Good Jobs in the Midlands After COVID

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Tony Dobbins and Anne Green outline some of the key points discussed at a recent event looking at good work in the Midlands.

Speakers at a joint Work Inclusivity Research Centre (WIRC) and City-REDI webinar on June 24th 2021 debated research and policy ideas in support of good work in the English Midlands. Comparisons were made with other regions and devolved nations that have been implementing Fair Work and Responsible Business and other associated policy interventions.

The event was organised by Professor Tony Dobbins, University of Birmingham. The speakers were Professor Anne Green, University of Birmingham, Lee Barron, TUC Midlands Regional Secretary, and Doctor Jack Cao, Keele University.

The Midlands’ labour market is among the most heavily impacted by Covid in the UK, as well as Brexit, the 2008 financial crisis and austerity. Data shows that the availability of good work is heavily concentrated in London and the South-East of England. Arguably, too many citizens in places like the Midlands have been economically and culturally forgotten, causing extensive working poverty and loss of self-esteem.

To respond to the crisis and ensure a sustainable regional recovery, there is an urgent need for measures enhancing meaningful decent work and an inclusive economy in the Midlands, rather than just increasing the number of jobs.

Foundational economy

For example, attention needs to be focused on creating good jobs in the foundational economy and green sectors, as well as improving the quality of existing jobs; for example, by implementing a Job Guarantee scheme, making regions like the Midlands ‘real living wage places’, ensuring security of minimum living hours, and supporting collective employee voice and trade union representation.

There is considerable scope for improving wages and working conditions, and creating better quality working lives, for key workers in the foundational economy. The good work agenda should encompass ‘contributive justice’ and meaningful work (as well as ‘distributive justice’) in a more inclusive ‘moral economy’. This is necessary to rebuild individual and regional self-esteem under a new human-centred ‘social contract’. Extending meaningful work of social value in key worker occupations and sectors can act as a springboard for harnessing human capabilities that sustain human life for the common good.

There is also a potentially important role for the state nationally and regionally to set the rules for ‘harder’ regulatory standards through public procurement and social licensing requirements that employers have to comply with. Wales provides an interesting example regarding the recent Public Procurement and Social Partnership law.

There is increasing consensus that the good work agenda for regions like the Midlands cannot be left to market forces. Rather, multi-level whole-system interventions are required by the state, nationally, regionally and locally. Time will tell whether there is much substance or concrete policy underpinning the UK government’s ‘levelling-up’ and ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, but concerns have been expressed about the decision to drop the Industrial Strategy.

In the resultant national employment policy vacuum, stakeholders in regions like the Midlands are developing their own policy ideas – within the constraints of devolution powers and the centralised state. There are significant regional challenges, including coordination and fragmentation of institutional architecture and activities between local actors in the West and East Midlands and shortcomings in capacity to implement policy. A combination of policies of soft and hard influence is likely to be necessary to deliver good jobs in the Midlands. Possible recommendations include a ‘Midlands Region Social Partnership Council’ to better coordinate policies advancing the decent work agenda across the region.

This blog was written by Professor Tony Dobbins, Birmingham Business School and Professor Anne Green, City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham. This blog was first posted on the Birmingham Business School Blog.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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