OPINION: The Economic Impact of COVID-19 – A Birmingham View

Words by Ifor Jones – Head of Partnerships, The Pioneer Group / Picture of Birmingham skyline by Luke Matthews, profile pic courtesy of The Pioneer Group

As the economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown has become clear with the threat of a tsunami of redundancies across the West Midlands I couldn’t help but reflect on what I experienced first-hand with the closure of MG rover first hand back in 2005 with 6,300 redundancies being made.

This had a profound economic and social impact on local communities which was mitigated by the action of the MG Rover Taskforce. I led the community support strand of the Taskforce which started with mobilising advice services to work in tandem with JC plus and the Learning Skills Council and progressed with a community regeneration programme supporting grass roots organisations and focusing on providing support for workers and the MG Rover community.

The following sets out the learning and the lessons which arose from this tragic time which I feel are very relevant to the potential impact of COVID-19 across the City.

In the lead up to COVID-19, statistics for the first quarter of 2020 confirmed Birmingham’s comparatively high unemployment claimant rate (9.3%) compared to other major English cities.

The figure had been relatively stable but began to increase during 2018 in the wake of benefit changes connected to the roll out of Universal Credit.

It is my assertion that, when considering the potential impact of COVID-19, we will see two distinct cohorts within the unemployment claimant count for Birmingham.

  • Longer term cases clustered in geographical hotspots or demographic characteristics such as youth unemployment, BAME groups and people with disabilities.
  • Those who have lost their jobs as an economic consequence of COVID-19, across a range of sectors and impacting on an even wider cross section of the working population.

A Precedent for What’s Next

In 2005, MG Rover at Longbridge closed with the overnight loss of 6,300 jobs. Further job losses in the supply chain pushed this figure to over 8,000.

However, a significant number of workers were able to retrain to change their careers; undertaking academic vocational training. A report indicated around 4,000 (63%) of former MG Rover workers found new, mostly full-time, work. Approximately 25% of these workers were earning more with over 50% of them earning less.

Strong partnerships were key to the management and mitigation process, especially in relation to the social and economic impact of such a significant plant closure.

In a two-year period, I witnessed a shift from crisis management to sustained economic and social strategies for recovery. At the heart of this was a collaborative approach coordinated at different levels, from the very local in Longbridge and Northfield to across the city, region and nation as a whole.

My engagement through a localised team in the City Council was to co-ordinate the initial crisis response regarding advice and community support delivered in partnership with agencies such as JobCentre Plus and The Learning Skills Council. This was complemented with the support of organisations across the voluntary and community sector and, most critically, the MG Rover communities themselves.

Mobilising a response to administer change at pace was critical, as was building relationships with the workers and MG Rover to ensure engagement with and wider community buy-in.

The lessons that were learned, that can help us deal with the anticipated fallout of COVID-19 include:

  • mobilise interventions at pace working with both cohorts – existing and new claimants
  • get new cohort of unemployed into training and work as soon as possible
  • quickly intervene with training agencies and providers for re-skilling
  • ensure personal contact with individuals whether through advice and support or training
  • recognise importance of welfare advice and wellbeing services and administering benefits quickly
  • use opportunities for public service employers to take on and train former MG Rover workers, for example the city council created opportunities in youth, leisure and community development services
  • work in partnership – at regional, city and local levels – with public services, employers, community and third sector agencies
  • provide community support in the moment of crisis – e.g. helplines, social events, funding for holiday breaks
  • create a strategy for inclusive growth e.g. local area regeneration – Longbridge transitioned from a centre of economic activity of regional and national significance to an important local centre with a mix of new housing, retail, public services and some retained manufacturing.

Ifor Jones is Head of Partnerships at The Pioneer Group – for more on The Pioneer Group, visit: www.pioneergroup.org.uk

The Pioneer Group is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce, facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association.

Established in April 2020, the Taskforce is a network of local organisations from a wide variety of sectors, working together to support people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

To access the online address book and database of local support services compile by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, visit: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19/local/support

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FEATURE: Witton Lodge Community Association reaches out to local residents – as part of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit

A special Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been set up in response to the coronavirus crisis, with Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) reaching out to local residents with food parcels and support services – outreach activity mirrored by community hubs and support groups across the constituency.

