Localise West Midlands wins research funding

Professor Gary Hamel, described by the Wall Street Journal as ‘the world’s most influential business thinker’ once said, “Capitalism has become more and more centralised… and as power becomes centralised, ordinary individuals feel as if they have less and less influence over critical decisions… and that when decisions are made, they are not responsive to local situations and local needs”

Birmingham Town Hall

Birmingham Town Hall

Addressing the issues the Professor raises, Birmingham-based thinktank Localise West Midlands has recently won funding from Barrow Cadbury Trust to research how to build a more decentralised economy in which more people have more of a stake, increasing social inclusion, economic diversity and income equality.

They will be using examples from within Birmingham and the Black Country as inspiration and to help them identify the barriers to an economy in which local benefits are maximised:

  • Birmingham wholesale markets and their customers are a diverse range of suppliers, middlemen and buyers making up an informal network that is essential to the more accessible, affordable and diverse parts of Birmingham’s food supply
  • Regeneration in Atwood Green and Castle Vale demonstrate the possibilities for growing the local economy through developing local supply chains, businesses and skills
  • Sandwell is known for its good practice in local food procurement and food access strategy

But these examples also face barriers to success and the project will identify these and propose ways to overcome them.

Karen Leach, LWM’s coordinator, says “The UK economy, one of the most centralised in Europe, is increasingly recognised as remote from people and society, unequal, exclusive and beyond control. Too often, the message is that communities don’t do economics, they get economics done to them. This project aims to change that”.

LWM finds American evidence shows that while all growth in private sector jobs has come from expansion of local companies, the emphasis in most local economic development policies has been to attract large ‘footloose’ companies who at best have just transferred jobs from one area to another.

Meanwhile, much past research into community economic development solutions tends to deal with development of micro-projects, treating community economic development as a marginal activity deserving only marginal support. This project instead will use regional experience to explore how community economic development and stronger local economies can be integrated into the ‘macro’ economy so that the greater redistribution and diversity impacts of localisation approaches can be maximised.

Better approaches include the development of networks of home-grown companies and only seeking to attract those highly-mobile companies that would genuinely attract new jobs. This combined with a skills agenda that meets local needs, community identification of economic opportunities, and harnessing public and corporate procurement for local returns, would create a stronger local economy based on the strengths of the region.

Localise West Midlands has been developing the localisation approach through its consultancy track record for the last ten years, including being one of the three organisations behind the award-winning Birmingham Energy Savers council project.

Their current project will run from April 2012 to January 2013 and will also feed into Birmingham’s Social Inclusion Process.

The Barrow Cadbury Trust is an independent, charitable foundation, committed to supporting vulnerable and marginalised people in society. The Trust provides grants to grassroots voluntary and community groups working in deprived communities in the UK, with a focus on Birmingham and the Black Country.