Our comment: review of our 2014

It is that time again to reflect on what did we achieve that will make it on to our list of achievements since 2002?

The truth is it is difficult to pick out one or two highlights, and sometimes in our rush to simplify we reflect a very West Midlands trait in not promoting what we have done. So if you want a more in depth assessment of all the great activity going on read on.

Our performance

Despite another challenging year in terms of our mission and our economic operating environment, we doubled our team from this time last year, grew our members, customers, learning networks, provided more funding opportunities and advice for business and communities, reported progress on our 2020 roadmap. We developed a series of cross-LEP low carbon programmes which Government recognised as “not as bad as everywhere else”.

Our recent  annual customer survey was encouraging with an improvement of ‘82% excellent to good in the delivery of our mission and maintaining a ‘71%’ rating in the delivery of our three values. From your valuable feedback we will improve the opportunities to engage, pay and work with us over the next year.

How have we helped the West Midlands?

From our research we know that competitive low carbon places have a number of factors in common: leadership, certainty, flagship projects, and networks that rapidly share ideas, skills, and resources.

So how have we got on this year to help the West Midlands develop these competitive factors?

Certainty

We have provided certainty through the annual progress report on the 2020 roadmap priorities and outcomes. We are the only region in the UK still to have an evidence based and monitored plan for a better future. The results presented this year at our annual conference made sobering reading.

We continued to provide an annual benchmark of local authorities performance on sustainability helping to share good practice and monitor progress against a clear improvement plan.

Flagship projects

We continued to work with our members to showcase flagship projects such as the Birmingham Library, new district energy schemes, bio-energy, cycling ambitions, electric vehicles, and sustainable building research and training facilities.

Our production of new guidance, often national, has helped to profile these and other projects in the West Midlands. This year this has included publishing reports on procurement, decentralised energy, LEPs, renewable energy and the planning subsystem, community green infrastructure, climate resilience and the health care system.

We also continue to promote local success stories through our case study service, with more than ever presented at our annual conference. However we are still struggling to address a backlog of case studies to write up and publish.

Networks to rapidly share ideas, skills, and resources

We have excelled in becoming the network of networks for the West Midlands with over 1000 individuals involved with our many new cross-sector good practice networks. New networks launched this year included low carbon innovation, green communities, sustainability and public health, and sustainability and NHS estates

The range of events, topics and good practice all of our networks and events covered this year is mind blowing.

In no particular order they included site visits and events covering topics such as: low carbon vehicles, innovation, low carbon economic policy, local enterprise partnerships, carbon reduction commitment, carbon management, local food production, business resilience health checks, district heating networks, procurement, funding, bio-energy, eco-cooling for servers, green infrastructure, sustainable new buildings and retrofit, resilient highways, smart-grids, sustainable urban drainage, china, the budget, environmental legislation, energy management in historic buildings, weather warnings, cycling, electric cars, smarter ticketing, planning for renewable energy, digital meets low carbon, devolution, city deals, EU funding, cross-LEP programmes, futures toolkit, NHS estates, young directors, green communities, supply chains, sustainable behaviour change, climate adaptation, green commission, low carbon cities, politics of the future, community energy, public health, smarter working, pioneers, roadmap 2020 progress, transport, social enterprise, select committees, leadership, skills, awards, benchmarking, business surveys, farming, fuel poverty, and waste. Phew!

And of course our new website and existing communications, including the 60th edition of our monthly newsletter, goes from strength to strength reaching regular audiences of over 2,000.

In 2014 we advertised over £140m of funding that was accessible to local businesses, communities and councils. While our energy saving programmes helped secure over £5m in annual savings.

But what is missing?

Leadership

However the real trick is leadership, creating space and partnerships to plan and respond to opportunities to create a better future.

The next 18 months will be a critical time to see how our local leadership can work together to wrestle power and funding from London, care for our most vulnerable people, and fight for our future – providing hope that we can create a better place for our communities and businesses.

As sustainability advisers to leaders of the West Midlands, we want to continue to play our part in this.

We are already the Government recognised sustainability champion for the West Midlands, we are ready to become the locally recognised body for the emerging combined authority.

Dr Simon Slater, Chief Executive, Sustainability West Midlands