Chairman’s Review of meetings in 2016

WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP – REVIEW OF 2016 for the Annual General Meeting on 26 January 2917

 

MEETINGS

Six  meetings were held during the year in the Meeting Room of Friends of the Earth at 54 Alison Street, Digbeth. After the first two meeting, which were on the FIRST Thursday of the month, these took place on the LAST Thursday of the month. They started at 5 pm with round-table reports from members followed by a presentation and an open discussion moderated by the Chair. Meetings closed at 7 pm.

4 February  – Andrew Lydon on the failings of the National Health Service with  Patrick Highton from the Birmingham Trades Union Council Health Campaign Committee

7 April – Jeremy Corbyn’s Housing Policy (2015) states; There is a housing crisis in Britain – and this is a humanitarian crisis: homelessness, overcrowding, poor quality housing affecting people’s health, young people not being able to afford to leave home and live independently.

30 June – Some progress has been made on Third World indebtedness but not enough. Work on Indices of Inflation is ongoing Forthcoming publication of CP’s book on the green economy. PFI-2 providing too few hospital beds in the wrong pace.

29 September –After Brexit. Alliances. Social Democracy. UKIP led revolt. Disintegration of Conservative Party. SNP. Plight of poor and disabled. Media.

27 OctoberAttwood Award for educational progress and economic change presented to Ridhi Kalaria by Elizabeth Way for her work on the ‘Brummie Pound’. Speaker Professor R Hatcher – on West Midlands Combined Authority; Strategic Economic Plan (see review below)

24 November1 What will Birmingham miss when UK leaves the EU? The West Midlands  received huge grants from the EU for capital and revenue economic regeneration projects in the 1990s when its industry was in difficulties. What impact did these grants have at the time and since? Was the EU in effect, re-distributory, i.e ‘socialist’? 2 New Economics has its roots in the 1980s (or earlier) and ideas such as LETS, local currencies, housing co-ops and credit unions now seem quaintly ‘hippie’. They have, with some exceptions, been tried and found wanting. Either their initiators did not have the necessary staying power or their ideas could not co-exist with the conventional capitalist economy. Why have they not been more widely adopted?

 

ORGANISATION

Alan Clawley has been the Chair. Andrew Lydon was the Treasurer and notified members by email. Subscriptions were £1 a year. In the latter part of the year Barbara Panvel took on responsibility for programme planning and communicating with members. The historic reserves have now been spent and for 2017 it is proposed that all members pay an annual subscription of £5 but those attending meetings will contribute £2 per head per meeting towards the cost of hiring the room.

 

ATTENDANCE

Alan Clawley, John Nightingale, Hazel Clawley, Christine Parkinson, Andrew Lyden, Patrick Highton, Barbara Panvel, Woody Wood, Margaret Okole, David Gaussen, Ulla Grant, Dick Rogers.

REVIEW – SKILLS AND THE ECONOMY

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    

 

REFLECTIONS ON THE WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

There comes a time, as it did with New Labour, in the life of any organisation with ‘New’ in its title when its message is no longer new. New Economics has its roots in the 1980s (or earlier) and ideas such as LETS, local currencies, housing co-ops and credit unions now seem quaintly ‘hippie’. Besides which they have, with some exceptions, been tried and found wanting. Either their initiators did not have the necessary staying power or it was not practical for them to thrive in the mainstream economy. We don’t really know. So when invited speakers present classic New Economics projects as ‘new’ ideas (new at least for Birmingham) we need to be able to explain the reasons for their failure. Understanding the reasons for the failure of New Economics projects could give WMEG a new lease of life if enough people are interested.

Alan Clawley   

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