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Prosperity for the masses, not the few, says new Birmingham city council chief executive

Prosperity for the masses, not the few, says new Birmingham city council chief executive

🕔27.Feb 2014

Economic growth will not reduce poverty if the emphasis is solely on improving output and productivity and no attention is paid to tackling the skills deficit and the type of jobs being created, Birmingham city council’s new chief executive has warned.

Mark Rogers set out his personal beliefs, stressing that wealth must not be created in isolation from the aims of a “more democratic Birmingham” where the opportunity to succeed is more equally shared and residents have a greater say in the way their city develops.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Mr Rogers said the pursuit of growth in a climate of severe public spending cuts was forcing local authorities to think more clearly about how economic success will support their purpose and responsibilities.

Mr Rogers, currently chief executive at Solihull Council, will start as Birmingham’s new chief execurtive on March 1, replacing Stephen Hughes who is retiring.

Mr Rogers said: “Prosperity must not be sought in isolation from the aims of a more democratic Birmingham where the opportunity to succeed is more equally shared and residents have a greater say in the way their city develops.

“So, the challenge is for prosperity to be shared by the many, not just the few – and all the more so in a city where the young will soon be the majority and their aspirations and opportunities need to secured for the long term.”

He quotes research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which concludes that economic growth does not always reduce poverty – especially if the focus is predominantly on improving output and productivity.

Mr Rogers sets out three problem areas to be tackled if economic growth is to pan out evenly across Birmingham and if jobs are to be created for those struggling to find employment:

• A focus on creating high value jobs across a broad spectrum of employment to avoid undue reliance on individual sectors;
• A sophisticated and integrated transport system that enables flexibility in travel to work;
• A localised skills system that is responsive to existing, incoming and as yet unknown professions – and accessible to all.

He adds: “I say three cheers to growth – so long as it’s good growth that benefits all.”

And he pays tribute to the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, which he says has shown a “powerful combination of humility and magnanimity” and a commitment to inclusive ways of working and a “something for everyone” mindset.

Mr Rogers said: “The idea behind Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) was that no sector on its own – public, private or “third” – has all the means at its disposal to create conditions in which investment, development, output, productivity and employment can increase in a truly sustainable manner.

“By bringing these interests together, so the theory goes, a whole will be created that is greater than the sum of its parts. But government is not straightforward; making something a priority does not mean that it will just happen.

“One of the big challenges for local government, for instance, is the issue of democratic sovereignty. LEPs are intended to be private sector led, reaching across natural economic geographies that do not respect administrative boundaries.

“So a key leadership challenge has been to satisfy the principle of business leadership while avoiding any controversy about democratic deficit. In Greater Birmingham and Solihull this has required a powerful combination of humility and magnanimity on all sides, supported by a commitment to inclusive ways of working and a “something for everyone” mindset from the LEP chair, council leaders and other board members alike.”

He adds that economic growth has never been higher on the local government agenda, but warns that councils must grasp the “value and necessity of leadership by influence”.

He lists three reasons for concentrating on economic growth:

  • Councils have always had the wellbeing of their communities at heart a commitment to securing vibrant local economies has been integral to this.
  • The onset of recession brought growth into even sharper focus for local government because economic recovery quickly became the nation’s number one priority.
  • The government’s deficit reduction programme – the brunt of which has been borne by councils – meant that ongoing public sector downsizing demanded an upturn in private sector employment, to avoid even greater overcrowding of the reception areas of Jobcentre Plus.
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