailed discussion of what needs to be done on the ground.

In a Green New Deal group report Europe’s Choice – How Green QE and Fairer Taxes Can Replace Austerity’ we proposed a comprehensive plan for a continent-wide sustainable infrastructure project to generate ‘jobs in every community’.

In answer to the usual question of how this will be paid for we proposed that such funding would come from a new round of Quantitative Easing (QE), but, this time, the e-currency would take the form of ‘Green Infrastructure QE’ to fund vital, labour intensive economic activity. In the medium term, substantial funding could come from a more effective and fairer increase in the tax collected in Europe from wealthy individuals and companies.

It has been estimated that tax evasion (illegal non-payment or under-payment of taxes) in the EU is approximately €860 billion a year. Tax avoidance (seeking to minimise a tax bill without deliberate deception), which is the other key component of the tax gap in Europe, is harder to assess, but an estimate might be €150 billion a year. In combination, it is therefore likely that tax evasion and tax avoidance might cost the governments of the member states €1 trillion a year.

The form such a programme would take in the UK was detailed in our recent publication Jobs in Every Constituency: A Green New Deal Election Manifesto.

It consists of a nation-wide, carbon emissions reducing infrastructure programme focusing on:

  • Making the UK’s 30m buildings super-energy-efficient to dramatically reduce energy bills, fuel poverty and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Accelerating the shift to renewable electricity supplies and storage, given the dramatic drop in their price worldwide and increased availability;
  • Tackling the housing crisis by building affordable, highly insulated new homes, predominantly on brownfield sites;
  • Transport policy that concentrates on rebuilding local public transport links;
  • Properly maintaining the UK’s road and rail system;
  • Encouraging electric vehicles for business and personal use and sharing.

This is labour intensive, takes place in every locality and consists of work that is difficult to automate. It also contributes to improving social cohesion and environmental sustainability.

A Manifesto for Jobs in Every Constituency

This massive work programme in energy and transport would tackle many existing problems in our society. It would provide a secure career structure for decades. This would require a significant number of apprenticeships and the range of long-term jobs would provide increased opportunities for the self-employed and local small businesses. This growth in local economic activity would in turn create other jobs to service this increased spending.

The government should commit to a detailed programme explaining how to generate jobs in every constituency, using for example the energy and transport proposals in the Green New Deal. This would require extensive consultation with local government, businesses and communities to establish what such a programme should look like on the ground.

The government should commit to a massive training programme resulting in a huge range of skills to provide the ‘carbon army’ required to bring about a low-carbon future. A carbon finance sector would also be needed to publicise, advice and put into practice the range of large funding packages necessary.

The government must then explain how this approach would both mitigate the effects of any future global economic downturn and help compensate for the expected trends in automation. It must also make clear that a key advantage to such an approach would be to help meet the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement to curb carbon emissions.

Time for a Europe-wide Green New Deal: There is much handwringing by the greens, the left and centre parties about how to stop the rise of the right across the continent. A huge contribution would be for all these parties to adopt such a manifesto for jobs in every community, since it would return a sense of hope for the future, provide economic security for all, whilst fully protecting the environment.

For a summary of the GND spending proposals in this article, go to





Basic Income poll: 41% support – 17% oppose


Populus research for the RSA finds that the public as a whole is open to the idea of a Basic Income – a regular payment made by government to citizens – especially in the context of rising economic uncertainty. 40% would support local Basic Income experiments in their area, 15% would be opposed.

The Populus report by Charlie Young (RSA Associate, right) points out that despite these positive findings, 38% of the public think this measure is “unaffordable”. The most popular funding option for a Basic Income is raising a progressive tax so the rich pay more into the scheme than they would get out (39% would support this).

Protecting the most vulnerable in society was found to be by far the most important moral principle for a welfare system in the eyes of the public.

Populus found that 49% think a Basic Income would “reduce the stigma associated with receiving benefits” with 16% disagreeing.

Responding to these findings, Anthony Painter, Director of the RSA’s Action and Research Centre, said: “The Universal Credit experiment is failing on its own terms, while the wider welfare state is riddled with complexities and underpinned by draconian sanctions . . . our poll shows that in an era of widespread economic insecurity, policy-makers have the public’s support to start exploring innovative alternatives to today’s failing and unpopular welfare system”.

The report has recorded examples of Basic Income and Basic Income-type models around the world which should be considered. Anthony Painter ends: “Basic Income is no magic bullet, but with HM Opposition exploring the idea and the Scottish Government looking to pilot it with four Scottish councils, Basic Income is increasingly seen as one plausible response to modern economic insecurity.”


