Serious hard-headed pragmatism has been the driving force in bringing the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to life, with political leaders from across the political divide setting aside differences.
This pragmatism was borne of the realisation that too often the Midlands was seen as a ‘fly-over’ region, with political attention focused on the devolved nations, London, the north and the south east. Yet, the Midlands will be central to building a more resilient, higher-wage and diverse economy. Literally the heart of England, the Midlands really can be the ‘engine of growth’ for the UK.
In line with similar devolution deals, the WMCA has brought together politicians, universities and the three local enterprise partnerships covering Birmingham, the Black Country, and Coventry and Warwickshire. However, the WMCA has gone further; the Midlands Trades Union Congress has been co-opted to the WMCA board and has places reserved on all the commissions.
The commissions are crucial to the operation of the WMCA and they are where trade unions come into their own with their detailed knowledge of the work. For example, unions on the productivity commission will be articulating how working with the workforce is the only way to deliver real productivity gains through schemes such as Union Learn, our learning and skills organisation.
We are keen to explore how progressive initiatives such as employment standards charters and the positive use of procurement can be adopted to drive forward policies such as the living wage, investment in training, promotion of the Dying to Work campaign and trade union recognition in workplaces.
Union input is not just about the future direction of policy in the years to come. The WMCA’s response to the government’s industrial strategy explicitly emphasised the importance of further education to the productivity of the region as a result of the Midlands TUC’s input.
Ultimately, we want to see all parts of the Midlands benefitting from growth and investment. There are areas in our region that for too many years have suffered from low pay, unemployment and entrenched deprivation. We will only start to address these huge challenges successfully if all partners are involved.
We know what works for the Midlands so we naturally want to use all our collective experience to get the best for our region. We have seen positive arrangements in other devolved areas such as Wales and Manchester. We now hope that other areas across the country look at the ground breaking approach in the West Midlands and embeds trade unions into the governance of devolved authorities.
Lee Barron, regional secretary, Midlands TUC and Pete Lowe (Lab), vice-chair, WMCA