Opportunity knocks for accountability
James Burn, Green candidate for West Midlands Mayor
Since the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was announced, I’ve spent countless hours talking about it with the public, politicians and the media. And whilst it could be a good thing, so much needs changing if it’s to work for everyone. Specifically, it needs to be more democratic and to change its economic plans to build a resilient 21st century economy that helps the least well-off areas.
There’s little point in having powers devolved if we just use them in the same way that government did. We need to embrace a new approach. The government’s plans have seen the West Midlands fall behind as a region, with people in the least well-off areas really struggling. And the current plans don’t look likely to change this.
So, rather than prioritising big multi-national businesses in areas already doing well and hoping that the money trickles down (which are the current plans), I want to give more support to small businesses in the least well off areas. That way we can see those areas catch up and decent jobs created there. In the wake of Brexit, we need to build a home-grown economy less reliant on overseas money. Small businesses are rooted in their economy and the money they generate stays there, rather than being sucked out of the economy by a multi-national.
And we need to build a modern economy that will be future-proof. Instead of investing in fading industries, we need to prioritise areas where there is increasing demand, and areas where we have a competitive edge. For example, there is huge demand for low-carbon manufacturing. And where is the best place in the UK for manufacturing? The West Midlands. If we don’t take this opportunity not only will we let our collective industrial knowledge and experience waste away, we’ll miss a once-in-a-century opportunity to create jobs and prosperity.
Perhaps the reason the WMCA’s economic plans won’t serve normal people is that normal people haven’t really had a say in writing them. The House of Lords and House of Commons have slammed the WMCA for its lack of involving people and transparency, but no real action has been taken to sort this out.
For example, the scrutiny framework that is in place to keep the WMCA and mayor honest is wholly insufficient – a board appointed by those running the WMCA itself that will meet on just a few mornings each year. This is completely unacceptable – given the levels of public trust in politicians we need to keep the mayor and WMCA honest in a demonstrable way.
Rather than this clearly insufficient system, I would put together a public forum to hold the mayor and WMCA to account that would include voluntary and community groups, local councillors from different parties, unions and SMEs to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
As someone who is a local councillor and who has lived and worked across the West Midlands, I’m well placed to represent everyone within the community. I will help develop a home-grown resilient economy, directly invest in the areas left behind and make sure the WMCA works for those it claims it been set up to serve.