Established as the pandemic reached more critical levels for the UK during March, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce is a ‘collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort’ involving many of the constituency’s community groups and care providers – alongside Jack Dromey MP, Councillor Robert Alden, representatives from Birmingham City Council, and further political and community figures known in the area.

Speaking directly to Erdington Local about the coronavirus crisis, Jack Dromey MP says: “The COVID-19 crisis is the most serious moment in our country’s history since World War II. The sheer scale of what is happening – and its social and economic impact – is frightening. But at a moment of crisis, it is crucial that community and country stand together.

As the crisis deepened four weeks ago, we moved to establish the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce to bring together those who can make a difference – to sustain our community and our citizens through these dreadful times.”

Chaired by Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association – who have been working in Perry Common since 1994, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has already begun a series of outreach activities focused on delivering vital public support and tackling the immediate issues effecting people across the area.

Following a call to arms to local residents and businesses, Witton Lodge Community Association have been receiving donations of food and essential goods which they are redistributing directly to households in their local community – adhering to the safety guidelines issued by Public Health England.

With a growing number of volunteers – working as parcel packers, drivers, administrators, and phoning locals residents to check directly on their wellbeing – the team at WLCA are delivering over 60 care packages those most vulnerable on Tuesdays and Fridays, alongside a daily schedule of further deliveries to the wider community.

“The absolute priority has to be welfare and safety… so people having those essential supplies,” explains Afzal Hussain.

“We already have residents, families, and individuals that we know need this support, so we’ve started with those. We are now having referrals; people are calling us, councillors and social workers and others are referring people to us, so we’ve mobilised our staff and volunteers to go and make sure those deliveries happen. We’ve scheduled those in so there are regular delivery slots a couple of times a week to do that.”

Responding to a health crisis such as coronavirus, a virulent disease that’s effecting countries and citizens around the world, takes a level of community action beyond that of WLCA’s usual support programme. But many in Erdington have already risen to the challenge, as the impact from coronavirus continues to dominate headlines, hearts and minds across the globe.

“We’re trying to reach out to those who can’t access basic provisions,” tells Marie Benjamin – Volunteer Co-ordinator at WLCA. “It’s vital right now, without support there could be people out there suffering a lot.”

Other issues highlighted by local residents are employment, financial support and advice, as well as the health and wellbeing concerns from being in prolonged self-isolation.

To effectively tackle these growing problems, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been building a database of organisations called the Erdington Assets Register – with companies from Bromford Fish Bar to Birmingham Mind offering their time and resources to help deliver these important support services.

“The response has been amazing,” explains Debbie Bates – Health and Wellbeing Transformation Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “It’s been a collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort across Erdington, working to ensure people in the community get the help the need at this critical time.”

But as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK continues to rise, alongside the death toll, there is still much more that needs to be done – by both Witton Lodge Community Association and the wider Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce.

Organisations are being encouraged to sign up to the Erdington Assets Register, strengthening the database of private and public sector groups that can provide support. Whilst individuals can make a significant difference by offering their time, energy, or donations of food and essential goods to the growing community outreach programme.

Volunteering is really important,” continues Afzal Hussain, “if there are supplies and food, we’ll happily take those. I think what I would say to groups and organisations who are there, who want to work together, is to come forward – we will add them to that emergency (Erdington) Asset Register.

We’re using that as the live platform; people can add their details, let everyone know what’s going on, what services they’re providing, and importantly they can collaborate with others in their neighbourhoods and communities.”

For anyone wanting to find out more about the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, or to add their organisation to the Erdington Assets Register, please contact Witton Lodge Community Association on (0121) 382 1930 or email afzal.hussain@wittonlodge.org.uk

Organisations can also add their names directly onto the Erdington Assets Register, operated as a live platform and database, by clicking here.

People can also contact Witton Lodge Community Association though their website or social media, with full details found at www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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