Mainstream economic strategies tend to focus heavily on sectors that have the potential to be high-growth. The recently published Modern Industrial Strategy emphasised the importance of new digital technologies, STEM sectors and ‘innovations’, but made little mention of retail or the care sector.
But it is these mundane or ‘foundational’ sectors that are the backbone of our local economies and which provide jobs for an estimated 35% of the workforce.
Our Good City Economies plan for Birmingham and the West Midlands will look at the potential of the health and social care sector in the region and what an ‘inclusive prosperity’ approach to this sector might look like in practice.
The West Midlands Combined Authority brings together 19 local authorities and three local enterprise partnerships in the West Midlands and has ambitious plans for creating the strongest economy outside of London.
Its Strategic Economic Plan includes a commitment to creating the biggest concentration of high value manufacturing businesses in Europe, maximising the benefits of HS2 for the region, and skilling up those that are unskilled.
The combined authority has also however called for proposals around a more inclusive approach to the local economy. Although discussion of the integration of health and social care across the the region is currently focused on sustainability and transformation plans, the economic potential of the sector has not been explored.
Our partner for this project is Localise West Midlands, an organisation that for many years has made the case for more inclusive, ‘locally grown’ economies, beginning with its ground-breaking report, Mainstreaming Community Economic Development.
Over the last few months Localise West Midlands has brought together local practitioners from across the region to consider what a more inclusive approach to the regional economy might look like and it was this grouping that suggested a focus on health and social care..
Health and social care has become hugely political, as funds shrivel and demand rises. There is a desire to do things differently, on a smaller, community scale, not only to save funds but also to bring a more human-centred approach to looking after the sick and vulnerable. And as many jobs face automation over the coming years, social care is one sector that will continue to require a large labour force, and has the potential to be a source of well-paid, quality jobs.
Devolution offers the opportunity to re-think the system. Greater Manchester Combined Authority is the first devolved area to take on responsibility for the region’s health and social care, and has recently set out its plan and an agreement to work more closely with voluntary and community sector organisations.
Localise West Midlands will work with NEF and CLES over the coming months to map and build evidence for an inclusive prosperity approach to the sector, to feed into decision-making processes as the West Midlands Combined Authority.
Some questions and ideas:
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine