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A better recovery for the West Midlands

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‘A better recovery for the West Midlands’ sets out a roadmap to ‘build back better’ and prevent mass unemployment with secure jobs and decent pay for working families.

The TUC supports the WCMA’s recovery plan as a crucial first step. But this can only be a starting point. This report shows us how we build upon this to deliver a genuinely world class economy that works for all working people. 

'A better recovery for the West Midlands' was launched by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and here is a transcript of some of the points made by Frances:

Frances O'Grady, TUC General Secretary, opening remarks launching the report:

I don’t know a time when the trade union movement collectively has stepped up together and worked as closely together as we’ve had to work through this terrible crisis

This region is really important to the whole of the trade union movement. It’s a strong hold of trade unionism. It’s the heart of advanced manufacturing which in turns depends on all our brilliant HE institutions and all our public services. Because this can’t be said often enough – unless we have people who are skilled, who are educated, who are kept healthy, who are able to look after their families and able to get to work. In other words,  without our public services, all of our industries would be in big trouble.

And of course this region is important for the whole of the UK because it is an engine of exports and that matters for our balance of trade too and the wealth that we generate.

The biggest enemy we face at the moment in this region, and in the whole country, is the threat of mass unemployment. We have got to get the economy up and running again. But do it safely because that is the quickest way to make sure that people not only get back to work but stay in work.

Never forget the people who have worked right through this crisis. Some people will remember the TUC produced a report not too long ago showing there were 4 million key workers in the country doing really important work. Each of them, 4 million, on less than £10 pound an hour. And that has got to change. Not just because it’s wrong for them and their families. But because the best way to inject some demand into this economy is to get wages rising

We want an extension of the furlough scheme. This was something the trade union movement fought hard for. We got it. Nearly 9 million workers across the UK their livelihoods depend on it. A tenth of those 9 million are here in this region. Nearly a third of the workforce. We want that scheme to continue in a way that continues to support workers who are shielding or who have childcare issues. But critically to target the industries that we need to keep going who otherwise would go over the cliff edge. And we want it on a something for something basis by the way. It’s got to be tied to jobs. It’s got to be tied to fair pay, not just for everyone else but at the top. And it’s got to be tied to fair taxes too.

Secondly, we’ve got to speed up and scale up infrastructure investment. Yes there is so much work that we can do to green our homes green technology and greener transport. How come there are more charging points for electric vehicles in Westminster than in the whole of the West Midlands? If we want to green our fleets, if we want to green our cars, then we’ve got to sort out the charging system too.

Thirdly, we need a jobs guarantee. Not mickey mouse training schemes or workfare by the way. We want real, decent jobs, particularly for young people. Those of us who danced to The Specials and Ghost Town in the 80s will know the scarring impact of unemployment on young people. So we need a proper programme of meaningful work, paid at at least the living wage for young people,

And we need to level up, for sure. We’ve heard that jargon. We’ve heard those slogans. But we know the impact of this virus was not a case of ‘we're all in it together’. We know who it's hit hardest and how and why. And what we believe as a trade union movement is it doesn’t matter what your race, your religion, your background or where you happen to live. Everybody deserves a decent job and a decent chance in life.

And finally voice - not to be underestimated this one. Here’s a radical thought - not all wisdom in the world resides in Westminster, in Whitehall or indeed, in the boardroom. I think we have evidence of that over recent times. We should be using all our expertise, all our practical know how and knowledge, locally, regionally and in the workforce to build the greener, fairer economy that we all want to see.

In answer to questions:

Young People

My first priority is instead of reinventing jobs, let’s throw everything we’ve got at  trying to rescue and save the jobs that we’ve got for young people. They’re on the front line because they’re concentrated in areas like hospitality, leisure, retail and the creative industries.

And they’ve all got quite different needs those industries. And that’s why we think, in this phase, we need to target support. Some of it will be about creating new models. And we’ve seen a bit of extra money for creative now. But a lot of it is going to be about streaming and online access, and currently this summer, finding big open air spaces.

Retail has got a different set of problems. Leisure has got a different set of problems. So we have to come up with sector plans. And what I would argue is the best way to do that is get government, businesses and unions around the table and lets all put our shoulder to the wheel, lets pool our ideas, but let’s come up with a practical programme of action to save jobs in those industries.

And at the same time we do need a programme of job creation. We’ve given lots of ideas to the Treasury about the good work that needs to be done in this country, not least green work to achieve zero carbon. But let’s not kid ourselves either. There is a world of difference between unpaid traineeships – I’d like to understand what they are, but I think I can guess. And there’s a world of difference between that and a genuine jobs programme that provides genuine learning, skills training on the job, at at least the living wage, and that can provide that bridge into permanent employment. So let’s aim high and not accept rubbish – frankly - for our young generation

Fair pay

It's one of the reasons I’m a trade unionist, because I believe that everybody deserves, in fact not just a minimum wage or a living wage but a fair wage. For me, what a fair wage is about is having, through a trade union, the chance to bargain for what that fair wage is. So I would always really encourage people to join a trade union as that’s the only way we're going to get decent rewards, fair rewards, for everybody.


I really want to see some pressure on the Government because, some money’s been announced, what I’m not clear about is who is that money going to go to and who’s going to distribute it?  Because what I do know is that organisations like the Arts Council, who do a really tough job, but that the grants they’ve been handing out so far are almost overwhelmingly to those who’ve already received support from the Arts Council in the past.

Which bits of the country is it going to go to? Because if it’s just going to be about prestige projects in big cities then I think that’s going to leave out a whole load of people in smaller towns. So we need to hear form the government what they’re planning. But also, I feel there’s been a total lack of imagination, I have to say, personally, from this government in terms of art and culture.

They’ve been quoting President Roosevelt, the president of the United States in the 1920s - who delivered the best ever new deal for working people that’s ever been had in that country. And he invested massively in a cultural programme, because he knew it was important not just to look after the nation’s bread, that’s important, but also to look after the nation’s soul.

He invested in films, photography, writers such as John Steinbeck, theatre, as part of a big programme to improve people’s quality of life. But also to create a vibrant sector and put money in people’s pockets so they would spend it locally. But also to do something to take people through one of the most difficult times in their lives in terms of the Great Depression.

And I think we’re facing really difficult times. Liam quite rightly spoke about mental health earlier and I think the arts and culture have a big role to play. But it can’t just be London. It’s got to be about making sure we spread it around the country.

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