View the Full Data Tables here.

Highly recommended, Charlie Young’s Twitter feed.






A handout given by John Nightingale to those who attended the session on International Development (23.8.18)

When we studied international development 55 years ago it was largely understood in economic terms, primarily as the increase in national income or to be more precise national per capita income.

The per capita income used was the mean average, in other words the total income divided by the total number of people in the nation in question. However even qualifications might be made. One might choose the modal average eg the income which most people had, which would work out lower than the mean average in a society with the majority poor and a few very rich.

And of course it was realized that money wasn’t everything. But, other things being equal, national income was felt to be a reasonable guide. So, what have been the trends in the income of in different parts of the world over the last 55 years, and earlier?

There are clues in the work of the late Angus Maddison and colleagues, some examples of which are mentioned in the first three examples below:

1) REBASING ‘MADDISON’: NEW INCOME COMPARISONS AND THE SHAPE OF LONG-RUN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Jutta Bolt, Robert Inklaar, Herman de Jong and Jan Luiten van Zanden January 2018 – – page 16

“Western offshoots” consist of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Western Asia is broadly speaking Egypt, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and the Middle East.

The main aim of the MPD (Maddison Project Database) is to provide data on GDP per capita for comparisons of relative income levels across countries. This is often called ‘real GDP per capita’ in the international comparisons literature, where ‘real’ refers to the series being based on a common set of prices across countries.

In the original work by Maddison (1995, 2001, 2007), such data was compiled by starting from a modern-day cross-country income comparison – for the year 1990 – and then using growth rates of GDP per capita from (reconstructed historical) National Accounts to make comparisons for earlier years.

An attractive feature of those data was that the change in real GDP per capita over time matches the growth rate from those National Accounts. However, this internal consistency came at the expense of distorted real GDP per capita comparisons in earlier years; see Section 3 on how, for instance, changing consumption patterns can lead to such distortions.

Limitations to data quality also means that estimating the growth of GDP per capita over many decades, or even centuries, is a hazardous undertaking that, despite the best effort of statisticians and researchers, will always be surrounded by a degree of uncertainty . . .

In the new version of the MPD, a new measure of real GDP per capita is therefore introduced, based on multiple benchmark comparisons of prices and incomes across countries. The resulting measure of real GDP per capita can best be understood as based on prices that are constant across countries but depend on the current year. In keeping with the terminology used in the Penn World Table (Feenstra et al. 2015), we refer to this measure of real GDP per capita as 𝐶𝐺𝐷𝑃𝑝𝑐. This variable is expressed in 2011 US dollars by correcting for inflation in the United States to provide magnitudes that are comparable over time, but it is a ‘current’ measure in the sense that the (implicit) relative prices used for the cross-country comparisons differ over time. As a result, the relative income levels from this exercise more closely reflect direct historical income comparisons.)

2) Development Centre Studies “The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective” p 28–A%20Millennial.pdf

3) Historical Trends in global distribution of GDP

4) Millennium Development Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

The target of reducing extreme poverty rates – people living on just $1.25 a day – by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. Globally the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. However, target of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger has narrowly been missed. The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen from 23.3 per cent in 1990 to 12.9 per cent in 2014.

5) Sustainable Development Goals: The 2030 Agenda

These 17 goals replaced in Millennium goals and run from 2015-30. Within the goals are 169 targets, to put a bit of meat on the bones. Here are three of the goals:

1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere

For the least developed countries, the economic target is to attain at least a 7 percent annual growth in GDP. Other targets include reducing by at least half the number of people living in poverty by 2030, and eradicating extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.25 a day).

8) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

10) Reduce inequality within and among countries.

The UN report “Inequality Matter: Report on the World Social Situation 2013” mentions that while inequality between countries has been declining that within countries has been very much increasing.

6) DEBT: The new developing world debt crisis:

7) TAX: Tax for the Common Good:

8) TRADE: Dangerous Deals Being Done in the Dark:

Also on WMNEG’s Facebook page:







Midland Metropolitan Hospital: an update

On 4th February 2016, those present at WMNEG’s monthly meeting were very interested in an account of the Midland Metropolitan Hospital and allied subjects by Patrick Highton from the Birmingham Trades Union Council Health Campaign Committee, which works with Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham (KONP) and WMNEG’s Andrew Lydon, who summarised the failings of the National Health Service.

Later that year, the group heard Richard Hatcher of Birmingham Against The Cuts (BATC) speak on West Midlands Combined Authority’s Strategic Economic Plan.

For news of the hospital campaign by KONP and BATC’s cautious welcome for a publicly funded Midland Met Hospital in Smethwick/West B’ham (no PFI!) and expression of its continuing concerns, click here.





PLANET CENTRED FORUM Bulletin Nº 12 Update 1: August 2018

Greetings again from our Planet Centred Forum network to our supporters and allies, plus also to members of kindred and linked groups.

We have noted before the dilemma that most of us face with conflicting calls on our time and energy from our various affiliations. For this reason we welcome news of other initiatives without generally expecting active responses.

However, we do caution against reaction politics. Especially getting drawn into current political issues within human affairs while taking our eye off the ball of the ongoing damage to our living planet from total human impact, whether due to population, consumption, destructive technologies, skewed values or other factors.

Doing it Locally

PCF has consistently drawn attention to the dangers of a globalisation driven by the Neoliberal agenda of endless growth (and hence profits). Cautionary voices have long been warning us: to name but one The Growth Illusion by Richard Douthwaite (1992).

As noted in Bulletin 12, intelligent localism has the potential to reclaim at least some power back from the Neoliberal hegemony. Part of the antidote can be confident thriving local communities and economies able to ‘short circuit’ long distance politics and trade. In the book of that name Richard Douthwaite (1996) outlined some of the economic strategies that might assist, while Localisation: A Global Manifesto by Colin Hines (2000) is also in our resource library.

Yet the challenges to ‘doing it locally’ are only too real. One is the individualist ethos of modern society making it difficult to establish strong community bonds. Equally serious is the money trap: our ‘need’ to maximise our incomes now skews both our social and ‘green’ choices. Only growing trust in strong local support networks will give us confidence to get beyond our bottom line anxieties.

Despite this, local initiatives are happening and we have reported on some of them in these bulletins. Many readers will know of others. The list includes housing co-operatives, co-housing schemes, community land trusts, worker co-ops, garden and allotment sharing, growing and food distribution co-operatives, LETS schemes, local currencies, time banks, credit unions, bread funds (pooled by and for self-employed workers), partial income sharing, maker spaces, transition town initiatives, local issue campaigns, shadowing elected councillors, citizen’s councils…

Read on here.







Alan Clawley – a life well-lived: his less well-known contributions

Alan was trained as an architect and lived in Birmingham for several decades, providing technical support to a wide variety of community projects. He was a member of the Green Party, founder and secretary of Friends of Central Library and chairman of West Midlands Economics Group (WMNEG).

The writer first met him at meetings of Birmingham Green Party in the 80s and later both attended the 1994 gathering organised by George Heron (left), a supporter of the New Economics Foundation (NEF) George circulated all the NEF supporters living in the West Midlands and an inaugural meeting was held in which the constitution of an unincorporated voluntary association was adopted.

Since the structure of the NEF did not allow for branches as such, it was agreed that WMNEG would be independent of the NEF but share its values and interests. A management committee planned the programme of activities and George was its chairman until he moved to Manchester in 1997. Paul Baptie took the chair for a short period followed by Alan Clawley. A website was created and contact with supporters was maintained by email.

Trawling through her documents the writer found several records of work not mentioned in the widely appreciated tributes by Steve Beauchampé and Neil Elkes. A summary follows.

Read on here.






A DRAFT MANIFESTO for the West Midlands New Economics Group: Alan Clawley 24 June 2000

  1. Everyone agrees that Transnational Corporations (TNCs) are so big that they can avoid any responsibility to local communities.
  2. Like any other business, TNCs are driven by profit for shareholders above all else.
  3. WMNEG does not condemn profit in itself but wants TNCs and all businesses to be accountable not only to shareholders but to employees, consumers and local communities.
  4. Citizens have so far ensured accountability through democracy but TNCs and business are on the whole not democratic.
  5. TNCs can and do by-pass local democratic institutions if they do not like what they do. National governments believe that they are powerless to control TNCs lest they put their economies at a disadvantage in the global market.
  6. If they want to control TNCs and make them accountable to communities all the nation states will have to get together and agree what is to be done.
  7. There is no supra-national machinery at present that can do this job. Those that do exist, such as the World Trade Organisation and the European Union are all the side of the TNCs and in favour of removing even more barriers to their freedom.
  8. The United Nations could do it if it were given the resources and the mandate to do the job. It could become an integral part of its role to prevent conflict between the nations of the world.
  9. In the meantime those of us including WMNEG who criticise the operation of TNCs in the global market can only protest and mount negative campaigns.
  10. The alternative strategy is to support local communities in taking unilateral action to protect themselves from the impact of TNCs and other irresponsible businesses.
  11. The antidotes to globalism for communities to adopt are:

(a) increased seIf-sufficiency,

(b) resistance to TNCs and

inward investors so as to extract “responsible behaviour” agreements from them,

(c) diversification and break-up of over-dominant industries.

