14.12.17

Driving inclusive growth in the West Midlands

PSE’s Josh Mines reports from the Social Value Conference 2017, where mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street explained how social value is benefitting his region.

One of the values behind the combined authorities that have been set up over the last two years lies in driving equal and diverse growth throughout the UK’s city regions. This is particularly clear in areas like the West Midlands, as Andy Street, the region’s metro mayor, explained during his keynote speech at the 2017 Social Value Conference set in the heart of Birmingham.

“The issue that we are trying to tackle is in promoting local skills and employment,” he stated. “This is an acute issue. We have some of the most successful economies in the country, in Solihull for example.

“But then, a few short miles down the road, we have some wards which have some of the highest rates of unemployment in the UK. Absolutely, we have huge success, but also huge deprivation, so we have to try and balance and share that growth more effectively.”

For many politicians, this inclusive growth can be driven particularly through adherence to social value policies. Using guidance set out in the Social Value Act 2013, authorities pledged to look at how additional value can be easily gained by going about procurement with the right organisations, in the right way.

For Street, the future success of the whole region hinges on using social value to distribute wealth and economic success fairly.

“The country is always talking about the productivity challenge and we are at the heart of that,” he explained. “It’s all been about getting behind the high-growth and high-value sectors where technology has been applied to drive out that productivity.

“But how do we use that advantage to share our success and generate a society we are genuinely proud of?”

Devolution in particular has eased this process in some areas. The West Midlands is at the forefront of this, having received more than £1bn in investment from its first deal and with a second just around the corner, as announced by Philip Hammond in the Autumn Budget.

And for Street, using social value to create more job opportunities for people in the region is essential.

“We want to make sure the people in disadvantaged communities have the skills and are given the opportunity in our procurement outcomes,” the mayor continued. “We obviously have a vibrant economy helped by some of the biggest blue chip companies. But the real spine of the economy is the SME community.

“A huge issue lies in what proportion of your contracts are going to SMEs. They are the mechanism through the Social Value Act that we can actually use; using this procurement power, particularly around using the volunteering time for the development of local communities.”

One example of this is how the West Midlands Combined Authority has ensured that young people are given opportunities through one of its largest contracts – the £75m upgrade work to the region’s tram network. “From the back of that contract, we want to achieve roughly 200 apprentices coming into the organisation that runs the trams,” Street stated.

Economic and industrial growth are essential for city regions, but making sure this growth benefits those most in need is absolutely essential. Social value is the driving force behind inclusion, but clearly should also be seen as a quick win that is simple to implement and can yield great results if embedded into an authority’s procurement process early on.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
W: wmca.org.uk

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