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.
Professor Hatcher’s presentation to the West Midlands New Economics Group (27 October at Friends of the Earth) was a critique of the new West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) – its structure, its analysis and its programme for economic growth.
The absence of democratic accountability was an easy target. No-one had a good word to say about that. It will not even be up to the minimum level of the 25-member directly-elected Greater London Assembly that holds the London Mayor to account. Besides which there is and has always been no evidence of a ground swell of support for an extra layer of regional government.
The report produced by the WMCA failed to show in the Professor’s opinion, that there was a serious skills deficit holding the region back. Evidence from employers indicated that most of their employees are under-employed and are over-qualified for the job. [This should not be surprising given the huge expansion in higher education]. However Prof Hatcher did not define ‘skills’ or expand on the difference between ‘skills’ and ‘qualifications’. To my mind employers have always complained that young people emerging from school, and now from university, were not ready for the world of work. How could they be? Every workplace has its own culture and working practices. Practical skills are invariably learnt on the job.
So what are the businessmen who dominate the WMCA, complaining about? They have put aside a minute budget for ‘improving schools’ (or skills) that looks purely tokenistic. It’s as if they are saying what they are expected to say. Prof Hatcher let us to draw our own conclusions.
I see business people taking over schools and other learning facilities with the support of a government that believes business people know how to run them better than teachers, academics or librarians. Schools have always been infiltrated by ideologues, fundamentalists and propagandists of one sort or another [perhaps the British public was horrified by the Trojan Horse affair because the majority of them are not muslims].
Business people seem to believe that if they can control the education system they can promulgate the gospel of enterprise and private profit. I think this is no more worthy than promulgating a fundamentalist minority religion. Business people take it for granted that they have the support of the majority of the British people for doing this but we have never had a referendum on the question and it is certain that the nation would be equally divided on the issue.
What was clear to me at the end of the meeting is that we cannot rely on the WMCA to take account of the views of people who are not wholeheartedly pro-business. Going by their pronouncements so far there is not much chance of that.
Alan Clawley 1 November 2016