West Midlands in Context highlights some of the recent publications covering childhood poverty, unemployment, the natural environment, devolution, LEP transparency and democratic participation that should be of interest to those with an interest in the West Midlands.
Local childhood poverty rates and interactive map
In January the campaigning group End Child Poverty published their latest report estimating the child poverty rates of constituencies and local authorities across the country. Alongside this, their website carries an interactive map allowing users to zoom in on particular parliamentary constituencies and see how poverty levels compare between places.
The group, whose members include well known national organisations such as Bernardos and Oxfam, as well as regional and local ones such as London Councils and the Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC), found that three of the six parliamentary constituencies with the highest levels of childhood poverty were in Birmingham. The highest of these Birmingham constituencies was Ladywood, where the rate reached 53%, once housing costs were taken into account. At the other end of the scale, Sutton Coldfield had the 14th lowest rate of child poverty (12.54%), while Kenilworth and Southam had the 19th lowest.
Unsurprisingly, it is in the cities where child poverty rates were found to highest and this is reflected in the ranking of authorities. With an overall child poverty rate of 42.33%, Birmingham had the fourth highest rate after Tower Hamlets (53.4%), Manchester and Newham. Sandwell and Walsall were also among the 25 authorities with the highest rates, in 20th and 23rd place respectively
Regional labour market figures
The regional labour market figures published in January showed that the unemployment rate in the West Midlands rose by 0.2% in the three months ending November 2017. This coupled with a fall in the North East, gave the West Midlands the highest rate in the UK at 5.5%. More positively, the West Midlands had largest increase in workforce jobs between June and September 2017 of 55,000. The overall unemployment rate for the UK was unchanged on 4.3%.
Secretary of State’s annual report on devolution 2016 - 17
For those interested in the speed and extent of devolution across the country, January saw the publication of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s progress report on devolution coving the last financial year. Among other things, these annual reports are intended to set out any new devolution agreements, the areas that have submitted proposals and the ministerial functions, financial resources and additional public functions that have been devolved over the period. While noting that “the Government reached no devolution agreements with new areas”, the report included details of the progress being made within the existing areas.
Local Enterprise Partnership governance and transparency: best practice guidance
Following a report by the Public Affairs Committee in July 2016, the Government initiated a review of Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) governance and transparency, with the aim of providing assurance to the Accounting Officer and ministers that LEPs fully implement existing requirements. The review was published last October and in January the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published its best practice guidance.
The Government says they have developed this guidance for LEPs to “ensure that their policies and procedures on: code of conduct; the publication of meeting minutes and agendas; confidential reporting procedures for third parties and the public; whistleblowing policies; and registers of interest ensure that robust corporate governance is in place”. To assist, the guidance contains examples of good practice and specific standards and guidance on these topics.
The good practice guidance can be downloaded from here.
A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment
In January the Government published a 25 year plan for the environment. Running to 150 or so pages, the Plan sets six 25 year goals - Clean air; Clean and plentiful water; Thriving plants and wildlife; A reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such a flooding and drought; Using resources from nature more sustainability and efficiently; and Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment. In addition, there is a commitment to manage pressures on the environment by - mitigating and adapting to climate change; minimising waste; managing exposure to chemicals; and enhancing biosecurity.
The key policies and actions are outlined in six chapters covering: Using and managing land sustainably; Recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of landscapes; Connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing; Increasing resource efficiency and reducing pollution and waste; Securing clean, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans; and Protecting and improving our global environment.
The Plan is intended to be updated at least every five years with progress reported to Parliament annually. A set of indicators will be developed to monitor progress.
For those seeking an accessible overview, the House of Commons Library has produced a briefing note which covers the background to the Plan, its publication and wider issues, the overarching themes, key policy areas and the initial reaction to the Plan. In doing so, the briefing highlights a number of the Plan’s policies and announcements, including - using a “natural capital” approach to protecting and enhancing the environment by recognising its tangible and non-tangible economic benefits; introducing the principle of “environmental net gain” into planning decisions where wider natural capital benefits will be assessed as part of the planning process; and aiming to increase woodland in England to meet the aspiration of achieving 12% cover by 2060.
Every Voice Matters: building a democracy that works for everyone
In December the Cabinet Office published its 5 year plan to improve democratic engagement, tackling democratic exclusion and outlining how the government intends to increase participation among under registered groups.
In his preface the Minister states the Plan it is not intended to act as a rigid framework, “rather its intention is to set out and define .. where.. further action needs to be taken to encourage further democratic engagement and participation, by highlighting a new narrative of how we intend to tackle democratic exclusion, identifying and focusing on specific groups and communities who disproportionately represent those who are currently under represented in our democracy”.
The principles that underpin the plan are - Better Data, Improved Knowledge; Modernising Electoral Registration; Every Voice Matters - recognising the importance of democratic participation as an issue of social justice; A Clear and Secure Democracy - including ensuring protection form abuse and intimidation; and The Democratic Society - long-term strategic approach to encouraging democratic participation.
The Government website notes that the Plan follows the “Every Voice Matters” tour, during which the Minister for the Constitution Chris Skidmore visited every region and nation in Great Britain, meeting over 100 organisations that represent people who are underrepresented on the electoral register.
The Plan can be downloaded from here.