Dear Members and Friends,
The nation has been greatly distracted over Brexit. We recognise the 2016 Referendum result, but, and it’s a big but, we believe that people’s understanding of what it really means has increased many times since then, that true democracy is a dialogue, and that a vote on the deal is required and must include the option of remaining in the EU.
It remains of central importance to us as Liberal Democrats to continue to work tirelessly for an Exit from Brexit. Who would have thought that a People’s Vote, so derided initially, is now being called for by parliamentarians across our political parties.
Well done to our Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians on their success in championing this cause, in particular through the Best for Britain Campaign. They may be small in number but they have made their voice loud and clear in seeking to ensure that we, the people, have a say on the nation’s destiny…..especially now we know what the government’s deal looks like and the true cost to our nation of leaving on any terms.
Far from a £350m bonus to the NHS it’s already costing us £500m a week and our economy is 2.5% smaller than it would have been had Remain won the referendum according to the Centre for European Reform.
This single issue is absorbing most of the energy of our parliament and draining attention from the pressing issues facing our nation.
Fighting for the West Midlands
Many people feel excluded as ‘trickle down’ economics has failed to deliver a fair distribution of the wealth being created. Too often, those amongst the poorest 40 years ago remain the poorest today, with pockets of severe deprivation scattered across the West Midlands.
By buying locally, recirculating money amongst our small and medium businesses, focussing, whenever possible, on our home grown firms, we can help more people benefit from every pound raised and spent.
To-date we have traditionally focussed on city growth models – attracting inward investment and too often ignoring the needs for our own home grown businesses. In Preston a model of ultra-localism has been generating results, with public procurement from local firms making the money spent locally work harder for local people drawing on the multiplier impact. The leadership of their local authority has been key to this approach. With the largest local authority in Europe based in the West Midlands we have a chance to learn from this, collaborate across our local authorities and, drawing on the Combined Authority’s entrepreneurial spirit, create a co-operative West Midlands Model to deliver more homemade success.
Our young people are struggling – they are not receiving their fair share.
Whilst our employment rate nationally and in the West Midlands is at an all-time high, among 16-24 year olds, those commonly referred to as ‘NEETs’, (not in education, employment or training) unemployment in the West Midlands is 13.1%, well above the average for England at 11.1% and second highest after the North East. Among NEETs the unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds is 28% across the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). The Black Country has a NEET unemployment rate of 34.5%, 23.7% in Coventry and Warwickshire, and 16.5% in Greater Birmingham and Solihull. There is an urgent need to deal with the scourge of hopelessness that confronts those who leave school with no prospects of useful employment in meaningful and fulfilling work. Young people in such situations can easily become part of a ‘lost generation’.
The impact of government austerity measures has resulted in the West Midlands experiencing some of the steepest cuts in funding for youth work and contributing to the shocking rise of criminality amongst young people. In Wolverhampton, the budget for youth services shrank by 86% between 2014-2017. The fatal stabbing in Coventry of 16-year-old Jaydon Washington James brought the number of teenagers and younger children killed by knives in the West Midlands police force area to six this year, more per capita than in London and a 40-year high. Linked to “massive” levels of deprivation, minors are frequently attending A&E because of alcohol and drug problems, with mental health issues and self-harming also reportedly increasing at alarming rates.
Amongst 25-34 year olds home ownership levels are at their lowest since 1961, down to 25% from 50% levels in 1990. They are shortly to be denied the freedom of movement that we have taken for granted in freely accessing work and learning opportunities across Europe and in developing international careers and transcultural attainment.
Inheritance is now considered the most crucial factor in determining a person’s overall wealth since Victorian times. If people don’t feel they can earn wealth and gain social mobility based on their own levels of attainment, they will become ‘very ratty indeed’. Surely we have seen some of this with the Brexit vote. All too easy to take a pot shot at Commission bureaucrats, rather than our own in Whitehall and across government who have used Brussels as a convenient whipping boy, whilst too rarely acknowledging the benefits.
Transport and Air Quality
Our roads are congested and poor air quality is affecting too many people’s health with around 3,000 premature deaths each year as a result. As one of the worst hit areas for illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, many don’t seem to realise they and their children are breathing some of the UK’s most polluted air.
In 2017-18 we received £412 per head on public transport compared to £1019 per head in London. The West Midlands received just 4.6% of all transport funding, compared to 50.4% for London -- even though one third of all freight traffic moves through our roads and over two thirds of all rail freight.
Last mile transport solutions, including low-cost, ultra-low carbon tram and train options, such as the Stourbridge Shuttle, made in the West Midlands and shuttling 5m passengers over the past 9 years between the Stourbridge bus and mainline stations and funded by private investors, has recorded a 99.7% reliability rate. Why has this not been rolled out for the people of the West Midlands to enjoy and benefit from? Rather than focussing on lower cost last mile integrators our authorities are spending £3.2bn on Spanish built trams and procuring bikes for Birmingham and the West Midlands from Germany. According to Tussell (2017) the West Midlands has the worst record in awarding public contracts to local firms.
Over centralisation, Services and Health care
Public services are being closed down, modernisation and innovation are being slowed down as local authorities struggle with their budgets, cut by well over 50% during the past decade of austerity.
In fact, we’ve seen 73% cuts to local authority funding in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) area since 2010-11. Birmingham City Council has experienced staff reductions from 21,000 in 2010 to around 7,000 by 2018. With devolution on the agenda and our first elected Mayor, far from seeing a move away from centralisation of government service provision, we have seen a shift in public sector jobs to central government with a record high of 3.11 million jobs in June compared to 2.05m in local government.