  1. These tactics could be supported by local authorities and trades unions in particular.
  1. The role of WMNEG could be to

(a) promote locally self-sufficient economies that rely less on inward investment and TNCs,

(b) promote diverse economies that do not rely on a single large industry,

(c) campaign for a new supra­national democratic body to agree the rules by which TNCs will be accountable to local communities and,

(d) argue for the democratic control of business by all its stakeholders.









Alan Clawley believed that maintenance and improvement of the built environment is the starting point for urban regeneration and localisation. In 2002 WMNEG was awarded a grant by the West Midlands Social Economy Partnership to do an action research study. Study visits were made and a report was published in 2004 for distribution to policy-makers, practitioners and academics.

The study, “Sustainable Housing in Small Heath” (2004), is the illustrated story of the year-long study into the application of renewable energy in an inner-city neighbourhood. In section seven of his report on Small Heath he set out his thoughts on this.

The large scale urban renewal schemes of the 80s was seen by government as the only an alternative to massive clearance, redevelopment with municipal housing and building huge new council estates on the edge of the city or further afield in new or expanded towns. The Conservative government with Michael Heseltine, its leading minister, was enthusiastic about it at the time.

The New Labour government has moved even further down this path. Few council houses have been built and within a few years there may be no council owned housing at all. The job of managing and building social housing has been passed to the voluntary housing movement.

Whoever is responsible for “social housing” in Small Heath it is inconceivable that they will try to return to the days of mass clearance and redevelopment. They will have enough on their plate dealing with the legacy of the former council housing built since the war without worrying about poor owner-occupiers. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some form of public intervention will be needed in the next decade to ensure the future of its people and their houses.


We have the technology for sustainable housing now. For the last twenty years the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales has been trying out new ideas for ecological housing. Their website describes the technologies which are available now, publications, consultancies and training courses. The basic tools in the sustainability tool box include photo-voltaic roof tiles, solar heaters, super-insulation, rainwater collection, and reed beds. There are many more yet to come.

Fitting all 8,500 houses in Small Heath with a solar water heater would be a start. A more detailed technical and financial feasibility study needs to be done to get an idea of the total costs involved over many years and suggest means by which it could be financed. There are now many ecological consultants and green architectural practices capable of doing this.

There are no solar panels in areas like Small Heath: the application of this technology to Small Heath is the next step. If a big impact is to be made then it is in areas such as Small Heath that progress must be made. This will not happen on its own, nor can it be left to the manufacturers of green building products to sell them to the residents of Small Heath. Government must take the first step to make sustainable housing affordable and available to people on the lowest incomes. This will certainly require a new Act of Parliament, along the lines of the Housing Act 1974. A private members bill will not be adequate.

The practical approach would be like that used by Urban Renewal in the 80s as described earlier. This will mean organising work at the individual, street and neighbourhood levels:

  • A local project team should be set up for Small Heath with staff skilled in sustainable housing.
  • An open competition for providing the service could be held for which suitable agencies, such as housing associations, surveyors, architects, community development trusts, voluntary organisations, and even departments of the City Council are invited to bid.
  • Small factories and workshops should be set up at the start to make, install and maintain the components needed.
  • Local people would be employed and trained to run the businesses and do the work.

No time limit should be put on the programme. The process of converting old houses into sustainable houses should be seen as a continuous process of renewal that needs long term support, not bursts of funding.



Colin Hines, convenor of the Green New Deal Group, has advocated such ‘retrofitting’ measures nation-wide.  In the Guardian last week he adds: 

“A climate-friendly infrastructure programme would make the UK’s 30m buildings super-energy efficient, dramatically reduce energy bills, fuel poverty and greenhouse gas emissions.  Building affordable, highly insulated new homes, predominantly on brown field sites, would involve a large number of apprenticeships and professional jobs, as well as opportunities for the self-employed and local small businesses. This can be paid for by “people’s quantitative easing”, from fairer taxes, local authority bonds and green ISAs”.