Over £1.5bn is being spent on new teams across Whitehall in preparation for Brexit. Just this month, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced he is setting aside a £2bn No Deal Brexit pot with £500m to stop border chaos and £25m for custom checks.
Within the NHS, around 44% of Trusts providing secondary care to patients are in the red in 2017/18. This is more like 65% among Acute Hospital Trusts. Collectively they finished 2017/18 with a deficit of around £960 million. We have seen the loss of 70,000 adult care jobs since 2009. Roughly one in 10 medical and nursing posts are unfilled, with a 15% increase in EU workers leaving the NHS. More recently, NHS hospitals are set to pay for new visas for thousands of EU staff in efforts to retain their services after Brexit
No one voted for this in the Referendum.
The West Midlands Combined Authority is targeting for 215,000 homes to be built in the West Midlands by 2030. According to the House Builders Federation, for every £1 spent on construction there is a ‘multiplier’ of £2.84 in the local economy. Investing in local builders and supply chains would deliver a benefit to the region of almost £70bn up to 2030. However, the government increasingly is focussing on modular build with a very high percentage of the content imported from China, Far East, Russia and Scandinavia.
We advocate the allocation of a fair share for the people of the West Midlands, as a matter of course. Open government, as a matter of practice. We need to know where our money is being spent, and our voices should be heard and taken into account when it comes to key decisions.
Our People First
We want to build a diverse, inclusive and sustainable regional economy that reduces the gap between have and have nots.
We want to see our young diverse populations put first, as retaining and developing our talent is key to our future success. We want to ensure we are creating jobs and career opportunities for our young people, linking training and education to local employment opportunities, creating hope and real opportunity. And by doing this ensuring that crime and drugs are not seen as the only routes out of poverty with all the impacts these have on local communities suffering from growing levels of knife crime and youth killings.
We want better integration in health and social care provision – helping vulnerable and elderly people out of hospital and acute care, rehabilitating them properly before their journey back home, whilst also delivering cost savings for our public purse.
Pride of Place
We want to eradicate homelessness, build more affordable homes and establish vibrant local communities people can be proud of.
We want to develop a bank of volunteer supporters to clean up our urban centres and support the charities supporting the homeless and food banks and many others working so hard across the region.
Building our local economy will require more of our public spend to be made with our own home grown firms and in our own place. The circular economy will help to redistribute the money raised from our people and help even out the gap between haves and have nots.
We want to see a People’s Dividend as the public sector develops entrepreneurial methods including in procurement, aimed at solving the problems we face – local energy grids, local transport, local housing, local health and social care solutions. Drawing on our local assets, pension funds, local banks we can create world class homemade solutions to meet our needs, the needs of our people.
Don’t blame Europe for our problems. Don’t demand that we take back control from Europe and then leave all the control in the hands of Westminster. We can find and deliver our answers much closer to home. England is not getting a fair settlement and this is particularly felt by the people of the West Midlands.
West Midlands Liberal Democrats – our regional priorities
What are we doing about all this in the West Midlands Liberal Democrats?
We are working hard to support the local elections coming up this May 2019, especially following some notable successes in 2018 Council elections – most recently with the by-election success with Dominic Skinner winning Stratford North Division on Warwickshire County Council https://rugbylibdems.org.uk/en/article/2018/1285804/lib-dems-win-by-election-in-warwickshire-and-gain-new-county-councillor . Congratulations to all involved in running this campaign and delivering a memorable victory. We look forward to reading more about Dominic Skinner as our Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Stratford Upon Avon constituency.
We have appointed our very successful Training and Development Officer, Jennifer Gray, who has relished the task of providing new training courses for our Local Parties, working her way around the region, meeting our representatives and learning as much as she can about the challenges confronting us. Through her we have made many new friends and our Regional Executive has been rejuvenated with new faces, along with a contingent of loyal supporters who have for so long been the back bone of the party locally.
We are looking to appoint a new Campaign Manager as we set about delivering our Campaign2020 ahead of the Metro Mayoral Campaign and election. This will prompt a coordinated approach across the West Midlands Combined authority area.
In both rural and urban parts of the region we will be working closely with our Party Chairs and Councillors to ensure we have captured key concerns and priorities. Our Regional team have visited all parts of the region through 2018 forging new bonds and friendships, and will continue to do so in 2019.
We have made great strides with our Monthly News update, West Midlands Matters, with thanks are due to our editor, Jordan Quinlan.
We are calling all our Chairs and Councillors (or designated representatives) to join us for a meeting on morning 2nd February 2019 at a central location (to be confirmed) so we can work through our shared priorities with you in person. Our aim will be to champion our joint messages and promote a fairer share for all who live here.
I was pleased to thank our retiring West Midlands Executive at our Annual General Meeting in November. Our newly elected Regional Executive and co-opted members are shortly due to be listed on our West Midlands Liberal Democrat Webpages. Everyone is very welcome and their contributions are greatly valued.
We are working hard to attract more diverse representation and we will shortly be launching a new campaign aimed at promoting the special qualities and contributions made by the vibrant rainbow making up our rich and diverse West Midlands communities. We are also looking for people to join our newly established policy group led by our new Chair of Policy Dr Yeow Poon.
If you want to put your #Hands-Up-4-Change then do contact us at [email protected] You will be most welcome and we greatly look forward to hearing from you.
Chair, West Midlands Liberal Democrats